Yes, Northwest still has a passing game.
After focusing on its ground game during the first half of the season, the Class B No. 4-rated Vikings aired it out on Friday against Seward.
And it was needed.
Rans Sanders was 18-for-26 for 278 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for two more scores to lead Northwest past the tough-to-shake Bluejays 35-28.
It was the first time that Sanders passed for more than 200 yards in a game.
“We just spread them out all night,” he said. “We had the running game going and we just started to spread them out.”
Northwest coach Kevin Stein said the Vikings thought the passing game would be there against Seward (2-3).
“They gave us some things to be able to throw at, and Rans did a good job,” he said. “I don’t know if he was ever off on any passes so he did a hell of a job.
“We ran some different concepts than we have in a long time. He had a nice night and we threw the ball well.”
Five Vikings divided up the receptions with Tyler Hageman grabbing seven for 114 yards.
Sanders said the chemistry has really developed between him and his receivers.
“They’re all coming up clutch in big situations,” he said. “That’s what we needed.”
Northwest (4-1) couldn’t have asked for a better start. The Vikings led 14-0 after each team had two possessions.
A 41-yard pass from Sanders to Brady Baasch on the first play from scrimmage set up Sam Collins’ 3-yard touchdown. Sean Juengst took a short pass and was sprung around the corner by a block from Riley Anderson to score from 26 yards out with 8:09 left in the first quarter.
The Bluejays, meanwhile, had a total of five yards of offense on their first two possessions.
But then a punt bounced off the Vikings’ returner, and after Seward recovered on Northwest’s 7-yard line Gabe Knisley scored on the next play.
“That turnover was big,” Stein said. “We overcame it. I’m very proud of our guys for overcoming that because that was brutal.
“And then Seward answers. That was a ton of class by them coming back after hitting them in the mouth that first couple of minutes.”
Seward tied the game on Zach Ellingson’s 1-yard run with 10:08 left in the first half.
But Northwest answered with Sanders recovering after partially bobbling the snap to sprint around the right side for a 3-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 21-14 lead with 1:48 remaining before halftime.
Another short Ellingson run tied it back up with 5:13 to go in the third, but Sanders bought some time against the pass rush before sending a pass into the end zone that was collected by a diving Sam Hartman for a 33-yard score with 2:44 left.
“I think we were able to answer,” Stein said. “Whenever they got anything going, we were able to answer offensively. Or maybe when our offense didn’t, we were able to answer defensively. I’d say we answered adversity, we answered hard times.”
Sanders added a 3-yard run with 10:00 to go in the game to put the Vikings up by two scores.
He said Northwest never panicked whenever adversity hit during the game — and there was plenty of it with the turnover and several injuries.
“We just got each other going,” Sanders said. “That’s what we do. We’re all brothers, we’re all really close together.”