by Bryan Gaskins
Northwestern football coach John Hendryx wanted his squad to take the fight to Lewis Cass right from the opening kickoff in the squads’ Mid-Indiana Conference opener Friday night at Owens Memorial Field.
The Purple Tigers met the challenge and came away with a 14-8 win, spoiling the Kings’ home opener.
Northwestern opened the game with a 14-play, 65-yard scoring drive.
Northwestern’s defense then forced a quick turnover, and the Tigers followed with a seven-play, 36-yard scoring drive to build a 14-0 lead at 10:48 of the second quarter.
“That is something we wanted to do,” Northwestern two-way standout Michael Plummer said of the strong start. “Cass has always been a physical team. We wanted to bring it to them.”
The Tigers’ strong start put the Kings on their heels.
“Physically, they beat us around the first half, which was my biggest fear,” Cass coach Scott Mannering said. “I wasn’t sure how we’d respond after last week [Cass lost 56-8 to West Lafayette]. We really didn’t. We couldn’t move the ball and we had a hard time stopping them, especially in some key downs and distances. Our thing has always been, if our defense can let us hang in there, we’ll probably figure out what will work offensively. All of a sudden, we’re behind two scores. It wasn’t working.”
The Tigers’ offense cooled after the hot start, but their defense protected the lead, taking a shutout into the final quarter. Northwestern held Cass to 129 total yards.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” Northwestern coach John Hendryx said, noting the Tigers’ physical play. “It’s a mindset that we’ve been trying to turn for a long time. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but we’ve made a lot of progress.”
Northwestern secured the win with a defensive stand. Cass cracked the scoreboard with 6:05 remaining and followed with a three-and-out, giving it a little momentum. Cass began its final possession at 5:06. The Kings picked up a first down and had the ball at their own 47-yard line. The Tigers stopped the Kings for a small loss on first down, then defensive ends Billy Parslow and Trae Nearon recorded back-to-back sacks to bury the Kings in a fourth-and-26 situation at their own 30 at 1:21. The Kings fumbled and Parslow recovered.
“It’s do-or-die time at that point and the defense really stepped up,” Hendryx said.
The Tigers improved to 3-0 overall while the Kings dropped to 1-2.
Northwestern showed nice balance on its opening drive. Freshman quarterback Trey Richmond completed 5 of 6 passes for 55 yards and Plummer came up big on a fourth-and-two from the Cass 31 when he battled for six yards. Richmond capped the drive with a 9-yard TD pass to Keagan Downey.
The Tigers converted another fourth down on their second drive. Facing fourth-and-five from the Cass 31, Richmond dropped back, then broke free when Cass collapsed the pocket, scrambling for eight yards and a first down on the final play of the opening quarter. Three plays later, Plummer scored on a 4-yard TD run.
Hendryx pointed to Richmond’s heady scramble as one of the key plays in the game.
Cass had a drive deep into the red zone in the closing minutes of the second quarter, but turned the ball over on downs. The Kings had the same outcome on their second drive of the second half, then made a costly mistake by running into Northwestern’s punter after pinning the Tigers deep in their own territory.
Cass had to overcome a pair of motion penalties on its scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Northwestern helped Cass with penalties of its own.
Mannering lamented the missed opportunities and mistakes.
“It seemed like every time we had an opportunity to make the game interesting, we shot ourselves in the foot. I thought we were very undisciplined on offense,” he said. “That’s very frustrating, but that is where we’re at right now. It’s a mental toughness thing. I don’t think anyone feels sorry for us. We better not feel sorry for ourselves, we better figure out how to get better.”