Football: After canceling its 2020 season, Indiana State poses unique challenge to Northwestern


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Bryce Kirtz runs with the football. The sophomore wide receiver’s father ran track and field at Indiana State.

Patrick Andres, Senior Staffer


Members of the Football Championship Subdivision have racked up an impressive list of victims to start the 2021 season. 

Montana beat No. 20 Washington in Seattle. East Tennessee State topped Vanderbilt in Nashville by 20 points. UC Davis nipped Tulsa, the defending American Athletic Conference West Division champions.

The FCS slogged through a chaotic, elongated 2020, during which some of its schools played in the autumn, some in the spring and some not at all. But the subdivision has returned in full force in 2021, and member program Indiana State (1-0) heads to the shores of Lake Michigan this Saturday to face off against Northwestern (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten). The Sycamores will attempt to gain its first win over an FBS team since a 27-20 victory over Ball State in 2014. 

According to coach Pat Fitzgerald, the best way for the Wildcats to rebound from their surprising season-opening loss to Michigan State is not by making any assumptions about the Sycamores, but by looking inward.

“When we take care of what we can control, we typically can win games,” he said. “When we make mistakes and gift-wrap things for opponents, it makes it really difficult to beat two teams.”

Indiana State, located in Terre Haute, Indiana, is a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and the only team on NU’s 2021 schedule to have lost its entire 2020 season to COVID-19. The Sycamores could’ve played a spring season but opted out, making 2020-21 the first football-free school year in the Wabash Valley since 1922.

The lost season obscures the significant gains the Sycamores have made in four years under coach Curt Mallory, a former defensive backs coach at three Big Ten schools and the son of longtime Indiana coach Bill Mallory. Mallory’s first team in 2017 went 0-11, giving up over 40 points in nine different games. His next team went 7-4.

As anonymous as Indiana State may be on the gridiron to all but the most diehard college football fans, the Sycamores are familiar to at least one NU player. 

Sophomore wide receiver Bryce Kirtz is a native of Brownsburg, Indiana, about 80 miles northeast of Terre Haute. Kirtz’s father, Andre, ran track at Indiana State, capturing an indoor conference title in the 400-meter dash in 1994. His brother, Tyler, was recruited by the Sycamores to play football before ultimately ending up at Ball State. 

“When my brother was getting recruited, I went to a couple games, just on visits with them,” Kirtz said. “So I have some familiarity with them.”

Kirtz, who reeled in seven catches for 80 yards in the opener, is likely to play a key role as the Cats try for their first win of the season against his father’s alma mater. 

NU is 9-2 against the FCS in 11 games under Fitzgerald. New Hampshire held the Cats scoreless in the second half of Fitzgerald’s second game in 2006, winning 34-17 and boosting the profile of offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. In 2016, Illinois State capitalized on a Justin Jackson injury to edge NU 9-7 on a field goal as time expired.

Fitzgerald hopes the Cats get back to the staples of their past success: containing explosive plays and playing sound offense and defense in the red zone. These elements may be the keys to recovering from their letdown against the Spartans and defeating Indiana State.

“If I pop on the tape from Friday night, I think we have plenty to fix,” Fitzgerald said. “Our focus is on us, trust me. It’s on us getting better right now.”

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Twitter: @pandres2001

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