‘Ifs’ play big part in game

By Dave Tuley

EVANSTON—There are a lot of “ifs” during the course of a football game, especially when the final score is a tie.

NIU and Northwestern battled to a 16-16 deadlock in Dyche Stadium Saturday in a game full of big plays and at least as many missed opportunities.

NIU offensive coordinator Pat Ruel had only one word to describe the offense’s performance in key situations, but then went on to elaborate with some examples.

“Terrible,” Ruel said. “We had our chances, but we didn’t execute. Our concentration was down. We had some receivers run the wrong routes. We dropped the football. The offensive line didn’t control the line of scrimmage.

“We should’ve won the ballgame. To be a good offensive team we have to not hope to do good; we have to expect it. When the plays are there, you have to do what you do in practice—execute.”

The main dropped pass in the game was in the third quarter when true freshman Mark Clancy let a sure touchdown slip through his fingers on a bomb from Marshall Taylor. The score would have put NIU up 14-6 with the normally automatic extra point, which, however, was not a given on this day.

The Wildcats could have had one more point if they had converted their first PAT. After keeping the ball on the ground for 12 plays and 71 yards, the conversion attempt failed when holder Shawn Carpenter tried running around left end.

“It wasn’t so much of a bad snap but a mishandled snap,” NU coach Francis Peay said. “It was a little high but the holder didn’t have to rise out of his stance.”

Both teams also missed field goals earlier in the game. NIU red-shirt freshman John Ivanic was short on a 44-yarder in the second quarter when a low snap from center threw off his timing, and NU’s Ira Adler only reached the goal line with a 47-yard attempt in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter the Huskies fought back to grab a 13-9 lead with 7:57 remaining when Taylor lofted a pass to the left sideline for Keith Hurley. The senior halfback hauled it in and scampered past the cheering Huskie bench for the 77-yard scoring strike, the fifth longest in NIU history.

“The ball hung up there a little bit and all I was thinking about was getting the first down,” Hurley said. “I turned around and saw Virgil (Gerin) standing there doing this,” he added while waving his arms at himself.

The Huskies would have been up by six points if they had succeeded with their two-point conversion, but Hurley was dragged down well behind the line of scrimmage.

Northwestern needed only 1:01 to respond with a go-ahead touchdown of its own on a 19-yard keeper by quarterback Mike Greenfield. The Wildcats could have grabbed a lead greater than a field goal with an extra-point run or pass but settled for the kick by Ira Adler to go up by three points at 16-13.

Some fans also questioned why Peay did not elect to take a safety and a free kick to back up the Huskies with 1:35 remaining instead of punting from the end zone, giving NIU better field position.

In the closing seconds NIU might have had a chance to throw the ball into the end zone once more before attempting the tying field goal, but Taylor threw the ball out of bounds instead to stop the clock and bring up fourth down.

“It’s easier to call those things from up in the stands, but when you’re down on the field in that type of situation you have to react like this,” Taylor said while snapping his fingers. “There’s a lot of ‘ifs,’ but that’s history now.”

There is a lot of second-guessing in the course of a football game, too.