Niles football wins first district title in 42-13 rout of Paw Paw

Published 3:04 am Saturday, November 4, 2023

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NILES — For the first time in school history, the Niles Vikings are football district champions.

The football team defeated Wolverine Conference foe Paw Paw 42-13 Friday in its Division 4 District championship Game.

“It feels great,” said Niles Coach Scot Shawl. “It’s the first time Niles has been there, but it’s the first time this team has been there. We had our, we had our goal set to make a run. So far, we’re two deep and we’ll see if we can make it three deep next week.”

Paul Hess tallied 24 carries for a game-high 171 yards and three touchdowns and Julian Means-Flewellen had eight carries for 71 yards and one touchdown run while Sam Rucker totaled five carries for 79 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

The game was a rematch of the regular season finale in which the Vikings rolled to a 56-18 win to clinch the Wolverine Conference championship. The Vikings were looking to continue that momentum into Friday’s game, with Paul Hess (8 yards) and Means-Flewellen (16 yards) touchdown runs giving the home team an early 14-0 lead over the Red Wolves. But a pair of Niles fumbles in the second quarter gave Paw Paw the momentum necessary to put together two touchdown drives, the first capped by a 12-yard pass from quarterback Bryson Newell to Nathan Lamere and the second a one-yard PJ DeYoung touchdown. Following the DeYoung touchdown, the extra point was no good, giving the Vikings a 14-13 lead at halftime.

The Vikings emerged from halftime looking to re-establish themselves on the line of scrimmage, scoring on their two third quarter drives with two Hess touchdown runs (4 and 39 yards) to take a 28-13 lead into the fourth quarter.

“We said we’re just gonna come out and we’re just gonna line up and hit them in the mouth and try to take that first drive down and score. Fortunately, we did,” Shaw said. “We really controlled the line of scrimmage and we got a little breathing room and made them get into things that they don’t like to do and throw the ball, so that was nice. It was nice for us to get that little bit of breathing space.”

In the final frame, the Vikings defense stops Paw Paw on fourth down twice to maintain a two-score lead. Sam Rucker broke free for his long touchdown run to put the Vikings up 35-13 with 2:33 remaining. Peyton Gordon capped the game’s scoring with a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown.

DeYoung finished with 20 carries for 90 yards and one touchdown run and Newell completed 10 of 20 passes for 100 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Elias Sonnenberg had four catches for 44 yards and 3 catches for 34 yards for Lamere.

On defense, Hess led the team with 13 tackles and Riley Cowan had nine while Alex Cole and Sam Rucker added eight and seven respectively.

The Vikings offensive line has been a strength all season long. Shaw was proud of the way the offensive line re-established itself in the second half.

“There’s nothing you can’t run,” he said. “They took the outside away tonight but you know, they didn’t take dive, belly and our stuff inside and that’s why (Hess) had a great game. The kids up front were blocking well, they moved people off the ball and they do a great job of that, they’re just really good.”

With the win, the Vikings (10-1) will gear up to face undefeated Portland at 7 p.m. Friday in the Division 4 Regional Finals. The Raiders defeated Hastings 38-24 in its district final.

“We’ve got them here, that’s a bonus for us,” Shaw said. “We’ll watch film and we’ll get ready for them. They’re new; now is when it’s really fun. The first two games, we played Vicksburg and Paw Paw for the second time. Now we get a new face, so that’s exciting.”