So close but yet so far: Northwestern Football looses to Maryland
By Brendan Preisman
With a 17-10 lead and 13:15 left in the third quarter, the Northwestern football team appeared to be on its way to its first win since Aug. 27. In the first drive of the second half, the ‘Cats were marching efficiently into Maryland territory before quarterback Brendan Sullivan’s pass was picked off by Dante Trader Jr.. The turnover ended up costly, flipping all momentum in the Terrapins’ direction, boosting them towards a 31-24 win.
Turnovers have been Northwestern’s Achilles’ heels this season, and Sullivan’s two interceptions were no different. The ‘Cats also struggled to stop Maryland’s dynamic run game, which was critical to the success of an offense missing star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. THe Wildcats gave up a total of 257 yards on the ground, including a pair of deadly second half touchdown runs from Maryland’s Roman Hemby.
The game started off about as well as Northwestern could hope, with two solid defensive stops and a 46-yard completion to Malik Washington that set up a Sullivan sneak for a touchdown.
However, the defense started to break down in the second quarter, giving up three third-down conversions on a Maryland touchdown drive that knotted things at seven apiece. The Wildcats’ offense responded with a solid drive that ended in a 24-yard field goal.
Following a punt from Maryland, the Wildcats turned to Evan Hull, who used his four touches to put up 47 yards and a touchdown on Northwestern’s ensuing drive. The Terrapins responded with a great drive of their own, but were stonewalled inside the ten yard line and had to settle for a field goal, giving Northwestern a 17-10 halftime lead.
Behind Sullivan and Hull, Northwestern seemed to have the positive momentum they had been missing the last five weeks. Those 17 points at halftime were more than Northwestern had scored in an entire game since playin Southern Illinois on September 17. The ‘Cats also got the ball after the break and used the possession to storm back down into Maryland territory.
That was when Sullivan was picked off.
After a 23-yard return by Trader Jr., Hemby and Maryland quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. made quick work of the Northwestern defense and tied the game at 17. Northwestern’s ensuing drive stalled out after a penalty, and Maryland responded with a 30-yard strike from Edwards Jr. to Rakim Jarrett to take their first lead of the game, 24-17.
Despite the deficit, the ‘Cats kept clawing back. Even when Maryland seemed to be on the brink of furthering their lead, Adetomiwa Adebawore’s sack pushed Maryland out of comfortable field goal range and Terrapin kicker Chad Ryland would push a 46-yard attempt wide right.
Seizing the opportunity, Andrew Clair took it to the house and tied the game with 3:34 remaining.
But on the first play of the next drive, Hemby crushed all hopes of a Wildcat victory, slicing through the defense for a 75-yard touchdown. Three Northwestern defenders made diving attempts at Hemby, but it was too little too late and the running back earned his third touchdown of the day.
“Everyone’s gotta execute when the moment’s the biggest,” said linebacker Bryce Gallagher at the postgame press conference.
On the next drive for the ‘Cats, Sullivan attempted a bullet to a double-covered Washington, but the pass was picked off by Maryland’s Beau Brade. The Terrapins were able to run out the final 3:02 from there, moving Northwestern to 1-6 so far on the season.
Although Sullivan played well in his first start, throwing for 143 yards and rushing for 53 more, his two interceptions were costly. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald added that if Northwestern wants to win, they will need to “avoid critical mistakes down the stretch.”
Northwestern will try to snap their losing streak once again this Saturday when they travel to Kinnick Stadium to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes.