Northern Colorado Comeback Falls Just Short at Western Illinois, 28-23
MACOMB, Ill. - The University of Northern Colorado football team saw its furious rally come up short as the Western Illinois University Leathernecks hung on a for a 28-23 win at Hanson Field on Thursday night.
Northern Colorado dropped to 1-1 on the season, while Western Illinois improved to 1-1.
Western Illinois dominated the early stages of the contest and jumped to a commanding 21-0 advantage. Northern Colorado finally got its offense in gear as junior wide receiver Andy Birkel caught three passes for 57 yards in leading the Bears to their first score of the game. Junior running back Andre Wilson scored from a yard out to trim the Leathernecks' lead to 21-7 with 14:27 to go in the second quarter.
But the Leathernecks' Travis Glasford showed why he is a Walter Payton Award candidate as he ripped of an impressive 63-yard touchdown scamper to up the lead to 28-7 with 13:52 to go in the first half.
After Glasford's long romp, the Bears seemed to wake up and just dominate the play the rest of the game. The Bears scored the game's final 16 points.
Despite the domination from the Bears in the second, third and fourth quarters, Northern Colorado simply could not crack the end zone when they reached the red zone.
Birkel caught a 46-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Nick Hager with 8:50 to go in the second quarter, but that would be the final time either squad reached the end zone.
Three second-half field goals from senior kicker Justin Zaitz trimmed the lead to 28-23 with only 7:26 to go in the game. But the Leathernecks then marched down the field in a time consuming drive that appeared to clinch the victory.
However WIU freshman kicker Taylor Rowan pushed a 33-yard field goal attempt wide right with 2:55 to go and it gave the Bears a brief glimmer of hope.
The Bears took full advantage of the missed field goal and drove the ball down the field as the clock ticked away. One of the key plays in the drive was a fourth down conversion from the Bears' 43-yard line when Hager hit junior wide receiver Zac Carlson for a 12-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
Hager then drilled Birkel for his final catch of the game to take the ball to 27-yard line. Then the Leathernecks committed a pass interference penalty which placed the ball on the 13-yard line.
Hager then attempted to win the game with a touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver but Western Illinois' Robert Hodges intercepted the pass in the end zone to clinch the victory for the Leathernecks.
Wilson rushed for a team-high 144 yards on a career-best tying 32 carries after being held to 36 yards in the first half. Hager passed for 245 yards on 15-of-35 passing. Birkel led the Bears with 132 receiving yards and the touchdown.
Glasford led the Leathernecks with 184 rushing and two touchdowns. Glasford tallied 156 of the yards before halftime.
Senior safety and Buck Buchanan Award candidate Reed Doughty tallied a game-high 17 tackles in the contest. Doughty also recorded a quarterback sack. Redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Kenney notched his first career interception and recovered a fumble for the Bears.
The Northern Colorado defense allowed the Leathernecks 318 yards in the first half, but limited WIU to only 109 total yards in the second half.
Northern Colorado will be in action next Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana at 2 p.m. at Nottingham Field. The game will also serve as the Hall of Fame game as the Bears' induct seven individuals and two teams into the Northern Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame.