Pushed around early, football suffers first loss at No. 5 North Central, 32-19

Miguel Campos | Contributing Reporter

After an early bye week, the Washington University football team was back in action Saturday at No. 5 North Central College, falling behind 22-0 in the first half and ultimately falling, 32-19.

Going toe-to-toe with one of Division III’s best teams, Wash. U. was going to need the extra rest. North Central had already asserted itself in its opening game, trouncing Lake Forest College—which went 8-2 in 2017 and started 1-0 this year—by a score of 70-14.

Quarterback Johnny Davidson looks to connect with a receiver against the University of Chicago. Wash. U. lost to North Central College Saturday after struggling early, and is now 1-1 this year. Grace Bruton | Student Life

Quarterback Johnny Davidson looks to connect with a receiver against the University of Chicago. Wash. U. lost to North Central College Saturday after struggling early, and is now 1-1 this year.

Despite the anticipation and effort put in to stop North Central’s exceptional running game, North Central still managed to gain 198 total rushing yards, led by freshman running back Ethan Greenfield, who averaged 6.4 yards per run for a total of 103 yards. Greenfield was simply a force that Wash. U. had a hard time containing and adjusting to. Alongside the help of the North Central offensive line, Greenfield was breaking tackles and finding holes in the defense left and right throughout the course of the game.

“I liked our game plan,” head coach Larry Kindbom said. “I thought we played them pretty well. Our biggest issue was we just didn’t tackle well…We just were a little tentative.”

Wash. U. struggled considerably in the first half, allowing 22 points and not getting a single score. North Central held the ball over 72 percent of the time, which led to three touchdowns and a 49-yard field goal. Again, the inability to tackle was a theme for Kindbom.

“Overall, I felt pretty good about it,” Kindbom said. “I know that they’re really, really good, but I didn’t know where we stacked up. The only thing I knew is that we played hard…all the way through. I just didn’t think we tackled well the first half.”

Although it seemed that the onslaught by North Central would continue going into the second half, the Red and Green managed to make the game a lot closer than North Central would have liked. Getting as close as 12 points away from tying the game, one could see a change in the way the Bears were playing when they came back out of the locker room.

North Central had to really work to win the game, as its offensive domination came to a screeching halt for a majority of the second half. While the Bear defense locked down in the second half, the offense gave a valiant effort to get back into the game, scoring 19 points over the course of the second half, impressive given North Central’s defensive reputation. Kindbom said that the locker room adjustments leading to the competitive outcome were mostly psychological.

“I’m not even sure that we played any better in the second half than we did the first half—biggest difference was in the second half, we tackled,” Kindbom said. “In fact, I think it’s kind of neat that both our coordinators, [defensive coordinator Jeff] Fisher and [offensive coordinate Scott] Mueller, really were the ones that tried to inspire them, not by chewing them out, not by just patting them on the back and patronizing them, but basically telling them that we’re actually playing pretty well, what we’re not doing is finishing.”

“I don’t know if we played necessarily a lot better, but we were finishing, we were going somewhere, making the things happen that hadn’t been happening before that…We get the onside kick and all of a sudden, who knows, we might pull this thing out.”

After the one-yard rushing touchdown by junior quarterback Johnny Davidson early in the fourth quarter to make it a 12-point game—sophomore kicker Joe Rogan missed a point-after that would have made it 11—the Bears recovered that onside kick. However, the energy was quickly dissipated when North Central forced a three-and-out and followed that with a touchdown to seal the game. Davidson finished with 300 yards and a pair of passing touchdowns, while leading the Bears with 43 yards on the ground.

Overall, it wasn’t a terrible showing for the Bears against one of the best the nation has to offer. Despite the loss, Kindbom is excited about what his team is likely to take away from a game like this.

“We’re on an upward grasp, and we’ve got to stay on that head upwards grasp; so, we just want to get better and better each game,” Kindbom said. “I think we just need experience, and we just got to keep getting better at doing some of the things I told you about: finishing off some things, but there’s no one area. It’s not like our football team is devoid of something or lacks something. Now we’re going to see the film; we’re going to see a lot of mistakes.”

Kindbom was ultimately proud of the mentality displayed by the Red and Green despite the early, deep deficit—but also acknowledged that North Central’s ranking isn’t a reason to feel good about a loss.

“Our kids played hard, and they gave us a chance to win,” Kindbom said. “It was like, ‘OK, that’s a Wash. U. football team.’ That’s where we want to be, and it’s not like we’re going against that soft of a team. I mean, [North Central is] a good football team. So, we’re kind of pumped up about it, but at the same time, we came up here to win—we didn’t go up here to lose.”

The Bears are back home next Saturday for a 1 p.m. matchup with Carthage College at Francis Field.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.