By Josh Sigler
With the state tournament on the horizon ahead of Friday’s regular season finale at Eastern, Northwestern football coach John Hendryx knew he might have trouble keeping his Tigers dialed in.
Northwestern defeated the Comets going away, 35-6, to finish the regular season at 7-2, but Hendryx was hoping to see his team be a bit sharper than it was.
“We looked flat and uninspired, and I think looking forward to the tournament was part of the problem,” Hendryx said. “I think the toughest game of the season to play is in Week 9 when there’s no conference championship to play for. Our big concern was coming off of here healthy. With the draw and all the talk about the tournament, I told my wife all week this was going to happen. I wished I was wrong, but you could just feel it. We’re going to have to fight that a little bit again next, but we’ll be in the tournament and that will help. We just have to play better. This is it. We have the games that count now.”
Friday night’s performance was nothing to sneeze at, especially considering Hendryx didn’t feel like he got a maximum effort out of his troops. The Purple Tigers (7-2, 5-2 MIC) racked up an even 400 yards of total offense and held the Comets scoreless before a late touchdown put Eastern on the board with under four minutes to play. The Comets mustered 233 yards of offense, but 105 of that came in the final eight minutes of the contest.
“Defensively, I thought we played great,” Hendryx said. “In fact, I think [Friday night] is the best we’ve played for three and a half quarters. ... That’s what we’ve been waiting on defensively, to be honest. I thought we were much more physical.”
Running back Brandon Curry ran for 90 yards and a touchdown in the first half, while quarterback Trevor Richmond threw TD passes to Billy Parslow and Trenton Brazel, staking the Tigers to a 22-0 lead at the half.
Curry finished with 123 yards on the ground on 20 carries, while Richmond completed 9 of 20 passes for 134 yards and three TDs. Brazel added his second TD of the game on a 21-yard catch from Richmond in the fourth quarter, and finished the night with five grabs for 84 yards. Brazel also ran nine times for 64 yards.
“I’m not worried about us offensively,” Hendryx said. “I’m standing here thinking we didn’t play all that well and we scored 35 points. Trevor was a little bit off. He was long-stepping and [sailing] the ball a little bit. It’s hard to complain when you score 35 points, but it just wasn’t what it’s been for the first eight weeks.”
For Eastern (1-8, 1-6), the same problems that have plagued the squad were again prevalent Friday night. The Comets had five drives stall out in Northwestern territory. Two turnovers also killed promising drives in what was a frustrating night.
“Our defense played well considering they had a couple tight spots they had to play out of,” Eastern coach Josh Edwards said. “I think offensively we did some positive things in stretches, moving the ball well and gaining consecutive first downs, which is something we’ve struggled to do at times this season. We still weren’t able to finish drives. We’d be moving the ball and have an overthrow or one missed block. We’ve been battling that all year in the games we’ve been competitive in. So, we’re still just not there. The kids have gotten better and matured in spots, but still just aren’t finishing what we start.”
Sophomore tailback Papee Byers ran for 97 yards and a TD on 24 carries to lead the Comets, going over the 1,000-yard mark in the loss.
Quarterback Austin Bates completed 9 of 29 passes for 77 yards and an interception. Will Porter led the Comets’ receiving corps. with three grabs for 25 yards.