NU has Wright response (Football)

Tania Ganguli

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Less than half an hour after Northwestern running back Jason Wright scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime of Saturday’s game, he wasn’t happy.

He wasn’t excited that NU had just notched its first Big Ten win of the season, or that he had scored four touchdowns. He was annoyed that it had been so difficult.

“It’s really frustrating to continually be the better team on the field, at least from an offensive perspective,” Wright said. “And we just continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

After the Wildcats offense dominated the Hoosier defense in the first quarter, Indiana sprang back. NU’s limited passing game seemed to be making a comeback in the first quarter as quarterback Brett Basanez started off the quarter by completing deep passes to wide receiver Mark Philmore and running back Noah Herron.

Without wide receiver Ashton Aikens, who is out for the season after suffering a knee injury last week, the Cats had to count on Philmore and sophomore Brandon Horn — and both came through with big plays.

Late in the first quarter a 77-yard pass from Basanez to Brandon Horn put NU up 17-0. But the lead didn’t last long.

Indiana running back Brian Lewis dodged defenders to run 42 yards for the Hoosiers’ longest rush of the year on the first drive of the second quarter. He made it to NU’s 15 before safety Dominique Price chased him down. Lewis’ run set up Indiana’s first touchdown of the game.

At that point what happened against Minnesota, when NU built a healthy lead until a 96-yard touchdown pass destroyed their momentum and their game, seemed imminent. The difference this game was that Cats answered it with a touchdown of their own.

“It felt like it was a see-saw,” NU linebacker Pat Durr said. “It was back and forth.”

But the game didn’t tilt back in NU’s favor until late in the fourth quarter. After going up 24-7 with that touchdown, Indiana responded by scoring 24 unanswered points.

“That hiatus looked all too familiar,” Walker said.

NU was finally able to break their offensive rut late in the fourth quarter. Philmore returned a punt to Indiana’s six yard line setting up Wright’s game-tying touchdown with 4:49 left in regulation.

“He is a playmaker,” Wright said of Philmore. “He’s very quick, very very quick.”

Wright, Walker and Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo all called Philmore’s punt return the play of the game.

Big plays on both sides of the field were plentiful throughout the game, and the trend continued into overtime.

As Indiana quarterback Matt LoVecchio inched the Hoosiers closer to a win on the Hoosiers’ possession in overtime, the Cats’ defense stepped up and stopped it. Safety Torri Stuckey had close coverage on an Indiana receiver in the endzone, and sophomore cornerback Marquice Cole deflected the pass into redshirt freshman Brian Heinz’s hands. It was Heinz’s second interception of the year.

Price said that Heinz’s tendency to pick up interceptions in practice earned him the nickname of the “clean-up man.” Heinz was true to his nickname on Saturday.

“Marquice made an excellent play, and Stuckey was right there to to knock it out,” Heinz said. “They did the work and I just cleaned it up.”

Durr and Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo both said that the first half was the worst half they’d seen their respective defenses play. Durr admitted that the second half was bad too, but was more frustrated by the first half.

“That first half was worse,” he said. “Nobody wanted to stop anybody, I don’t know what was going on. Everybody knows how bad we played.”

DiNardo saw an improvement in his defense from the first half to the second half and found that to be a positive in his team’s play. Although he was pleased with the improvement, he said that they need to learn that “you have to play two halves.” That is the same message NU coach Randy Walker has been trying to get his team to understand all year.

On Saturday, the Cats responded at the last minute. Even Wright, who was disgusted by NU’s abundance of penalties and missed opportunities, said they got the job done.

“I’m not going to apologize for that win,” Walker said. “It was unconventional perhaps, but it’s a ‘W’ and we’ll take it.”