NLS tackles top-ranked DeLaSalle next

New London-Spicer's drive for a state Class AAA football title makes a stop in the Metrodome today for a 3:15 p.m. semifinal game against top-ranked DeLaSalle.

New London-Spicer's drive for a state Class AAA football title makes a stop in the Metrodome today for a 3:15 p.m. semifinal game against top-ranked DeLaSalle.

Both teams have been piling up points on offense and both defenses can shut a team down, which means that every possession will be important in this game.

"They are a 'big play' offense," New London-Spicer coach Dan Essler said of DeLaSalle. "We may stop them most of the time and the next play could go for 80 yards for them on a simple tailback lead-dive play.

"We can't allow them to have a running lane on any play or it could go for 'six'."

Dick Weinberger, DeLaSalle's head coach, said of the Wildcats: "They're multiple on offense. They're going to try to get the ball into their playmakers' hands. I'm sure they're going to try to run their offense, mix the pass and run, and hope we make mistakes and capitalize on it."


In the postseason, NLS has outscored its four opponents 171-31, while DeLaSalle has outscored its four playoff opponents 217-70.

Try to find a weakness

DeLaSalle offense: The Islanders, No. 1 in the final Class AAA poll, will strike on the ground or through the air, whichever the defense allows. Evan Williams is the Islanders' leading rusher with 1,700 yards in 12 games. He's scored 26 touchdowns and has an 11.6 yards-per-carry average.

Michael Van Leer is the team's quarterback, completing 53.4 percent of his passes (78-146) for 1,266 yards, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Van Leer, a three-year starter, scored three TDs in DeLaSalle's 48-36 win over Rochester Lourdes in the state quarterfinals. He caught a 39-yard pass from Williams on a halfback pass, returned a punt 60 yards and scrambled for 49 yards and a TD on fourth down.

"Michael has played offense, defense and special teams all year," said Weinberger. "He's a real threat with the ball in his hands. He's doing a great job of distributing the football. He's also one of the best punt-return guys in the state and an outstanding cornerback. He's been offered a Division I scholarship to play cornerback (at South Dakota)."

A.J. Barker is the No. 1 receiver for the Islanders with 37 catches for 704 yards and 12 TDs. Donzell Bell isn't too far behind with 31 catches for 434 yards and five touchdowns.

The Islanders can put up the points. They've scored an astounding 636 points so far, averaging 53 per game. DeLaSalle's lowest offensive output was 34 points in a win over St. Croix Lutheran Sept. 5. Seventy-five points came in a win over Blake Oct. 4.


DeLaSalle defense: De-fense wins championships, according to the age-old mantra. The Islanders have made their defense a cornerstone of what they want to achieve, though Weinberger noted it's taken some time to get it all together.

"We run a 3-4 defense and what we try to do is get our kids to play fast," Weinberger said. "This year, we've done a better job of playing the defense the way it has been designed. Some of it has to do with the experience of the players, not just on varsity."

Wildcats living up to all they hype

Expectations were high at the New London-Spicer preseason practices in August.

"I thought we had a legit shot at being undefeated at this point. But, after our losses to Albany and Foley, both the coaches and the players came away with ideas and plans to defeat them in the playoffs. Both of those teams would have been very difficult to beat twice," said Essler, whose Wildcats did beat both the Huskies and Falcons in the section playoffs. "But, I definitely feel this is the best all-around team we've had at NLS since I have been here (20 years). We start 21 different players on offense and defense. We play and rotate 24 or 25 players between offense and defense each game and have a few sophomores that contribute on special teams. We've had other teams that have been pretty close in terms of talent, but not in terms of depth."

The Wildcats haven't given up a point in their last two games, beating Albany 30-0 in the Section 6AAA title game, then pounding Proctor 61-0 in the state quarterfinals. On the season, they've allowed a little more than 13 points-per-game.

"Our defense has been great at controlling their gaps and not trying to do someone else's job," Essler said. "Our team speed we hope is close to theirs. But, we also feel that we can be the most physical they have played. Another key for us is, if we give up a big play, we don't feel sorry for ourselves and all of a sudden they have made three or four big plays before we recover."

NLS is no slouch in the scoring column, either. The Wildcats average almost 39 points-per-game and allow just over 13. The Proctor win was the high point total of the season, with the low coming in an 8-7 loss to Albany Sept. 19.


Essler feels the 61 points last week built some momentum for today's game.

"I feel it was a positive in regards to getting all 57 kids in the game," he said. "The second units got to play some in the third quarter and the JV units got to play the whole fourth quarter. ... We need all that confidence when we take on DeLaSalle."

Shawn Halliday leads the Wildcat rushing attack with 1,102 yards and 13 TDs. Taylor Dammermann isn't far behind with 901 yards and 17 touchdowns. Add Jay Moten's 478 yards and seven touchdowns and the three-headed rushing monster has 2,481 of the team's 3,087 yards.

Jared Williamson leads NLS in passing with 1,025 yards on 64-of-138 attempts and 11 TDs. Derek Dohmann and Chris Tobkin each have 19 receptions.

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