EVANSTON, Ill. – Nothing wrong with being 2-0 two games into a football season, but Northwestern knows it got away with one Saturday.
Northwestern was efficient and explosive in rolling up a 21-3 halftime lead over Eastern Michigan. Then it meandered through a listless second half and needed a 49-yard field goal from Stefan Demos with six seconds left to pull out a 27-24 victory over the gritty Eagles before a crowd of 19,239 at Ryan Field.
“The scoreboard doesn’t lie – it’s a win,” senior NU safety Brendan Smith said. “But we know we have to play better, put more effort into it, want it a little more. This is a reminder.”
For Demos, it was a reminder that good things come to those who wait. The junior sat out a redshirt year, then punted and kicked-off for two seasons while Amado Villarreal did NU’s placekicking.
The game-winner, made with plenty to spare on fourth-and-17 from the EMU 32-yard line, was his first field goal in competition since 2005.
“It’s overwhelming,” Demos said. “Kickers dream of having that opportunity because you don’t get that many, and I appreciate coach having confidence in me. I did my job and it’s a great feeling, but tomorrow it’s over and on to the next one.”
A reprise of last week’s season-opening pasting of outmanned Towson seemed possible, if not likely, after NU scored on methodical first-half drives of 68 and 99 yards.
When linebacker Ben Johnson slipped between EMU quarterback Andy Schmitt and receiver Trey Hunter and returned his first-career interception 71 yards for his first-career touchdown, NU led 21-0.
Then the Eagles could manage only a field goal after recovering freshman tailback Arby Fields’ fumble deep in NU territory, so it was a 21-3 game at halftime.
“We looked up at the scoreboard and I guess we thought it was going to be like last week,” said junior tailback Stephen Simmons, who ran for 73 yards, scored twice and gave NU good field position with two strong kick returns. “We have to play like it’s zero-zero the whole game.”
EMU (0-2) regrouped and went 88 yards in 12 plays on its first second-half possession, junior tailback Dwayne Priest scoring on 1-yard pop through the middle. Priest finished with 127 yards on 19 carries, his bowling-ball build making him a tough target for NU’s ineffective tacklers.
A muffed punt set up Schmitt’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Jacory Stone five minutes into the fourth quarter, and an interception of a tipped Mike Kafka pass preceded Terrence Blevins’ 3-yard touchdown run with 2:40 remaining.
Game tied. Summon Demos.
“I told him, ‘Great job doing your job’ – I’m really proud of him,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said, conceding he was happy, but hardly elated. “To win a game like this is worrisome across the board.
“We need to execute better in all aspects. Penalties, turnovers, our inability to stop the run – we really put our defense on the spot. It’s disappointing. We should be better than that.”