Imperials back on a roll

Not too many people predicted Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter would bounce back and knock off the No. 1-ranked 9-man football team in the state last weekend.

Sun file photo / John M. Steiner Quarterback Jonah Schwartzenberger (11), running back Jared Reis (36) and second-ranked Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter host New Rockford-Sheyenne in the opening round of the 9-man playoffs in Napoleon today.

Not too many people predicted Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter would bounce back and knock off the No. 1-ranked 9-man football team in the state last weekend.

There just couldn't have been.

It's true. The Imperials have absolutely dominated Region 1 football for the better part of a decade, winning six straight region championships heading into the 2011 season and picking up a state title back in 2006.

But the Imperials were just dealt what would have seemed to have been a crushing blow a week prior on their own home field. It was a disheartening 6-0 overtime loss to the Hankinson Pirates, a team that up to that point had won just two games all season and finished the year with a mark of 3-6 and missed the playoffs.

Now the Imperials had to trudge on and face the then 8-0 and defending state champion Warbirds of Wyndmere-Lidgerwood on their home turf in Wyndmere.


It bears mentioning, the Warbirds were on a 20-game winning streak at the time, but it wasn't as if the Imperials were severe underdogs having put together a season record of 7-1 and an overall mark of 32-5 since fourth-year head coach Kelly McCleary took over the reins in 2008.

But after that loss to the Pirates, which knocked the Imperials from their No. 2 perch behind the Warbirds in the state rankings, how did the Imperials do it?

"I think that whole week went well. We had a new focus in practice after the loss the week before and it motivated the kids and woke them up," McCleary said. "Being that (Wyndmere-Lidgerwood) was the No. 1 team and the defending state champions helped us get up for that game, obviously, and we stepped up and made big plays when we had to."

Those big plays came at the hands of the Imperials go-to guys. Senior quarterback Jonah Schwartzenberger hooked up with senior tight end Wade Rath-Wald for a 25-yard touchdown pass, and Schwartzenberger later bowled in a 3-yard TD run to put the Imperials up 16-0 in the fourth, as the Imperials rolled to 16-6 victory.

It's not as if the boys of Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter had any pressure on their shoulders. A loss would have only meant snapping the team's consecutive rash of Region 1 titles.

But up against the wall the Imperials not only shined, they earned their seventh straight region championship.

"It's crazy to even think about," McCleary said. "I've been fortunate to have some great players and we've had great teams in the past. It's turned into a tradition thing.

"The younger kids have grown up watching the older teams win, and when they get here they want to be region champions too. It's just kept carrying over."


The Imperials are now hoping against a repeat of last year's 9-man playoffs, where they fell in the second round to the Warbirds after a first-week bye. Napoleon-GS (8-1) kicks off the first round of this year's state playoffs today at 2 p.m. in Napoleon against the New Rockford-Sheyenne Rockets (6-3), the No. 4 seed out of Region 2.

The two teams have been no strangers in the past, and they've produced some nail-biting action. The Imperials edged out an 8-6 regular season home victory against the Rockets one year ago, and two years ago the Rockets upended the Imperials 28-21 during the regular season in New Rockford.

But things are not the same this year. After the consolidation of all of the state's 9-man teams into four 10-team regions this fall, the Imperials not only didn't get to face the Rockets, nobody else in Region 1 did either.

"It's a little different this year, for everybody," McCleary said. "With no teams crossing regions there's no common opponents to compare them to. It's tough to know a whole lot about them without anyone else in our region playing them."

But the coach does know what to expect, after the Rockets got away from their run-orientated offenses of the past and opened up the field more in 2011.

"They're not the same old team they used to have, I guess. They like to spread things out a little bit," McCleary said. "But it was kind of nice this year with the new region alignment. All the eastern teams like to spread it out more, so we've seen it more this year and it will be a little easier for us to make adjustments than it would have been in years past."

The Imperials will have their eyes on Rockets' senior quarterback Cobey Allmaras and senior receiver Mason Haley. Allmaras has completed 88 of 160 pass attempts for 1,221 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he has thrown 11 interceptions on the season. Haley has hauled in 32 of those passes for 577 yards and 10 TDs.

Junior running back Alex Perleberg has also produced a solid season for the Rockets, amassing 937 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 173 carries.


According to McCleary, the Imperials just can't shoot themselves in the foot.

"We've just got to clean up the mental mistakes. Last week was a little better," McCleary said. "We've been good at getting drives going, but then not finishing them because of mental mistakes and penalties. If we stay away from those, we'll be all right."

Leading the charge today for the Imperials will once again be Schwartzenberger and Rath-Wald. Schwartzenberger has completed nearly 70 percent of his pass attempts this season. The senior quarterback as completed 119 of 172 pass attempts to be exact, racking up 1,628 passing yards and 22 touchdowns.

Rath-Wald has hauled in 42 receptions for 788 yards and 13 scores, while junior receiver Steven Weigel has caught 37 passes for 426 and 5 touchdowns.

Those are nice numbers, considering Rath-Wald (18.8 yards) and Weigel (11.5 yards) are averaging over a first down per catch.

Leading the running attack all season for Napoleon-GS has been senior back Jared Reis. Reis has rumbled to 963 yards and 7 touchdowns on 181 carries.

Just for good measure, Schwartzenberger has rifled off 573 rushing yards and 6 scores on 89 carries this season as well.

But McCleary thinks -- as do most coaches -- that today's game will be won in the trenches.


"When our lines show up we are pretty successful both ways," McCleary said. "If we are able to give Jonah time to throw it and if we get pressure on their quarterback good things have happened. We go as our lines go."

One thing has been sure. If today's game is anything like the last two between the Imperials and Rockets, anything is possible.

"The last couple of years they've both been competitive games, and we'll just have to pull out the big plays when we need them," McCleary said. "We are expecting a close game, like they have been in the past, and we're hoping to come out on top of it."

Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at

Savaloja is the sports lead writer for The Jamestown Sun.
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