Slide secures win for Cats

Colin Becht

On Saturday, junior linebacker Ben Johnson intercepted a pass with 17 seconds remaining and slid to the turf, despite having an open field in front of him.

During NFL play the next day, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Nate Clements also picked off a pass with a minute and 22 seconds left. Seeing the end zone, he decided to run with the ball.

While Johnson’s slide gave the ball to the Wildcats offense to run out the clock, Clements’ decision to return his pick ended otherwise: in 39 yards, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White chased down Clements and knocked the ball loose. That fumble gave the ball back to the Falcons, who used the ensuing drive to win the game with a last-second field goal.

Johnson said he saw Clements’ play.

“That’s the same situation,” he said. “He tries to make a play, and he didn’t need to. Anything can happen with time on the clock and you give the other team the ball.”

The differing decisions are a crucial reason why Northwestern defeated Minnesota 29-28 and the 49ers lost to the Falcons 16-14 .

Johnson’s choice to slide, when he perhaps could have taken it to the house, was ingrained in him by coach Pat Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald said the Cats practice the two-minute drill every Thursday, and several times the defense has forced a turnover.

“Early in camp, a guy kept running with it,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m pretty demonstrative on what you do in that situation.”

Though the sight of the open field before him was tempting for Johnson, he said securing the win was more important.

“We were up. If I slid, we get the win,” he said. “If I keep running, there’s a chance I could fumble. In any two-minute situation, coach always tells you, ‘Go down, get our offense the ball and just kneel it. Get the victory. Style points aren’t important at that point.'”

Still, Johnson said he feels like he could have scored if he had tried to return the interception.

“I had enough to make a move or at least have a chance (at scoring),” he said.

Though Johnson is listed with the second-team defense, Fitzgerald said he is more to the team than a second stringer. Johnson started the first two games of the season before junior linebacker Bryce McNaul returned from injury.

“I’d put him maybe as a 1-A,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s our fourth guy in right now (at linebacker).”

Johnson said he doesn’t quite see himself as a virtual starter.

“I feel like a role player,” he said. “I don’t feel like a starter. I feel like I can back up (senior linebacker Quentin Davie), and I can do the position if I need to, when called upon. But I feel like I have a role, and that’s not necessarily a starter.”

That feeling of not being a starter bothers him, Johnson said.

“It’s a competition,” he said. “I would love to be a starter, but I know (Davie)’s got that experience, and he makes the plays that he needs to, and he does well.”

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