Dragons and Timberwolves look to tangle in 2019 opener

Charlie Cleveland leads the Dragons defense as they open their season at Northwood.
Charlie Cleveland leads the Dragons defense as they open their season at Northwood.

It is nearly time for the 2019 Tiffin University football season to commence, with the Dragons hitting the road for their first three games. Up first - Northwood.

Game Information:

Tiffin Dragons (0-0) at
Northwood Timberwolves (0-0)
Saturday, Sept. 7 | 1:00 p.m.
Midland, Mich. | Hantz Stadium
Video | Live Stats

Last Matchup

Despite Tiffin leaving the GLIAC for the GMAC, Tiffin and Northwood still battled it out on the gridiron last season in the season opener, with the Dragons defeating the Timberwolves 40-27 at Frost-Kalnow Stadium. TU jumped out to a 25-6 halftime lead and never looked back, as quarterback Nick Watson starred, going 24-29 for 317 yards and three touchdowns.

All-Time Series

Tiffin and Northwood have faced each other 11 times in their histories, with the Timberwolves holding an 8-3 advantage in the series. All three TU victories have come in the last three matchups, however, giving the Dragons the edge as of late.

Northwood Notes

- Northwood experienced some struggles in 2018, dropping their first five games of the season before finishing 3-7 overall and sixth in the GLIAC with a 3-5 conference mark. 
- Along with the head-to-head matchup to open the 2018 slate that saw the Dragons emerge victorious, Tiffin and Northwood faced one common opponent in 2018 in Wayne State. The Timberwolves fell to the Warriors 55-21 on Oct. 20, while Tiffin handled Wayne State 27-13 on Sept. 29.
- Northwood was selected to finish eighth out of nine teams in the 2019 GLIAC Preseason Coaches Poll with 17 points. Ferris State led the way with 64 points and eight first-place votes, followed by Ashland (55), Grand Valley (51,1), and Saginaw Valley (42).
- Northwood is led by fourth-year head coach Leonard Haynes. Haynes, an NU alum, sports an 18-26 record over those four seasons. Haynes' best season at the helm came in 2017, when the Timberwolves went 7-4 overall and were named the Division II "Breakthrough Team of the Year" by HeroSports.
Northwood Offense
- Northwood finished 2018 at the bottom of the GLIAC in terms of total offense at 268.1 yards per game and 18.4 points per game.
- The majority of the Timberwolves' offensive attack came on the ground, as NU averaged 151.8 rushing yards per game with 17 rushing touchdowns compared to 116.3 yards per game and seven touchdowns through the air.
- Senior Joe Garbarino is projected to be the starter under center for Northwood after missing half of last season. In the first five games of 2018, Garbarino was 32-53 (60.4%) for 430 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Garbarino is a threat to run as well, compiling 57 rushes for 269 yards and two scores last season.
- Abdul Levy figures to be the No. 1 running back for the Timberwolves after leading NU with 85 rushes for 397 yards and two touchdowns last year. Backing him up will be Brock Franklin, who played in just six games in 2018 but carried the ball 24 times for 177 yards and a score.
- Northwood lost their top receiver, Gary Landless, to graduation, and return just one wideout that recorded over 100 receiving yards last season in senior Alex Spicuzzi. Spicuzzi tallied 16 receptions for 286 yards and a touchdown in 2018.

Northwood Defense

- Northwood finished 2018 at the bottom of the GLIAC in total defense as well, allowing 36.2 points per game to opponents and 423.7 yards per game. Notably, opposing teams averaged 223.2 rushing yards per game against the Timberwolves' defense.
- Senior linebacker Dimitri Abro returns as the team's leading tackler in 2018, as he tallied 69 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, and four tackles for loss. He also forced two fumbles, notched an interception, and registered seven pass breakups.
- Mykhael Sanford-McCarver will anchor the defensive backfield, as the senior returns from a 2018 campaign in which he was third on the team with 53 tackles while adding two forced fumbles and an interception.
- Simeon Lawrence is the top returning defensive lineman, as the junior recorded 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and four tackles for loss in 2018.
Tiffin Notes
- The Dragons are coming off of one of their best seasons in school history, finishing 9-2 overall and 6-2 in GMAC play. 
- TU started the season 9-0, which was the best start to a year in program history since the 2006 squad that began the season 10-0.
- Tiffin was selected fourth in the 2019 GMAC Preseason Coaches Poll behind Hillsdale, Findlay, and Ohio Dominican. The top four teams are not separated by much though, as Hillsdale finished 2018 undefeated but the other three all tied for second at 6-2 in conference action.
- After eight-year head coach Gary Goff departed to lead his alma mater and defending DII National Champions Valdosta State, the Dragons will now be led by first-year head coach Cris Reisert, who earns his first collegiate head coaching gig after most recently serving as Ohio Dominican's offensive coordinator.
Tiffin Offense
- Tiffin finished 2018 third in the GMAC in total offense with 425.4 yards per game and 30.2 points per game. 
- The Dragons bring back two-year starting quarterback Nick Watson for his redshirt-junior season after another excellent year in 2018. Watson threw for 2,983 yards (271.2 per game) and 23 touchdowns with a 64.7 completion percentage and just eight interceptions.
- A very exciting part of the 2019 Dragon offense will be in the backfield, as Tiffin figures to finally have star running backs JaQuan Hardy and Kyle Brunson healthy at the same time. Each has missed one of the last two years due to injury, but the other has picked up the slack in a big way. In 2017, Hardy was third in the GLIAC with 1,077 yards on the ground (97.9 per game) and eight touchdowns. Last year, Brunson finished second in the GMAC with 957 yards (95.7 per game) and 11 touchdowns.
- The receiving corps will look almost entirely different from 2018, as the only returning wideout that registered at least 10 receptions is Gavin Woods, who tallied 18 catches for 208 yards. Replacing a trio (Charles Holland, Victor Talley, Tyler Denton) that each finished in the top-10 in the GMAC in receiving may be difficult, but Coach Reisert has brought in a plethora of transfer wideouts that look to compete with underclassmen returners and provide plenty of depth in the passing game.

Tiffin Defense

- Tiffin's defense will look to pick right up where they left off in 2018, as the Dragons were third in the conference with 364.5 yards allowed per game, and second with 15 interceptions.
- The team's leading tackler from 2018 is back in linebacker Chrystian Watkins, who tallied 63 tackles and an interception last year.
- Redshirt-senior safety Daigien Morgan (47 tackles, three pass breakups in 2018) will bring valuable experience to the defensive backfield, and will be joined by fellow returning starter and redshirt sophomore Kevin Hyde (23 tackles, two interceptions.
- Tiffin's leading tackler from  two years ago, Carrington Contee, also returns after missing the 2018 season. Contee totalled 93 tackles in 2017, as well as two forced fumbles and three picks.
- The Dragons will have two other significant contributors return after missing all or nearly all of 2018 in defensive end Charlie Cleveland and linebacker Jacob Mertus. As a freshman in 2017, Cleveland terrorized opposing quarterbacks, talling eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.