After losing the first two games of the season, the ‘Cats started this game hot and rode it to a 24-7 victory over the Western Illinois Leathernecks. They shot down the field, moving the ball 70 yards in less than three minutes and ended the drive with freshman runningback Solomon Vault’s first career rushing touchdown.
“It felt good,” Vault said. “But mostly it felt good to get our first win.”
WIU responded immediately with a big drive of their own to tie it up. From there, it was deadlocked until Solomon Vault punched in another one from 11 yards out.
As scary as it might sound, these two teams looked very evenly matched. It was a grind-it-out sort of game (except for the first two drives) that ultimately ended with the ‘Cats pulling out their first victory of the season.
The only problem: WIU is an FCS team.
This game was closer than the score suggests. WIU gave the Northwestern offense a lot of trouble for most of the game. But, the ‘Cats overpowered Western Illinois and shut them out after their first drive of the game.
But, a win’s a win. And this particular win was dedicated to Jake, an 8 year-old boy who is battling cancer.
“He got the game ball,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Northwestern also won the field-position game, with punter Chris Gradone pinning the Leathernecks inside the 20 on six different occasions, including one on the one yard line.
“Gradone did a nice job outside of one punt, but he responded really well,” Fitzgerald said.
All three of Northwestern’s scores came from the two standout freshmen runningbacks, Solomon Vault (who had two) and Justin Jackson. Those two continue to make an immediate impact on an otherwise struggling team.
“The two young guys are really talented football players,” Fitzgerald said.
The defensive bright spot of the game was Ifeadi Odenigbo, who finished the game with three forced fumbles, two sacks and three tackles. The former four-star recruit made a huge impact today, helping hold the WIU offense to just seven points
“We’ve had [Odenigbo] on the field for almost every third down situation,” Fitzgerald said. “He played well today.”
Ibraheim Campbell was absent for much of the game due to a lower body injury. The ‘Cats missed him several times as WIU was able to convert on some clutch third-and-longs throughout the game. Cameron Dickerson was added to the injury list in the second half with an upper body injury.
The ‘Cats will begin conference play next week when they travel to Penn State. The first part of the season hasn’t been what they had hoped, but they’ll get a chance to redeem themselves against a conference opponent and reach .500 for the first time this year.
“My size 12’s are going where the sun doesn’t shine for this team for the rest of the season and it’s not going to end until we get where we need to be,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re not there yet. We are far from being there.”
Solomon Vault and Justin Jackson: What can these guys not do? They returns kicks, juke defenders, catch passes, and even make some special teams tackles. Vault and Jackson, once again, had big days on the ground. Vault finished with 31 yards and two touchdowns. Those touchdowns are his first collegiate scores. Combined, the two-headed monster finished with 123 yards on 27 carries and three touchdowns.
Ifeadi Odenigbo: The sophomore defensive end put the team on his back today, finishing with three forced fumbles and two sacks. But what isn’t in the box score is the amount of pressure he put on WIU’s quarterback. He got serious pressure and forced some bad throws. His emergence was a big part of the defense shutting out the Leathernecks after the first drive.
Guy who won 1,000 dollars during a game break by catching two punts: During one of the game breaks, they brought out a pitching machine to simulate punts and pulled a fan out of the crowd to catch them. He caught two out of three, and won $1,000. ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS. For catching two punts?! Sign me up next time please. Way to go, kid.
Attendance: When the national anthem was played by Northwestern’s band, the stands were, at best, a third full. During the game, it filled up a little bit more but was never even close to full. And then, to add insult to injury, in the third quarter (as Northwestern was leading 21-7) most of the students had left and so had many of the other fans. This was the Wildcats’ first win of the season. C’mon man.
Icing the kicker three times in a row to end the half: It was a bolder than bold move, and it elicited boos from all the fans. WIU had a 40-yard attempt that would have made the game 14-10 if they made it. Northwestern ended up blocking the attempt, so the three timeouts were not used in vain. Maybe he should do that more often? Just kidding, please don’t.
Injuries: Several players left the game with injuries, and the severity of them is still unknown. Collin Ellis left with an apparent concussion, Cameron Dickerson had an upper body injury and Ibraheim Campbell left with a lower body injury. The ‘Cats need those players if they want any sort of a chance against conference opponents. In the press conference, Fitzgerald said that Ellis was joking around in the locker room after the game.