Coming off three straight disappointing losses, Northwestern needed a win against a quality team not only to keep its Eastern Conference playoff hopes alive, but also to pump some energy into a team that ended last season on a four-game losing streak.
The Tigers got just the win they were looking for, beating Bangor 36-28 Friday night in New Tripoli.
"This is a huge win," said Northwestern quarterback Ty Cunningham. "Coming into this game we knew we had to win out to make the postseason. We executed and came out on top."
Cunningham led the Tigers, rushing for 176 yards and three touchdowns and throwing for 119 yards.
But he wasn't the game's leading rusher. That title went to Bangor's Josh Wing, the Colonial League leader this season. Wing ran for 198 yards on 32 carries, but Northwestern limited his big plays. He had just two carries that went for over 10 yards as the Tigers forced Bangor to throw the ball 18 times in the game.
"We wanted them throw the ball," said Northwestern head coach Tom Linette. "If they're controlling the ball and running Wing all the time, then we're not going to win. It might not look like that with the passes we gave up, but that's what we were trying to do."
Northwestern (5-4) took a lead on its first possession and led the whole way. But the Slaters (7-2) made a comeback in the second half. They closed the gap to 36-28 with a safety and a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But they failed to gain a first down on their final three possessions, all in the final eight minutes of the game.
"I'm very disappointed with the way we played," said Bangor head coach Frank Scagliotta, whose team was 7-0 before back to back losses to Northern Lehigh and Northwestern. "Tonight we were outplayed and we were outcoached and I have to accept that responsibility. I credit Northwestern with playing very hard. Their kids deserve the victory."
The Slaters turned the ball over six times in the game, four on interceptions and two on fumbles. Payton Bachman and Mason Schuler each picked off two passes. Bazz Jarjous and Mike Schnur each recovered a fumble.
The Tigers scored on the game's first possession, going 61 yards in seven plays, capped by Cunningham's 34-yard fourth-down touchdown pass to Schuler for a 7-0 lead with 9:16 left in the first quarter.
They opened the lead to 14-0 on an 11-yard run by Payton Bachman with 1:39 left in the first quarter.
A 24-yard Andrew Deutsch field goal with 8:03 left in the first half gave the Tigers a 17-0 lead.
From the first minutes through the final seconds, Northwestern controlled the line of scrimmage against a much bigger Bangor front.
"I have to give credit to the line," Cunningham said. "If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be able to do anything. Comparing their size to ours, they're a lot bigger than us. I think they held their own against them."
Bangor cut into the lead, scoring on a 28-yard pass from Ryan Hydock to Ryan Hester with 1:28 left in the first half to make it 17-6 at intermission.
Northwestern went back to work in the second half. Bachman picked off a pass on Bangor's first drive of the second half and set his team up at the Slater 19-yard line. Two plays later, Cunningham ran in from 17 yards out to give his team a 24-6 lead and begin a flurry of scoring.
Bangor got the ball back and needed just two plays to score as Wing ran 57 yards to pay dirt to make the score 24-12 with 7:42 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers also used two plays on their next drive as Cunningham ran 56 yards for a touchdown that made it 30-12 with 6:55 left in the third period.
Bangor answered again. A 52-yard, three-play drive, capped by a 47-yard hook up between Hester and Hydock, got the Slaters within 30-18 with 5:48 left in the third quarter.
"It was like we couldn't score enough points," said Linette.
After Bachman's second interception had Northwestern backed up to its own 4-yard line to start the fourth quarter, the Slaters tackled Cunningham for a safety to close the gap to 36-20 with 11:55 left in the game.
The Slaters added one more score, a 17-yard Hydock-to-Hester pass with 9:24 left in the game that got them within one score, 36-28.
But that was all the Tigers would allow as they held on for the win.
"This brings momentum back our way," Schuler said. "If we win this next game we have a chance to play in the Eastern Conference."