It wasn’t quite the blowout some were expecting, but Northwestern was able to hold off Nation Ford for a 48-25 victory Friday night at District Three Stadium.
The Falcons were stopped twice on downs in the red zone and missed a field goal, but were still in it until Northwestern quarterback Gage Moloney put the game out of reach with an 18-yard touchdown run with 5:18 remaining.
The Trojans added two more scores, including a 79-yard interception return by DJ Agurs with four seconds remaining. It was the 59th pass attempt of Nation Ford quarterback Cole Martin and the 97th pass attempt of the game.
“We knew they were about 80-percent pass and we felt like we could throw the football,” Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson said. “They did a good job of stopping our run, so we had to throw it around. It was a long night of passing the football.”
Northwestern has won all eight matchups with Nation Ford, but scored more than 60 points in each of the last two meetings. The Falcons had an answer for nearly every Trojans score on Friday, including Hank Tiupulotu’s 68-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to pull the Falcons within two with 7:54 remaining.
The teams combined for just 9 rushing yards on 19 attempts in the first half, but quarterbacks Gage Moloney and Martin threw for 397 yards.
Nation Ford was driving for what could have been a game-tying score before halftime, but Rayquwan Taylor was stopped twice at the goal line. Cole Martin’s pass to a wide-open Jordan Helms was then knocked down by the Trojans defensive line as time expired.
The Falcons had another opportunity late in the third quarter, but Alex Stennett – who scored twice – could not hang onto the pass after getting hit in the end zone. The ball popped in the air and Stennett nearly caught it while lying on the turf.
“We’ve just got to execute better in critical times,” Nation Ford coach Michael Allen said. “Being in the red zone, we fought like heck to get down in there and then don’t execute and don’t finish. We probably left three or four touchdowns on the field, which would have made a tremendous difference in the outcome of the game.”
Northwestern sophomore receiver Jordan Starkes kept a drive alive by recovering a Jerry Howard fumble at the Nation Ford 20. Howard later scored with 8:25 remaining to put the Trojans up 27-19.
“That was huge because that ball laid there for an hour,” Richardson said. “It was just sitting there. I could’ve picked it up. You’re just waiting, waiting, waiting, and that was huge.”
Starkes had nine catches for 133 yards and a touchdown to go with the fumble recovery. Richardson said it was probably the sophomore’s best game.
“He steps up to the plate when we really need him,” Richardson said. “There were some matchups we thought he could win and he stepped up and made some plays.”
The Trojans turned the ball over twice, but Richardson said it was a good win for his team’s mental toughness.
“We didn’t play well in certain phases of the game,” Richardson said. “I told the team we’ve got to practice better. This game is about the little things, but a win’s a win.”
NF – Alex Stennett 10 pass from Cole Martin (Lexi Dressing kick) 8:48
NW – Jordan Starkes 3 pass from Gage Moloney (Thomas Gettys kick) 6:13
NW – Jerry Howard 19 pass from Moloney (Gettys kick) 9:02
NF – Stennett 12 pass from Martin (Kick blocked) 8:02
NW – Moloney 2 run (Gettys kick) 2:30
NF – Josh Shade 26 pass from Martin (Pass failed) 10:51
NW – Howard 1 run (Kick blocked) 8:25
NF – Hank Tiupulotu 68 pass from Martin (Pass failed) 7:54
NW – Moloney 18 run (Gettys kick) 5:18
NW – Howard 2 run (Gettys kick) 1:51
NW – DJ Agurs 79 interception return (Gettys kick) 0:03.9