Northwood football is still playing in November: 'Why not us?'
LENA – It is mid-November, but basketball isn’t the only thing going on at Northwood.
While the basketball teams are beginning their quests to return to the LHSAA state tournament in March, Gators football is still being talked about at the school.
After defeating Gueydan 20-14 in a Week 2 rematch for its first playoff win, Northwood (6-5) travels to Homer to play in the Class 1A regional round Friday.
“It’s an exciting time around Northwood,” coach Tommy Moore said. “You see teachers in the hallway congratulating the staff and the kids and the atmosphere is very positive. The team is excited to have another chance to play.”
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Northwood was the lone Rapides Parish school to advance as Alexandria Senior High, Tioga and Menard lost their first-round games, while Pineville, Bolton, Peabody and Buckeye did not qualify.
It is a far cry from what the Gators are accustomed to after the playoff win clinched its first non-losing season since 2007 when they went 4-4 and missed the postseason. It's also the second-most wins for Northwood with a 9-2 season in 2006 standing out as the best.
“To be as a senior and to make history in our program, makes me feel like I’m leaving an example for the underclassmen of what to look forward to and what they can reach,” senior linebacker/tight end Trent Ingraham said. “Honestly, we had a big, drastic change in the beginning of the year with new coaches and a new principal and nobody thought we would reach this level. Now we’re here. It feels like I’m leaving a mark on this school.”
Transforming a 1-6 team
When Moore took the job in May, he inherited a 1-6 team that lost its home playoff game to Slaughter Charter. And leading up to the season, it took some time for the players to get up to speed to his philosophy.
That all changed when former Buckeyes coach Jonathan Landry joined the staff during preseason practices in August.
During his time e with the Panthers, Landry was known for having good offensive line play predicated with running the football. It carried over to Northwood.
“(Coach Landry) has been a huge asset to our program,” Moore said. “I can’t say enough about him or our staff. When he came on board, it was a turning point for us.”
“Coach Moore came in and made a statement that we could really do it,” junior running back Braedyn Gray said. “Coach Landry has helped us with our line and has the offense running well.”
Helping matters is Tom O’Kelly, who coached the Gators from 1988-2012 and led them that the District 3-1A title in 2006. O’Kelly, who has the stadium named after him, came back to Northwood in 2020 and continues to make an impact to the staff and players.
“He brings a lot of knowledge and wisdom, but he also keeps us loose as a staff,” Moore said. “He can tell you stories from 40 years ago. It’s so fun to sit around and listen to him about all the stories he was involved in, especially at Northwood.”
'Why not us?'
While the players say the turning point came after beating Ringgold in Week 1, Moore says it was a win over Montgomery, their first district win in three years, that got the Gators believing.
The Gators have rallied behind three words posted on the locker room door before they take the field: “Why not us?”
While that was supposed to serve as motivation before facing Logansport in Week 8, the sign stayed up and did its purpose the last two weeks, including a 22-20 Week 10 overtime win over Block to clinch a home playoff game.
“It’s been our motto,” Ingraham said. “Why can’t we be the school to win as the underdogs? Just to see how far we’ve come; it would change this program tremendously. It would change everybody’s eyes at this school. I’m speechless thinking about it.”
Northwood has tall task to defeat Homer, who played in the quarterfinals in 2019 and the semifinals in 2020.
“It would be a great thing for not only the football program, but the school,” Moore said. “I was at ASH when we made it to the Thanksgiving week (in 2011) and I told them that’s a great time of week to practice. We know we have our work cut out for us, because they are a great football team, but we can only control what we can control. Let’s do that and see what happens.”