Wearing gold shoelaces to help raise awareness for pediatric cancer, the Briar Cliff football team also raised its level of play. Statistically, the Chargers outproduced the Red Raiders in several areas, but they still came up short, falling 24-17. The Chargers outgained the Red Raiders in total yards, 409-369, had four more first downs (28-24) and ran 19 more plays (91-72). The Cliff also won the time of possession battle, 31:42 to 28:18.
All of the fans expecting an offensive shootout at the DakotaDome got one of the defensive variety instead.
End zone interceptions from cornerback Jermaine Ambrose and linebacker Greg Hegstad in the second and fourth quarters, respectively, were among the defensive highlights for Northwestern in Saturday night's 24-17 Great Plains Athletic Conference victory over Briar Cliff. The Red Raiders were outgained 409-369, but forced four turnovers.
"The coaches really helped us prepare this week," said Hegstad, who led Northwestern (3-2, 2-2 GPAC) with 11 tackles, one more than his linebacker teammate, Isaiah Twitty.
"We came out and executed. As a defense, we know we needed to play better as a whole. We did that today. We've been stressing getting turnovers lately and we hadn't done a great job of that. In practice, we stressed that. We stepped up today and got them."
Defensive lineman Derrick Hurt's fumble recovery at the Chargers' 35-yard line set up the eventual game-winning touchdown for Coach Kyle Achterhoff's Red Raiders, a 19-yard pass from quarterback Davis Bloemendaal to Ben Green that produced a 14-7 lead with 2:05 left in the first quarter.
Briar Cliff (2-4, 2-3) closed the game's scoring as quarterback Kevin Van Egdom fired his seventh touchdown pass of the season, a 10-yarder to Bret Van Muyden with 2:05 remaining. Eventually, it turned out that Hegstad's interception about 3-1/2 minutes earlier, was a difference maker.
"We knew Van Egdom was going to make plays, but we knew we couldn't give up big ones, at least not too many big ones," said Achterhoff, as he watched BCU's signal-caller pass for 329 yards and two touchdowns.
"Defensively, our guys did a great job of causing turnovers, which is something we hadn't done yet. To cause some turnovers, get some interceptions was great. I tell you what, our red zone defense was great, other than that last score Briar Cliff had. We stepped up and made nice plays down there."
Theo Bartman collected his 11th career 100-yard rushing game for Northwestern, finishing with 130 yards. Paul Hutson, a bruising 6-foot-3, 237-pound freshman, added 116 yards on the ground. Winning quarterback Davis Bloemendaal (111 yards passing, 2 TD passes) handed off to Hutson three times in the series that followed Van Muyden's fourth touchdown catch of the season, but the Red Raiders downed a punt at Briar Cliff's 2-yard line with 56 seconds left.
Van Muyden (12 catches, 140 yards) and Tyler McGhee (6, 92, 1 TD) combined for three catches to the 27. With 6-5, 225-pound freshman defensive lineman Sam Van Ginkel on the pass rush, Hegstad made the stop on a catch by running back Mitch Heikes (88 yards rushing) for a two-yard gain.
Two plays later, Van Ginkel sacked Van Egdom to end the game.
Needless to say, it wasn't the only time Coach Tom Rethman's Chargers were stopped. Briar Cliff, which knotted the game 7-all on McGhee's 35-yard touchdown catch with 5:22 left in the first quarter, had a nine-play, 73-yard drive to open the third quarter, which included a 27-yard catch by Brady Van Dusen (6 catches, 88 yards) at Northwestern's 7-yard line.
Briar Cliff's defense came up with some big plays as well. Following the field goal, Marquette Harper intercepted Bloemendaal in the endzone and returned it 37 yards. Only to have Northwestern intercept it right back on the very next play and kick a field goal eight plays later. Kenny Hanes and Rasheed Tynes led the Cliff with 10 tackles apiece, while Steven Trujillo finished with nine. Trujillo and company held the Red Raiders to only 111 yards through the air.
"We played hard throughout," said Rethman. "There were a few times when we lost our composure and that obviously affected us. We moved the ball, but we couldn't do anything in the red zone and that killed us. The bottom line, it comes down to what you're able to do inside that scoring zone. We had opportunities, but the hat goes off to them for making the stops when they needed to."
For the game, the Chargers were 2-5 in the red zone, while the Red Raiders were 4-5. Both teams will play next Saturday. Briar Cliff is at Dakota State while Northwestern hosts Concordia.
Story by Jerry Giese of the Sioux City Journal