It was hardly pretty, but when you’re working your way back toward the elite status you once held, you take a win anyway you can.
And that’s exactly the way it was for Northwestern Friday night at Traz Powell Stadium as the Bulls survived a sloppy offensive performance thanks to some pretty impressive defensive play in an 18-8 victory over American in the season opener for both.
“It’s always good to get a victory, I don’t care how you get it, but it was definitely sloppy out there and we were pretty lucky to get out of here with a win,’’ said Northwestern coach Max Edwards, who made his head coaching debut after coming over from Central.
“I’m proud of the kids for finding a way to get the win but we have a long season ahead of us and we did not do a lot of things very well tonight.”
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Edwards watched as quarterback Tu Tu Atwell was effective through the air completing 12-of-17 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown but also watched his offense fumble the ball five times, losing it three times — twice inside the American 5 in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls also stubbed their toe by committing 13 penalties for 114 yards.
But the defense, led by Schneider Jonassaint and Stephan Gustave, pretty much did its part all night long stifling the Patriots offense, holding them to just 48 yards of total offense. With their team up 14-0 in the fourth quarter, Jonassaint and Gustave both rifled through the American offensive line to record back-to-back safeties to put the game away.
They then had to watch the shutout get lost when, with just two minutes left, punter Kelvin Flores, after a low snap tried to fling an underhand pass but wound up tossing it right into the hands of American’s Jawuan Lewis who returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
“We had to do what we had to do tonight,” Gustave said. “The offense slacked off a little and when that happens, the defense just has to do what’s needed and we did that.”
Having to go without it’s starting quarterback Steve Hollingsworth who suffered a concussion against Miramar last weekend and won’t be back until next week, the Patriots offense never came near the red zone and only crossed into Northwestern territory twice all night long.
Meanwhile the Bulls were led by both Atwell and running back Corey Lane who gave his team it would not relinquish with an 11-yard touchdown run just 2:26 before halftime and would go on to finish the night with 78 yards on 14 carries.
His score was set up three plays earlier when American quarterback Tyree Bibby fumbled away a snap and Anton Jackson recovered for the Bulls at the 27.
Northwestern’s other touchdown was also set up by a lost American fumble as Atwell led his team 58 yards in eight plays on its first second half possession; Atwell found Christopher Othelot on a 20-yard touchdown pass on third-and-13.
“We messed up pretty bad at times tonight and we were pretty sloppy,” Atwell said. “We’re working hard to get ourselves back to the playoffs and this time hang around for awhile. We just need to keep grinding.”