Chalkin’ up victory No. 1

Tania Ganguli

The Wildcats gained fewer yards, had fewer first downs and lost the time of possession battle against Kansas on Saturday. But Northwestern coach Randy Walker saw something more important in the 20-17 win over the Jayhawks.

Passion.

“I came here last week and talked about passion, or lack of,” Walker said. “That’s what it looks like, if you want to define it. Our kids found a way to win today, and I’m proud of them. There are lesser programs that would have gone on a downhill slide after starting 0-2.”

Down 13-3, Kansas (2-1) began a fierce rally at the start of the fourth quarter. Back-up quarterback Jason Swanson narrowly missed getting sacked by Demetrius Eaton to convert a fourth down. The drive ended with a touchdown, bringing the Jayhawks within three.

Kansas scored on its next drive on a 20-yard pass to Brandon Rideau who caught the ball despite a pass interference call against NU cornerback Marvin Ward.

“They did have the momentum a little bit,” receiver Mark Philmore said. “Their section of fans was going crazy, and we needed the perfect play at the right time.”

Philmore came through on the next drive when he caught a short pass from Basanez and weaved for 52 yards.

“I was thinking about a play that happened last week where a couple of the guys said if I went across the field I had a lot of open space,” said Philmore, who finished the game with 113 yards on seven catches.

He crossed the field horizontally, eluding tacklers, and when Kansas’ Gordon Charles ran him out of bounds at the Jayhawks’ 29-yard line, Philmore had brought the momentum and the noise back to NU’s sideline.

Although Philmore’s run set up a touchdown which gave the Cats the lead for good, the Jayhawks had a chance to tie the game with a 43-yard field goal attempt with a little more than a minute left.

“On the sideline it looked like he made it, so I was strapping up my facemask,” Philmore said. “The ref said ‘No’ and I started jumping up and down.”

The scoring flurry in the second half was a stark change from the first half when neither team was able to capitalize on opportunities. NU (1-2) marched deep into Kansas territory five times in the first half, although the Cats backed themselves up with penalties and plays for losses.

The Cats entered halftime with just three points on a 23-yard field goal by Brian Huffman.

But the NU defense kept the score tied, holding the Jayhawks to a field goal.

“We need to work on getting that killer instinct that great teams have, where once we get going we can’t be stopped,” quarterback Brett Basanez said.

Basanez threw one touchdown, rushed for one and finished the game with 192 passing yards. His rushing touchdown, which came on the second drive of the fourth quarter, was the first touchdown of the game.

Running back Terrell Jordan, who started in place of Noah Herron, set up the touchdown with a 38-yard run to Kansas’ 33-yard line. During the drive, Noah Herron converted a fourth-and-one with a two-yard run up the middle to get into the red zone.

Herron continued to pound the ball closer and closer but from two yards out, Basanez saw an opening after getting a block from guard Ike Ndukwe. He lunged into the endzone with a Kansas defender on his feet in a play that Walker called “spectacular.”

“It’s easy to run when everyone’s falling down around you,” Basanez said. “We have great blocking.”

Defensively the Cats scrambled to replace injured linemen and played a three-man front, sometimes dropping to only a two-man front.

“Personally it’s not that fun for me because there are three guys watching me, making sure I can’t make plays,” Castillo said. “But it puts another defensive back on the field which helps us cover up one of our biggest problems right now, which has been stopping the pass.”

It also opened up the field for the linebackers. Sophomore linebacker Nick Roach had nine tackles, three for loss, including a sack for nine yards. The change came for Roach after a tough week in which linebackers coach Pat Fitzgerald called him out in practice.

Roach took his criticism and produced the best game of his career.

“Coach Fitz is a very passionate person and he always tells us every day that the linebackers, we’re the heart of the defense,” Roach said. “If we start off strong then the rest of the team will just naturally follow.”

The win gave the team a lift they needed after two tough losses.

With the Cats on the verge of going 0-3 for the first time since 1992, Walker said the week before the game was one of his toughest weeks as a coach at NU because of the lack of passion he and his team showed against Arizona State.

Saturday evening, with the weight of getting his first win of the season lifted, his players saw a completely changed mood in their coach.

“Coming after this ‘W,’ I really saw a (different) side of coach Walker — he’s such a hard nosed coach,” Philmore said. “It’s good to see that side of him, he’s like a little kid again.”

Reach Tania Ganguli at [email protected]