By Pete Chiodo
Meadville vs. Northwestern. This was a doozy last season. The Wildcats and the Bulldogs met at Bender Field to kick off 2012 and it ended up being one of more exciting games of the year.
“You mean that back-and-forth score-fest?” asked Northwestern coach D.J. Hough. “It must have been one heck of a game to watch. It must have been an exciting one.”
After trading blows throughout the evening, Meadville found itself trailing 36-32 in the fourth quarter. Then running back Artrel Foster — now a freshman defensive back at Temple University — carried a 20-yarder into the end zone to put Meadville ahead 38-36 with 6:11 left in the ball game.
The Bulldogs defense then stopped Northwestern on the ’Cats’ final possession. And MASH sealed up its first win of the year.
“It was back and forth the whole game,” said Meadville head coach Mike Feleppa. “It was tied at halftime, then it was back and forth the entire second half.”
The two sides will meet up again to start the 2013 season. And it could very well be another close one.
Both teams bring back some talent this year. Yet, both teams are also replacing players that factored heavily in last season’s outcome.
As mentioned, Foster is gone from Meadville. He rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s game, including a game-opening 59-yard pass from now-graduated quarterback Tyler Minnis. And running back Tim Bolden, who had 94 yards and a touchdown, is no longer with the team.
However, the Bulldogs do return running back Ryan Harkness, who had 63 yards and a touchdown against Northwestern, and ended up leading the Bulldogs in rushing last season with 1,130 yards and 13 TDs on 206 carries.
Joining Harkness in the backfield tonight will be some relatively new starters in sophomore quarterback Tanner Frye, fullback Jarrid Miller and halfbacks Nathan Martin and Derek Niemann.
“It’s Wing-T versus Wing-T,” said Hough. “(Meadville) runs a little bit more than we do. They have some slightly different blocking plays. They’ve got a couple good halfbacks and a pretty tough fullback. It should be a pretty good challenge. Looks like they have some good athletes.”
The Wildcats, on the other hand, bring back a group of good ball-carriers for 2013. Senior Brandon Reiser, for example, recorded 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns on 221 carries last year. Behind him was current junior Austin Miczo, who carried the ball 140 times for 846 yards and seven TDs. He’s also back.
Meadville did pretty well against Northwestern’s rushing attack last season, though. The ’Dogs defense held the Wildcats to 167 yards on 49 carries — an average of 3.4 yards per attempt. (Meadville rushed for 254 yards on 32 carries, an average of 7.9 per carry.)
Northwestern’s quarterback, Grant Panko, threw for 120 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s game. However, he graduated and will be replaced by current senior Jay Clinger, who completed 3 of 12 passes for 60 yards and one TD last season. That touchdown just happened to be recorded against Meadville. Clinger, subbing for Panko in the fourth quarter, was 1-for-2 in the game and hit now-graduated receiver Kyle McKeen for a 22-yard touchdown that put the Wildcats temporarily in the lead.
“They’ve got a good quarterback and a good running back,” said Feleppa. “Their front line comes hard off the ball. They’re a physical team. They like to run the ball, but will also hit you with the play action pass. We have to be aware of that.”