THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo
NAPOLEON -- For a week, Napoleon coach Tory Strock implored his Wildcats to believe that they could not only hang with Northern Lakes League powerhouse Southview but that they could knock out the five-time defending champs.
So, when Napoleon hung 14 points on the Cougars in the opening quarter of an NLL opener on Friday night, Strock was preaching to the choir. The Wildcats scored on their first two drives and went on to hand Southview a 20-14 setback.
After going undefeated in the league last season, the preseason favorite Cougars have stumbled to a 1-3 start. Napoleon is undefeated (3-0-1, 1-0 NLL).
"It's colossal because Southview is the standard of this league," Strock said. "It started with the belief that we could stand toe to toe with these guys and slug it out. And the kids believed. This is probably the biggest win of my career here at Napoleon."
Senior running back Charlie Harris scored on runs of 19 and 28 yards to stake his team to the early two-touchdown cushion.
"That was very crucial," said Harris, who finished with a game-high 117 rushing yards. "That's probably what led us to the win. To get this win means everything. It has us sitting on top of the NLL."
On their first possession, the Wildcats marched down the field on six straight running plays to score. Harris capped it with a 19-yard TD scamper with a key block by Bryant Schlade, who had an 18-yard run on the drive.
Napoleon then seized a 14-0 lead when Harris wove his way through the Cougar defense for a 28-yard TD run with 4:13 left in the first quarter.
"[The early scores] solidified what we told them all week that not only can we can compete, we can win," Strock said. "I told them after that first drive that if they didn't believe now then something is wrong. Once we hit the field, we established the running game. And when the dust settled it really came down to our defense because Southview can score points and make it look easy."
It was Harris' show in the first quarter as he had 69 rushing yards and two TDs to go along with a diving interception. It was the first of four turnovers Southview committed.
"They came out of the gate real hard," Southview coach Jim Mayzes said. "This is a real big game for them. They were rested. We didn't tackle real well. We got real physical with them and stepped up after [the first quarter]."
Down 14-0 early in the second quarter, Southview drove 60 yards on nine plays as Keith Gilmore scored on a four-yard scamper to make it 14-7 with 7:13 left. Earlier on the drive, Austin Valdez connected with Gilmore on a 40-yard strike on the fly.
After a scoreless third quarter, Napoleon took a 20-7 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. David Yunker hooked up with Jordan Lauf on a 10-yard slant for a TD with 11:55 left. Yunker then ended Southview's next possession with an interception. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 44 yards.
"This is huge," Yunker said. "We've been talking about it since last season, and it finally came true."
Southview mounted an 11-play drive that covered 80 yards to score with two seconds left as Valdez connected with Brandon Stewart on a six-yard pass play. Valdez competed 18 of 33 passes for 211 yards.
The Cougars, who held a 328-215 edge in yardage, were playing without Malcolm Johnson and Nate Hall in the defensive secondary.
"If you get knocked down you have to get back up," Mayzes said. "We have a lot of time left. Very seldom does a team run the table in the NLL without a loss."
Schlade finished with 51 rushing yards for the Wildcats, who were picked to finish fifth in the league.
"We cleared a big hurdle," Strock said. "But this is the NLL, and any given night there are enough athletes you better be ready. These kids understand that."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.