Western Illinois Football: Football Ends Season with Loss to Bison

MACOMB, Ill. – Western Illinois accomplished a feat only accomplished 11 other times in program history, but a second half comeback fell short as the Leathernecks dropped a 37-21 decision to North Dakota State on Saturday afternoon (Nov. 19) at Hanson Field.

The loss ends Western’s season at 2-9 overall and 1-7 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The fifth-ranked Bison clinched a share of the conference championship and earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division I playoffs (own tiebreaker over Northern Iowa).

Freshman Nikko Watson and junior Caulton Ray each rushed for a 100 yards in the contest, only the 12th time that occurred in Leatherneck Football history. Watson gained 106 yards on 16 carries while Ray, who has been hampered with an injury in recent weeks, returned to the line-up and gained 104 yards on 25 carries. Each scored a touchdown.

The Fighting Leathernecks trailed 34-0 following Marcus Williams’ 56-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter. Gaining just 78 yards in the first half, Western’s offense started getting into a rhythm.

Western responded with an 8-play touchdown drive that started with Larry Patterson’s 25-yard kickoff return and capped by Ray’s 2-yard TD run. It was the first rushing TD for the junior running back in five games.

The defense held in the redzone when NDSU was stopped on third-and-goal from the 5. Kieron James blocked the field goal attempt, but Western was flagged for offsides. Ryan Jastram this time made the kick, a 20-yarder making it 37-7.

Patterson nearly took the ensuing kickoff back for a TD, but was tripped in the open field and could not stay on his feet on his 46-yard return. Junior quarterback Cody Reardon, making his first collegiate start, hit Rick Richardson on a 10-yard TD pass to finish off the drive. It was the first touchdown reception ever for the senior fullback. Pat Smith’s extra point made it 37-14.

Western this time did get a blocked kick when Jonathan Rollins blocked a punt and Western recovered on the NDSU 42. Reardon hit Terriun Crump down to the one, then Watson scored on the next play to make it a two possession game.

The defense held NDSU on a 3-and-out, but on the offense’s next drive Western could not convert on third down. NDSU took over with five minutes left and was able to run out the clock.

“I would like to say that I am very proud of our Leatherneck football team in the locker room. This game did not go as we wanted it to, and this season did not go as we wanted it to, but they certainly never, ever quit. They never quit at any point during the season. They never quit during any of our games, and today was another one of those days,” said head coach Mark Hendrickson. “When you are down 21-0 at halftime you can slow down, and obviously these Leathernecks did not. They were very spirited and enthused heading in the second half.”
Watson, who was forced into action four games ago due to injuries, averaged 6.6 yards per carry. He recorded a 100-yard rushing game in three of his four contests and scored three touchdowns on the season.

Reardon was 6-of-14 passing for 82 yards and a touchdown but threw two interceptions. Crump caught four passes for 62 yards and Richardson caught the other two for 20.

Kevin Palermo again matched his career-high with 14 tackles, third time this year and fourth in his career. The senior middle linebacker totaled 215 in his career. For the second straight week senior Ryan Carleton recorded a career-high 11 tackles. Theon Dixon added 10 stops.

Junior Mike Harmon not only saw time at fullback, but he also played defense for the first time in his career. With injuries at nose guard, the 5-11, 240-pound junior played nearly every snap when senior Emeka Nwankwo went down early with a wrist injury.

“I don’t normally name individuals, but I am going to name one today and that’s Michael Harmon. Harmon played nose guard for us almost every snap in today’s game. He had never played defense in his lifetime until today… Unfortunately we had some guys banged up, so on Tuesday we asked Mike to go to the defensive side of the ball. He worked out Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with the defense, along with running goal line carries with the offense. Mike probably ran four or five snaps on offense when we were in our heavy set near the goal line. He was the only player today to play both ways and I am really proud of Mike,” said Hendrickson.

Sam Ojuri rushed for a game-high 128 yards and three touchdowns for the Bison (10-1, 7-1). Brock Jensen completed 12-of-19 passes for 196 yards and an interception. Preston Evans recorded 12 tackles and Williams had two interceptions.

GAME NOTES: North Dakota State entered the game tied for fifth in turnover margin, but committed two during the first half. However, the Leathernecks were not able to capitalize on either… NDSU also ranked second nationally in scoring defense, but the 21 points Western scored matched the third-most it allowed this year… Western dropped its final six games of the season, all coming following its last minute win over Southern Illinois and subsequent bye week… The last time Western had two rushers each gain 100 yards in a game was last year against Indiana State when Bryce Flowers gained 192 yards and Ray finished with 115… Crump ends his three-year career fifth all-time in receptions (135) and fourth in yards (2,067). He finished his senior year with 61 receptions, good for fourth on the season ‘Top 10’ list, and 944 yards (sixth on season list). Crump also concluded his career with a reception in 25 straight games, tying him for the third-longest streak in Western history… Patterson just missed on Todd Speight’s season kickoff return record, finishing the game with 101 yards and this season with 965 (82 shy)… Despite Ray and Watson both going for 100 yards, Western’s streak of eight straight years with a 1,000 yard rusher came to an end. Ray rushed for a team-leading 620 yards in eight games while Watson had 485 in his four contests… The Leathernecks also lost another senior to an injury when linebacker Mike Garoppolo missed most of the game with a knee injury… Western had 16 seniors play their final game as a Leatherneck… Tim Franken made his 29th career start while fellow seniors Palermo (27), Crump (24) and Ryan Davis (20) each started at least 20 games in their respective career… Davis broke up two passes, including one in the endzone.

-WIU-

Patrick Osterman
Assistant Athletics Director/Media Services
Western Illinois University
cell: (309) 255-5642; office: (309) 298-1133
Twitter: wiusid
www.GoLeathernecks.com

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