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Big plays propel Northwestern

Northwestern didn’t run very many plays from scrimmage in the first half.

Fortunately for the Tigers, they don’t need many to make an impact.

Justin Holmes, Cade Christopher and Ryan McDonnell helped Northwestern make the most of the limited time it had the football as they combined for a pair of long touchdowns.

The Tigers then added an insurance score in the second half and beat Blue Mountain, 22-0, on Friday night.

“It wasn’t easy - and it wasn’t always pretty - but a win is a win is a win,” said Northwestern coach Josh Snyder after watching his team improve to 7-0 on the season. “It’s tough as heck to win games, so we’re happy and we’re going to celebrate this.

“At the same time, we have a few things we need to clean up. So we’ll watch some film and see where we need to improve.”

One area where the Tigers don’t need much improvement is in their quick strike ability.

In the first half, Blue Mountain ran 35 plays from scrimmage to the Tigers’ 10 and had an overwhelming 19:17 to 4:43 advantage in time of possession. But it was Northwestern that took a 15-0 lead into the locker rooms.

That’s because the Tigers only two first downs in the half were also big-play touchdowns.

The first came on an 85-yard touchdown pass from Holmes to Christopher with 5:02 left in the second quarter.

“It was an inside tunnel screen,” explained Snyder about the pass. “I think we’ve had that in our playbook since 2013. We practice all our screen passes a lot and it worked to perfection tonight.

“The timing was good, our linemen did a great job of blocking it at the line of scrimmage, and then Cade made about a million guys miss tackles.”

Three plays after the touchdown, Blue Mountain coughed up the game’s only turnover as Taylor Wikert recovered a fumble at the Eagle 38-yard line.

On the first play from scrimmage following the takeaway, Christopher got to be the passer instead of catcher.

“We call the play Twister,” said Christopher. “Justin (Holmes) pitches the ball to me on a reverse and I have a run/pass option ... when I saw Ryan (McDonnell) running free I knew I was definitely going to pass it.

“I was a quarterback in youth and middle school football, so I like when I get the chance to throw the ball. I threw for a touchdown last year and I had a completion off a trick play earlier this year.”

Snyder explained that the Tigers try to get the ball in Christopher’s hands a lot of different ways.

“He a great athlete and a play maker so we need to get him touches,” Snyder said. “The play was off a sudden change when we recovered the fumble, and it was the first time the entire half that we had any kind of field position. We thought it would be a good time to make that play call and our kids executed it very well.”

Northwestern added an insurance score when Holmes hit Wikert with a 15-yard TD pass on a fourth-and-four play with 5:24 remaining.

The Tigers didn’t need it, however, as the defense finished off the shutout.

“They ran 60-some plays and didn’t score. I think that says a lot about the character of our kids,” Snyder said. “Blue Mountain has a strong right side of their line and they gave us some problems, but we kept battling.

“I guess you can say it was a bend but don’t break performance. Every time we needed to rise up and make a play our kids did it.”

THE STAND ... One of the most crucial moments in the game came late in the first quarter when Blue Mountain had four plays to score from the Tiger six-yard line, including a pair of plays from the one-yard line. But the Tigers’ defense answered the call and forced the Eagles to turn it over on downs.

THE STOPPER ... Tiger linebacker Dalton Clymer was all over the field. “I don’t know how many tackles Dalton had, but it seemed like he was making plays all game,” Snyder said. “Not only was he making a lot of tackles, but he made a number of them behind the line of scrimmage.”

THE PLAYERS ... Holmes and Christopher flashed their versatility as they both completed passes, ran the ball, and caught passes in the game.

Northwestern's Justin Holmes looks for running room against Blue Mountain. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS