One of the state’s top passing teams over the past five-plus years, a new-look Northeast football team made headway on the ground this fall.
For the first time since 2011, the Rebels amassed over 1,000 rushing yards in a season, finishing with 1,062.
Northeast’s 1,000-yard drought on the ground, not surprisingly, coincided with its ascendance in the passing game.
In 2012, the very first season after gaining 1,154 yards on the ground, the Rebels set a new school record with 1,248 passing yards.
And Northeast surpassed that total in each of its following six seasons as well, highlighted by the 2,443 yards it threw for in 2016 — the current record.
The Rebels passed for over 1,000 yards this year as well, finishing fourth in the district with 1,167 yards.
Northeast, though, attempted 75 fewer passes than the year before in head coach Mark Lee’s first season, while running 60 more times.
The team’s ability to move the ball on the ground was key in both of the Rebels’ victories — they rushed for a season-high 273 yards in their season finale with North Cedar and had 169 yards in their win over Alburnett.
The Rebels recently had eight players honored on the All-1A District 4 team.
That includes a trio of first-team selections in seniors Dakota Stevenson and Atzin Dondiego and sophomore Cade Hughes.
Three more Rebels — seniors Ty Schmidt and Liam Maze and junior Ethan Snyder — were picked to the second team, while senior Trey McAleer and junior Kenny King garnered honorable mention accolades.
In addition to his first-team honor, Stevenson was also selected as the district’s most valuable punter.
That was part of a strong all-around season for Stevenson, who sparked the Rebels’ running game.
The running back gained a career-high 805 yards on the ground, while scoring seven touchdowns, including a 91-yard dash against Alburnett, which was tied for the second-longest in all of Class 1A.
Stevenson was just as dangerous in the passing game, nabbing 11 receptions for 227 yards — an average of over 20 yards per catch — and scoring three more touchdowns.
The senior even threw six passes, completing two for eight yards.
On defense, Stevenson racked up 51 tackles, including 19 solos stops, with eight tackles for loss and a sack. He also recovered a fumble against Bellevue.
As the Rebels punter, Stevenson finished second in the district in yards per punt (37.4) and fifth in punt yards (898).
One of the players opening holes for Stevenson up front was Dondiego.
The Rebels’ right guard, Dondiego helped make Northeast one of just 22 teams in Class 1A to both pass and run for over 1,000 yards.
The senior made an even bigger impact on the defensive line, finishing third on the team with 24 solo tackles and finishing with 62 stops overall.
A team-high 10 of those tackles were for loss — including five solo tackles for loss — and Dondiego came up with a solo sack as well.
Northeast’s leader in tackles this fall was Hughes, who finished with 75 of them, including a team-high 37 solo stops.
The sophomore matched Dondiego with five solo tackles for loss — he finished with seven tackles for loss — and also had a solo sack.
Hughes’ defensive impact extended past just tackles as he also led the team with two fumble recoveries and matched that by intercepting a pair of passes.
On offense, Hughes hauled in a team-high 28 receptions and turned them into 367 yards, highlighted by a 32-yard touchdown catch against Cascade.
Hughes was on the throwing end of six passes, too, completing three of them for 80 yards. The sophomore also punted the ball and had a season-long of 48 yards.
Providing his own big lift on the defensive side of the ball was Schmidt.
With 28 solo stops of his own, Schmidt finished just two tackles behind Hughes with 73.
The senior had five tackles for loss with two of them being solo, including a solo sack.
On offense, Schmidt usually joined Stevenson in the Northeast backfield and was adept at picking up tough yards and providing a strong lead block.
Schmidt earned 46 carries and turned them into 262 yards — his 5.7 yards per carry led the team — and four touchdowns.
Two of the scores came in the Rebels’ victory over North Cedar, including a 62-yard run.
Schmidt had one reception as well and picked up 23 yards on the catch.
Providing his own mix of offensive yardage and strong blocking was Maze.
The senior tight end finished fourth on the team with eight receptions — good for 74 yards — including three catches for 38 yards in Northeast’s season opener.
Maze also used his prior experience on the offensive line to give the Rebels another talented run blocker at their disposal.
On defense, Maze piled up 40 tackles, including nine solo stops. Five of those tackles were for loss and Maze had two assisted sacks.
Snyder proved to be a big play waiting to happen during his junior season.
The wide receiver had seven receptions and two of them went for touchdowns, including a 58-yard score against Alburnett.
Snyder gained 104 yards on his seven receptions — an average of 14.9 yards per catch.
On defense, Snyder led the Rebels with four interceptions and returned one for a 15-yard touchdown against Beckman Catholic. He recovered a fumble as well and returned it 73 yards.
The junior finished with 28 tackles with more than half of them — 15 — being solo.
To cap it off, Snyder returned 14 kickoffs this fall and averaged more than 16 yards on his returns.
McAleer made his own impact on special teams.
He returned 17 kickoffs for 374 yards, good for an average of 22 yards per return — all three were team-highs — and brought back one kick 78 yards for a touchdown against North Cedar.
McAleer was second on the team with 23 receptions and led the Rebels with 379 receiving yards — 160 yards came in one game with Beckman — and three touchdowns.
On defense, the senior was a sure tackler in the secondary, racking up 20 solo tackles and 34 tackles overall with one tackle for loss, while also intercepting a pair of passes and recovering a fumble.
King handled the other guard spot opposite Dondiego and helped open holes in the running game, while also fending off rushers in the passing game.
On defense, King had 19 tackles with six solo stops and three tackles for loss — two of the tackles for loss were also solo — and the junior came up with one of the team’s five solo sacks.