November 6, 2007

Football crushed at Northwestern (MN)

When it rains, it pours, and this Saturday in St. Paul, Northwestern College was pouring the points and the hits on a Chicago football squad that has come undone in recent weeks.

Turning seven Maroon turnovers into 17 points, the Eagles (8–2) flew past Chicago (3–5, 0–3) to win comfortably 37–0, sending the South Siders home with their fourth straight loss.

Wasting no time getting their offense going, Northwestern received the opening kickoff and drove 72 yards in 11 plays before third-year quarterback Zach Tarter hit fourth-year wide receiver Jeremy Daggett in the end zone to put the Eagles up 6–0. The Maroons blocked the point after attempt, but defensive stops from Chicago would be the exception with Northwestern putting up points was the rule on a long Minnesota day.

Early in the second quarter, Northwestern began to open up their lead when first-year kicker Cody Crum split the uprights on a 26-yard field goal after third-year quarterback John Kiernan fumbled on the Maroons' own 23-yard line, giving the Eagles a 9–0 edge. Less than a minute later, Northwestern took another Kiernan fumble back 32 yards for a touchdown, pushing their advantage to 16–0.

With just over two minutes left in the half and Chicago backed up to its eight-yard line, second-year Ryan Verissimo netted only 22 yards on his punt, giving the Eagles excellent field position. Northwestern capitalized on the opportunity five plays later as fourth-year running back Aaron Pennington motored six yards into the endzone to give the Eagles a 23-0 lead as the teams went into the locker rooms for halftime. Pennington led all rushers on the day, churning out 62 yards on fifteen attempts.

Throughout the game, Northwestern used an unusual run-based offense that often baffled the Maroons' defense.

"They're in a power-I formation, and most teams these days spread you out, do a lot of shotgun or single-back," head coach Dick Maloney said. "But they use power running."

Struggling throughout the first half, the Maroons' offense generated only three first downs but lost two fumbles, threw two interceptions, and gave up a pair of turnovers-on-downs in the first two quarters. Both fumbles came out of the hands of the quarterback.

"Our problem the past four weeks has been we've turned the ball over way, way too much, " Maloney said. "The quarterbacks want to get a big play, but they're probably trying to make things happen a bit. They're probably trying to force the ball in sometimes."

Unfortunately, halftime provided only a short break from Chicago's struggles and the onslaught of Northwestern's attack continued after the break. Two and half minutes into the third stanza, a failed fourth-down conversion attempt by the Maroons gave Northwestern the ball, and Tarter connected with fourth-year wide receiver Josh Lundeen on the first play of the drive for a 50-yard scoring strike. After Crum converted the extra point, Northwestern sat atop a commanding 30–0 lead with almost a full half of football left.

That wouldn't keep the Eagles from piling on the points, though. After intercepting a pass from first-year quarterback Marshall Oium at the Maroons' 30, Northwestern pushed towards the Chicago goal line, stringing together several short passes and milking the clock. A false-start penalty and a strong pass rush from fourth-year linebacker Gaby Fernandez left the Eagles with a fourth-and-goal from the seven, and it looked like the Maroons' defense would hold them to three.

Northwestern, however, pulled a fake field goal out of the back of the playbook, and Lundeen housed it from seven yards out with 1:04 left in the third. Another point-after from Crum put the Eagles up 37–0 and would be the final point of the game.

Still stinging from Northwestern adding insult to injury, Chicago's offense came out after the fake field goal and put together its best drive of the day. After starting on their own three, the Maroons picked up five first downs as Kiernan led them 89 yards downfield. With Chicago only eight yards from paydirt, third-year defensive lineman Nate Fehr sacked Kiernan and forced him to fumble for the third time. The Eagles recovered the ball and the Maroons never again got past their own thirty-yard line.

The 37-point margin marks Chicago's worst defeat since a 51-10 drubbing at the hands of DePauw on October 4, 2003. Northwestern extended its win streak to eight games with the victory.

Next weekend the Maroons will wrap up the year at home against Eureka College. Heading into the game, the Red Devils are 2–7 and should give Chicago a chance to end their year on a high note.

"This game will be really emotional, because it’s the last game of the season, and the last game for the seniors," Maloney said. "The team is working really hard and with great effort, and now we're looking to get a win."