ST. PAUL -- After two straight losses, the University of Northwestern is back on track following a 36-21 victory over Westminster College on Saturday afternoon. While the Eagles had less first downs and a few less total yardage, UNW took advantage of five Blue Jays turnovers to maintain control of the football and keep pace with its opponent in the second half.
As has been the case four other times this season, Northwestern scored twice before its opponent was able to put points on the scoreboard. Both of the Eagles' scores – one offensive and the other on defense – were from the hands and feet of Kevin Langmade (Prescott, Wis./Prescott). The junior punched through a 26-yard field goal midway through the first quarter before picking off Westminster quarterback Joe Plassmeyer and returning it 25 yards for a touchdown less than a minute later. Unfortunately, Langmade's ensuing point-after attempt went wide, so the Eagles were temporarily stuck with a 9-0 lead.
Langmade's initial field goal was set up by a 14-play drive that included a 25-yard pass from Jacob Fletcher (Moorhead, Minn./Park Christian) to Caleb Couwenhoven (Blaine, Minn./Fridley) that went off of the receiver's hand and was batted away by a defender before Couwenhoven was able to grab it again before being tackled.
The Eagles were forced to punt on their next two possessions, but another interception – Austin Stubbs (Pleasant Hills, Iowa/Des Moines Christian)' first of two on the day – put running back Josh Sinnen (Waconia, Minn./Waconia) in perfect position for a one-play, five yard rushing drive that gave Northwestern a 15-0 advantage at the half.
Northwestern's offensive production carried into the third quarter as Garrett Ostrom (Woodbury, Minn./Stillwater) made good on a previous third down drop with a 30-yard reception in the end zone. Langmade's kick briefly continued the shutout at 22-0. Westminster, who started the day with a fumble and Langmade's interception in its first two drives, finally got on the board with 7:04 remaining in the third quarter when Sam Lantz, Jr. caught a touchdown pass from Plassmeyer.
UNW responded in a time-chewing manner, rushing six times in eight plays before offensive coordinator called for a deep passing play that hooked Fletcher up with Couwenhoven again, this time for a 46-yard score. That TD grab prompted Westminster to change quarterbacks as head coach John Welty went with wildcat formation runner and starting receiver Justin Billiot under center. Billot was good for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, giving the Blue Jays 21 points before the end of the game. Sinnen caught Fletcher's third scoring pass of the game with 7:31 left in the game to account for the Eagles' 15-point victory.
Northwestern finished with 380 yards of offense with solid contributions from both the rushing (137 yards) and passing (243) attacks. Westminster's miscues on offense allowed the Eagles to hit positive numbers in the takeaways-giveaways ratio all season as UNW now stands at 23-20 (+3). The Blue Jays were also called for 15 penalties throughout the 60-minute game, putting Westminster back over 100 yards in the process.
Fletcher's line had the quarterback completing 14 of 25 passes for 243 yards with the three scores, an improvement from his first half completion rate of 5-13. Sinnen and Couwenhoven finished just under 100 yards in their respective categories. Sinnen wrapped up the day with 21 carries for 96 yards to keep the junior's average at 102.6 yards per game and remain on pace for a 1,000-yard season with two games to go. Couwenhoven's three catches were good for 99 yards, bumping him up to 391 receiving yards in 2013.
UNW produced a team effort on defense. While no Eagle tallied double-digit tackles, four different players were credited with at least a half of a sack, with two others recovering fumbles. In addition to his two interceptions for 57 yards, Stubbs broke up three more of Westminster's passes. The Purple held the Blue Jays to just 59 rushing yards, marking the fifth time this year that Northwestern has limited its opponent to less than 100 yards on the ground.
Plassmeyer finished 20 of 33 for 218 yards for Westminster, with Billiot's seven completions yielding 122 yards through the air. Both Mike Washington and Austin Kempker had over 100 yards receiving for the Blue Jays.
The win puts Northwestern back at .500 with a 4-4 record (4-3 UMAC) with two weeks remaining on the 2013 schedule. After taking a week off from a long road trip, the Eagles will be back on a bus next Friday headed south again, this time to Jacksonville, Ill., where MacMurray College will be waiting for a 1 p.m. kickoff on the first Saturday of November.