CATASAUQUA - Northwestern seemed to have all the momentum in the second half.
But it shifted quickly late in the game and the Tiger's 14-point comeback went to waste as Catasauqua won in overtime, 28-27. The Rough Riders (7-3) earned an Eastern Conference playoff berth with the win.
"What a fight it was," said Catasauqua head coach Tom Falzone. "We knew we had to win to get in. "Northwestern's one heck of a team. I knew it would be a battle till the end and it was. Our guys kept fighting too and they really wanted it."
The Tigers came back from a 14-point deficit to tie the game early in the fourth quarter. They missed two field goals in the fourth quarter, including one on the last play of regulation then lost on a missed field goal in overtime.
"We were going in the direction we wanted," said Northwestern head coach Tom Linette. "That's where we wanted to be in the fourth quarter with the wind at our back, the scoreboard in front of us and a strong kicker. It didn't work out.
"It's a whole game full of mistakes. We can't just blame it on that."
The Tigers mistakes started early. Catty's Shakur Lester picked off a Ty Cunningham pass on the game's first possession. Lester went 59 yards, setting his team up at the Northwestern 25-yard line. Two plays later quarterback Jake Bloszinsky scored an 11-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead.
Northwestern's second possession didn't get any better. Rough Rider Sa'Quon Burton picked off a Cunningham pass and ran it 42 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 5:38 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers answered with a four-play drive, highlighted by Payton Bachman's 51-yard reception and Cunningham's 32-yard touchdown run that made it 14-7 with 3:46 left in the first quarter.
The Roughies then mounted a seven-minute, 75-yard, 13-play drive that ended with Bloszinsky's 4-yard touchdown pass to Vinny Pellechia. Catty pushed its lead back up to two scores, 21-7 with 8:36 left in the first half.
Northwestern cut it to one score late in the first half. Cunningham connected with Bachman for a 62-yard touchdown strike with 2:48 left in the second quarter to make it 21-14 at halftime.
"We gave them two scores, maybe three, in the beginning," Linette. "We eliminated [the mistakes] and bested them the rest of the game. It's hard to spot somebody three touchdowns and come back. We felt good at halftime. We were only down one touchdown."
The Tigers tied it up early in the fourth quarter as Cunningham carried seven times on a nine-play, 90-yard drive capped by his 16-yard touchdown run that made it 21-21 with 10:20 left in the game.
Northwestern had a couple chances to take the lead late in the game, but came up short.
The Tigers drove to the Catty 24-yard line before senior kicker Andrew Deutsch, who has been solid throughout his career, missed a 42-yard field goal with 1:51 left on the clock.
Northwestern's defense, which allowed just three Rough Rider first downs in the second half, held strong, forcing a Catty punt and then blocking it to get the ball back to the offense just 15 yards from the end zone with 1:22 left.
The Tigers couldn't score on two plays so they attempted a third-down field goal as the final seconds ticked off. Deutsch's 38-yard attempt went wide left, sending the game into overtime.
The Tigers scored on their first play of overtime as Matthew Naugle covered the 10 yards on one carry. But Deutsch's extra point missed, opening the door for Catty.
The Tiger defense nearly held them out. After a 5-yard pass on first down, Bloszinsky needed three carries to get the other five yards, getting the final yard on fourth down. Zachary Pattison nailed the extra point for the win.
"We all came together and said lets punch this one in," said Bloszinsky. "We came together and got it done."
The Roughies will be the top seed in the EC playoffs next week. Northwestern most likely ends its season with the loss.
"They're good kids," Linette said. "They played their hearts out for four quarters and then some. It's been a pleasure to work with these guys and I hope we get another week."