Wildcats roll Illini in regular season finale


Wildcats roll Illini in regular season finale

EVANSTON, Ill. Never mind the rivalry game for a minute. The Northwestern Wildcats wanted to make another statement. By reaching their ninth victory of the season, the Wildcats could lock up a berth in a New Years Day bowl game.

And Northwestern responded to the challenge with a rout of its in-state rival.

Eight different players scored for the Wildcats, who reached nine victories for the first time since 2008. The next test for the Wildcats is to snap their nine-game losing
streak in bowl games.

Nine wins is a great year. Ten is special, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. To be a bowl champion could be a great exclamation point.

The Outback, Capital One and Gator bowl games have been mentioned as possibilities for the Wildcats (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten).

Were going to play on the road. Were going to play in Florida somewhere. Were going to play an SEC team in their backyard and were going to be the underdog by 75 points, Fitzgerald said, drawing laughter.

We play the best of the best. We have in the past and weve gone toe to toe with them. Its going to take our best preparation for whoever we get the privilege to play. I promise that our guys will be fired up and excited for it.

After routing Illinois (2-10, 0-8) on Saturday, the Wildcats were excited about reclaiming the Land of Lincoln Trophy. Quarterback Kain Colter said lifting the heavy, hat-shaped trophy was a workout.

Its a rivalry game, so you definitely want bragging rights, said Colter, who completed 9 of 11 passes for 102 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown. I havent beaten them since Ive been here, he said. We really wanted to get this one and get back on track and finish this season up right, and especially do it for our seniors.

Northwestern claimed the rivalry victory after a slow start. Illinois scored on the game-opening drive, marching 78 yards on 11 plays. The Illini later cut the lead to 24-14 on backup quarterback Reilly OTooles 12-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter.

You look at the way we tackled early, it was pathetic and gave them some opportunities to make some plays, Fitzgerald said. But Nathan is an outstanding quarterback. They have weapons across the board and made some plays early. We felt like that was the worst half of football we played in a month, and the only way its going to get fixed is if we do something about it. Our team went out there in the second half and dominated the way we should have dominated from the start.

Northwestern was especially efficient running the ball, finishing with 338 yards on the ground. Venric Mark ran for a game-high 127 yards and a touchdown. Six players scored touchdowns on offense for the Wildcats. Jeff Budzien kicked 44- and 36-yard field goals. Hes 17 of 18 on field goals this season.

We have a motto. Its: Everybody eats, Colter said. Everybody wants a taste of the end zone. Thats one thats kind of developed since I got here. Everybodys competing. Everybody wants to get on the field.

As for defense, Northwestern forced four turnovers, including three interceptions.

After the Wildcats stressed better play in the second half, they scored early in the third quarter on Colter's 15-yard touchdown pass to Tyris Jones. Northwestern turned the game into a rout on Colters 24-yard touchdown pass to the wide-open Paul Jorgensen from Colter for a 41-14 lead.

He was lined up at left tackle and he ends up running down the field wide open, Colter said. Its a good feeling to get an offensive lineman six points. We were pretty excited about that. Its something weve repped in practice.

After another Illinois interception, Mike Trumpy scored on a 3-yard run for a 48-14 lead. Northwestern recorded a safety with 3 minutes left.

Now the Wildcats are focused on a bowl victory.

We havent gotten the job done yet, defensive end Quentin Williams said. Its hard to diagnose a problem when it goes on for that long, but I dont think we have that problem this year. I think we can finally set that legacy and do what we do out there.

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.

Morning Update: Blackhawks fall to Jackets; Cubs look to close out Dodgers in NLCS

Morning Update: Blackhawks fall to Jackets; Cubs look to close out Dodgers in NLCS

Complete Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 6 coverage on CSN

IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show Saturday on CSN

Penalty kill struggles again in Blackhawks’ loss to Blue Jackets

Clayton Kershaw stands between Cubs and World Series: ‘To be the best, you got to beat the best’

For Bears QB Jay Cutler, an unwanted second chance – audition? – presents itself

White Sox: Chris Getz's new player development role is to carry out 'vision of the scouts'

How game-changing Kyle Hendricks deal came together for Cubs team on brink of World Series

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Same mistakes resurface

Week 8 Big Ten previews: After last week's clash, Badgers, Buckeyes hit the road

High School Lites Football Roundup: Week 9