By Mike Moore
Jackson – Everything but win.
That’s how it felt Friday night for the Northwest football team in the 2015 season opener.
A lead at halftime led to a lead in the fourth quarter, which eventually led to heartbreak.
“It’s tough because we fought so hard,” Northwest coach Corey Slater said following a 24-21 loss to Eaton Rapids at home. “That’s one thing I liked about the kids, though, is we fought. It was an exciting high school football game.”
As was the case so many times last year during their 1-8 season, the Mounties were more than in the game all night, despite a rough start.
Eaton Rapids got on the board right away, taking advantage of a pair of 15-yard Northwest penalties, both on failed third-down conversions, to eventually get a 5-yard scoring run from Tyler Oberlin-Scott.
The extra-point attempt was blocked and the Greyhounds led 6-0.
“We had them stopped twice,” Slater said. “Those penalties really hurt us.”
The teams traded punts in the next two possessions, but when Northwest began its second drive of the half, it did so from its own 48-yard line.
Sophomore quarterback Ryan Crowley got himself involved with the passing attack, hooking up for a 33-yard gained with Joey Winkle, and then shortly after, hitting Devyn Garner on a 15-yard slant pass for the Mounties’ first score of the season.
Northwest went for the 2-pt conversion but failed.
The Mounties forced another punt on the next possession, and then needed just two running plays to cover 61 yards.
Logan Everett capped the quick drive with 50-yard run, and the extra point gave Northwest a 13-6 lead with 7:07 to play in the first half.
Eaton Rapids had its best drive of the half in the final few minutes, though, covering 85 yards and scoring on a fourth down to cut the deficit to 13-12 at halftime.
“We felt fine at halftime,” Slater said. “We were winning, up 13-12, and the kids were good. They were resilient all game. They never thought we were going to lose this football game.”
Northwest fueled that notion with 5:41 to play in the third quarter when Crowley unleashed a bomb to Garner. The 70-yard passing play gave the Mounties a 21-12 lead.
It was the last time the Mounties would score, though, and Eaton Rapids began to flex some muscle.
On the ensuing drive, the Greyhounds took 4:10 off the clock while driving 66 yards on a drive that was capped by a 14-yard run from Oberlin-Scott and cut the deficit to 21-18 late in the third.
After a Northwest punt, Eaton Rapids used another long drive, 58 yards on 13 plays, before Oberlin-Scott rushed from one yard out to take a 24-21 lead.
“They were big,” Slater said of Eaton Rapids, especially the guys up front. “I think their size wore us out. They just kept going iso and trap, and that hurt us.”
Northwest had a chance to drive and tie or take the lead, but a fumble on an option play at the Eaton Rapids 35-yard line essentially ended the comeback hope.
“When we run our stuff on offense, we’re going to live on the edge a little bit with the option stuff,” Slater said of the game’s only turnover. “But we have to clean that up, and we know it.”
Making his first career start, Crowley completed 5-of-10 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed 10 times for 37 yards.
“I thought he played a good football game tonight,” Slater said of his signal caller. “He made some good reads. He didn’t let the lights get to him. He played strong, made some real nice throws.”
Logan Everett finished with 16 carries and 106 yards, while Garner had three catches for 96 yards and two scores.
Defensively, Darius Case and Jehan Bostic were each credited with 10 tackles.
The two big factors in the loss, was time of possession — Eaton Rapids had the ball for 33:09 compared to Northwest’s 26:51 — and penalties.
The Mounties were flagged nine times for more than 70 yards in fouls.
“We bounce back now, that’s what we do,” Slater said of a Week 2 home game with Battle Creek Harper Creek. “We’ll think about this one for 24 hours, and then regroup. We’re going to see another big team. They are going to be big and aggressive, and we’re going to score some points and try and to stop them.”
Harper Creek lost its opener 40-3 to Caledonia.