By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — It’s a widely accepted football theory that, early in the season, teams’ defenses will be more advanced, rhythm-wise, than the offenses.
Northwestern was a prime example of that in Friday’s season opener with Clinton Central.
The Purple Tigers defense made life miserable for Central’s offense, limiting the Bulldogs to 58 total yards of offense and just two first downs in a 23-0 victory in front of the home fans.
“I was really happy with the way our defense really stepped up,” Northwestern coach John Hendryx said. “We struggled, I thought, last week in the scrimmage a little bit. But, I just didn’t see a lot of things that we didn’t do well [Friday] night defensively. We ran to the ball quickly. We didn’t have misalignments. We just played pretty solid.”
Offensively, it was another story. The Tigers had three drives stall out in Central territory in the first half, and had a 37-yard touchdown run by Tanner Wildrick called back on an illegal block penalty.
Wildrick scored Northwestern’s lone TD in the first half, hauling on a 17-yard strike from quarterback Logan Macaluso with 27 seconds left in the first quarter. The Tigers took a 6-0 lead into halftime after holding the Bulldogs to 41 yards in the first half.
Northwestern had a penalty kill its first drive of the second half, before Michael Plummer capped a 38-yard drive with a 14-yard TD run to put the Tigers up 14-0 with 3:32 to play in the third.
Macaluso was intercepted in the end zone by Central’s Aaron Russell with 6:50 to play to negate what had been a seven-minute drive by the Tigers.
“Offensively, the doggone turnovers inside the 20 were just a nightmare,” Hendryx said. “If it wasn’t a turnover deep, it was a penalty deep. We had a touchdown called back — we just had a tough time getting things in rhythm offensively. We’d get things going and then you look up and its first-and-20. I thought we did some things well. I thought our offensive line played pretty well, but you have to hold on to the football.”
Following the interception, Northwestern’s defense forced the Bulldogs to punt out of their own end zone, where an errant snap yielded a team safety to put the Tigers up 16-0 with 3:29 to play.
Sophomore Keron Hullum scored on a 38-yard TD run 20 seconds later to ice the win for Northwestern 20.
In an attempt to spark his offense, Central coach Justin Schuhmacher switched from the wishbone offense to a double-wing set out of the locker room in the second half, but it was for naught. Northwestern held CC to 17 yards in the second half.
“It was an attempt to balance up more,” Schuhmacher said. “We looked at couple things in the way they were playing their front, and we thought it gave us a better advantage. We thought that would give us a better shot at getting a crease for our fullback, which we still were unable to do. It was just a frustrating night offensively, there’s no question. We just couldn’t seem to get anything going at any point.”
Plummer finished the night with 72 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He also intercepted a pair of passes in the first half.
Central QB Tyler Burns finished with 40 yards on nine carries on a night where most of the Bulldogs’ starters played both ways.
Northwestern visits North Miami next Friday, while the Bulldogs host Western Boone.