Northwestern Gets Its ‘Groove’ Back, Defeats Michigan

Ben Larrison

By Ben LarrisonThe Daily Northwestern

With the Wildcats’ postseason hopes fading, Northwestern needed an offensive explosion against Michigan. Thanks to 11 first-half shots, NU got the scoring breakthrough it so desperately craved.

The Cats came up with a crucial Big Ten win Sunday, defeating Michigan 2-0 in Evanston.

“This is a huge win,” senior Kyle Moore said. “We lost the last two games, so we really needed a win to get back on track. Winning against Michigan is always a good win, so this is really big for us.”

NU (10-5, 2-3 Big Ten) played with a clear sense of urgency from the early going. The first 45 minutes of the game were marked by an aggressive Cats offense, attempting a number of long passes in search of a quick goal.

The attack finally paid off in the 23rd minute. After a quick turn, sophomore Carl Pett faked out the lone Michigan (5-8-3, 0-2-2) defender in the area and found a wide-open Brad North on the right side of the box. The senior put it past keeper Patrick Sperry and gave NU its first goal in more than two games.

“We were scoring today, ” NU coach Tim Lenahan said. “Whether we win 4-2 or lose 4-2, we were scoring today … We’re too good a team not to score goals.”

The Cats continued to push and looked as if they might have an offensive boom after over 200 minutes without a goal. Just 90 seconds after the initial goal, Pett found himself alone with Sperry, but the NU shot went right into the arms of the Wolverine goalie.

With less than 30 seconds to play in the first half, Moore gave the Cats a key goal and a 2-0 lead. Geoff Fallon received the ball along the left side of the box from Pett and one-touched a pass to Moore, who knocked it in for the first goal of his career.

NU shut down any first-half chances by Michigan, outshooting the Wolverines 11-2 while taking six corners to Michigan’s zero. The Cats kept the ball on the Michigan end for most of the first half, and nearly every ball towards the box led to an array of NU shots.

Just as valuable to the Cats’ efforts was Michigan’s inability to mount an effective counter-attack. NU seemed to out-hustle a tired Michigan team to nearly every neutral ball, the Wolverines still recovering from a game on Friday night.

“That was our game plan coming out here,” Pett said. “We just wanted to attack, attack, attack.”

The start of the second half saw Michigan mount the attack that they had lacked in the first. The Wolverines maintained their offensive push for most of the half, having multiple chances deep in the Cats box. But each time Michigan got close, keeper Will Briley and the NU defense came up with the stop.

Briley ended the game with three saves, all of them in the second half, to record his fifth shutout of the year and first since a September 27 win at Loyola.

“That’s an important win for us to get to double digits; it’s only the second time we’ve got to double digits since we joined the Big Ten,” Lenahan said. “But we’re not done. We’ve got a ways to go, and I just think we’re hitting our groove here.”

Reach Ben Larrison at [email protected]