September 17, 2005

Northern Colorado Slows Down Southeastern Louisiana Attack With 35-19 Victory

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GREELEY, Colo. - The University of Northern Colorado football team was able to prevent the big plays that haunted them last week as the Bears clawed their way to a 35-19 win over the Southeastern Louisiana Lions on Saturday at Nottingham Field.

The Bears (2-1) shot down the "air-raid" offense of SLU as the Northern Colorado defense picked off three passes from Lions' quarterback Trey Willie. Senior cornerback Greg Gebhardt picked off two of those errant passes, which brought his career interception total to seven. Senior free safety and Buck Buchanan Award candidate Reed Doughty led the defense with 13 tackles and had one interception. Doughty also forced and recovered a fumble in the game.

Junior running back Andre Wilson turned in a solid running performance as he bolted for 113 yards on a career-high 33 carries and had three touchdowns. Wilson moved into sixth place on the Northern Colorado all-time career rushing list. Junior wide receiver Andy Birkel added to the Bears' offensive firepower as he snatched eight passes for 98 yards and had two touchdowns. Birkel is currently averaging 109 receiving yards per game and if he stays on his current pace, he could put out the third-most receiving yards in a season in Northern Colorado history.

"I feel confident in everyone - tight ends, running backs - everyone," said senior quarterback Nick Hager. "(Birkel) is the closest you can get to a Vincent Jackson."

From the very beginning of the game, the Bears' defense stymied the Lions' offense as Gebhardt intercepted the ball to give the ball to Northern Colorado at the SLU 32. The interception was set up by junior defensive lineman Jacob Carlson, who deflected the pass. From there, Wilson bulldozed the Lions' defense as he ran for 26 total yards on the drive and scored the first touchdown of the game. On the Bears' next possession, Hager tossed a 26-yard pass to Birkel after being faced with a third-and-11. Three plays later, Birkel caught a 16-yard touchdown pass that put Northern Colorado up 14-0 with 14:06 left in the second quarter.

Later in the quarter, sophomore Aaron Henderson produced the 10th longest punt return in Northern Colorado history as he returned the SLU punt 75 yards. The very next play, Hager fired a 19-yard touchdown pass to Birkel to put the Bears up 21-0 going into halftime.

"We have a lot of big play potential," Birkel said. "Nick does a great job of keeping our heads level."

The Lions (1-1) finally got on the board as Willie threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to SLU's Jerald Watson. After a botched extra point, the Lions trailed Northern Colorado 21-6. In SLU's first possession of the fourth quarter, Watson ran for a 17-yard touchdown that cut the Bears' lead to 21-13.

Northern Colorado retaliated quickly as kick returner Patrick Ealy returned in ensuing kickoff 45 yards to get the Bears' crowd back into the contest. Wilson completed the scoring drive as he rumbled in for a 9-yard touchdown to put the Bears back up by 15. SLU again tried to make the game closer as Watson ran for a 1-yard touchdown. The Lions tried to go for a two point conversion, which would have put them to within seven points, but the try failed and SLU trailed the Bears 28-19 with 2:14 left in the game.

The Lions attempted an onside kick after the failed conversion, but redshirt freshman Bryant Jestes recovered the ball and scrambled 21 yards down to the SLU 22-yard line. From there, Wilson once again blasted through the Lions' defense as he took the ball eight yards for a touchdown which put the game out of reach at 35-19 with 51 seconds remaining in the game.

Doughty wrapped up the victory for the Bears as he picked off Willie's pass in the end zone.

"We knew they wanted to run the ball, and they couldn't," Doughty said. "They had a lot of yards passing but not a lot points."

Northern Colorado will jump back into action at 7 p.m. next Saturday as the Bears travel to Portland, Ore., to take on future Big Sky Conference foe Portland State. The game can be heard for free on the Bears Radio Network.