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Northwestern handles Maine

Wildcats muddle through win

By Ed Muniz

If ever a football team appeared to be looking forward, Northwestern fit the bill perfectly. It appeared that the Big Ten opener against Ohio State weighed heavily on the Wildcats’ minds as they struggled against Maine in a 35-21 victory Saturday in Evanston.

The pesky Black Bear defense made it clear that they weren’t going to make things easy for 18th-ranked Northwestern. After a 27-yard scoring pass from Kain Colter  to Tony Jones on the Wildcats first possession, the Maine defense stifled and frustrated the Northwestern offense for most of the first half.

“We couldn’t get out of our own way,” said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

The offensive struggles and inconsistencies that appeared last week against Western Michigan reappeared, and the Black Bears were happy to benefit from their host’s offensive difficulties.

Late in the first half, Wildcats linebacker Damien Proby, intercepted Maine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski and returned it 49 yards for the first of two Northwestern defensive scores. The second came early in the third quarter as Wasilewski’s desperate attempt to avoid a sack resulted in a 19-yard Dean Lowry interception score.

The Wildcats (4-0) built a 21-0 lead, but the score masked the fact the Black Bears controlled much of the play. Maine: outgained the Wildcats in total yardage at 379 to 373; had 23 first downs to the Wildcats’ 20; and was 9 for 16 on third down conversions.

Unfortunately for Maine (3-1), its offense bogged down once it reached Northwestern’s 25 yard-line. To add insult to injury, two field goal attempts were unsuccessful: one was blocked and the other went wide left.

The Black Bears finally found the end zone when Wasilewski passed 11 yards to Justin Perillo for a touchdown with 3:02 left in the third quarter that cut the deficit to 21-7.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Mike Trumpy gave the Wildcats their second offensive score on a 7-yard run at the end of an eight-play, 74-yard scoring drive. It re-established Northwestern’s 21-point lead.
 
After Wasilewski found the end zone via a one-yard pass to John Ebeling, Colter put the game away for the Wildcats with a 5-yard rushing touchdown with 7:49 left.

After the game, Fitzgerald spoke about the upcoming Big 10 schedule.

“Our guys are excited for that challenge to play in this conference,” he said. “We got through our nonconference slate and now everything starts over.”

Notes

Northwestern will use its week off to prepare to host Ohio State in its Big 10 opener Oct. 5. … The break will also give RB Venric Mark more time to heal; he has missed the last three games with a lower body injury. … Maine’s senior RB Ricky Stevens (2 runs, 8 yards) left the game early with an upper body injury. … The Black Bears head to Richmond next week to open Colonial Athletic Conference play.
 
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