The most poignant observation Northwestern head coach Page Wofford offered on Saturday night was one that pertained to special teams — a part of the game he couldn’t overlook.
Although he’d have a better idea of where his team faltered in his season-opening loss to high school football rival South Pointe after he reviewed the game’s film later in the week, Wofford knew where to start. The Trojans, after all, accumulated 79 yards in penalties. They largely lost the battle on the offensive line, enduring 12 rushes for loss — proving unable to mitigate South Pointe’s later-named Defensive Lineman of the Week Rontarious Aldridge and his equally-dominant counterpart, Jaden Hicklin.
But when asked a long-winded and open-ended question about the field positioning battle that his team couldn’t quite get the edge on — “Was it frustrating … is that just football … or what?” — the Northwestern coach offered a succinct and revealing answer.
“Yes,” he said. And he didn’t elaborate.
While there are a myriad of factors and players contributing to a game’s field position, one Stallion seemed to tip the game’s scales. O’mega Blake, the South Pointe junior wide receiver who also assumed punting responsibilities on Saturday, was vital. By the game’s end, he’d put together quite the statline: He punted six times, twice over 50 yards and twice within his opponent’s 20-yard line; he even ended up being his team’s leader in all-purpose yards with 85.
Understandably, moments after first-year head coach DeVonte Holloman earned his tenure-opening win, he praised his defense for holding Northwestern to a scoreless second half. The opposing offense only accumulated 51 total yards after a halftime adjustment by Holloman — who found that his defense was able to still get pressure on the quarterback even when he dropped eight defenders in coverage.
“We finally found a gameplan that worked,” Holloman told The Herald after the game. “Defensive line got after it rushing the quarterback with three, and that allowed us to cover up some of their really good receivers.”
But take a close look at the drive chart, and find Blake’s undeniable value: In the two drives Northwestern scored, the team did so by virtue of good field position. In back to back possessions in the second quarter, South Pointe fumbled and then turned the ball over on downs on its own side of the field — and both results directly led to Northwestern’s two scores.
Northwestern’s first scoring drive started 29 yards from the goal line; the other was from 24 yards.
The point? When Blake punted, Northwestern didn’t score.
Again, it should be noted that a battle of field position is one indisputably fought by all three units of a football team. And sure, Blake benefited from several factors undetected by an end-of-game box score: There was a strong wind at his back for much of the third quarter; he never had to punt from his own end zone, like Northwestern’s Special Teams Co-Player of the Week, Nick Acus, had to.
But even so, Blake’s across-the-board production, particularly in the punting game, supplemented a dominant defense and a serviceable offense in South Pointe’s Week One win.
And, postgame, his performance couldn’t be overlooked.