Palisades wins 27-15
Coming into the game, Northwestern coach Josh Snyder knew his team would be in a hard-hitting contest with a team that loved to run the ball.
The Pirates did just that, finishing with 55 carries and 230 yards as a team. On a hot and humid night, the ground game simply wore the Tigers down as Palisades claimed a 27-15 win on opening night of 2013.
"We knew going into the game that they were very physical defensively and loved to run the football," Snyder said. "We told the kids all week long that it was going to be a tough game and that's just what it was."
Northwestern took control early, grabbing an 8-0 lead in the first quarter on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Frank Dangello to Cameron Richardson.
Palisades answered in the second quarter when Christian Gretzinger returned a Dangello interception 25 yards for a touchdown that made it 8-6.
Gretzinger returned a punt to midfield, setting the Pirates up for their next possession. They didn't wait long to capitalize, as JD Donnelly went 52 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the drive to put the visitors up 13-8.
"I couldn't be prouder of the way they played," Palisades coach Kevin Ronalds said. "It's good to have to win a tough one right off the bat. I think we learned a lot about ourselves tonight."
Northwestern answered before halftime, as Taylor Breininger returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown to put the Tigers up 15-13 with only 49 seconds to go before the intermission.
With Northwestern getting the ball to start the second half, the Tigers looked primed to extend their lead and take control of the game. But a three-and-out on their first possession proved to be a sampling of what was to come.
Palisades took the ball and put together a 15-play, 68-yard drive that was capped by Gretzinger's one-yard touchdown run. The drive took nearly eight minutes off the clock and put the Northwestern defense on its heels.
"There wasn't a whole lot of yelling and screaming at halftime," Ronalds said "We kind of melted down in that first quarter and did some things that I'd never seen before.
"We got that out of our system and played our kind of football in the second half."
The Pirates' style of football, especially on defense, thwarted Northwestern's comeback attempts and forced the Tigers into several second half turnovers.
Winning the turnover battle was something that Ronalds keyed on during the offseason, and the Pirates made sure to take advantage of their chances in the opener.
"We preach that everyday," said Ronalds. "That's a goal of ours. I'm really proud of the defense and the way they went after the ball tonight."
The tough opening night loss will give Snyder and his staff much to work on heading into this week's clash with Salisbury.
"Coming into the season," he said. "We knew that to be successful we had to be able to run the ball on offense, stop the run on defense and win the turnover battle.
"Obviously, tonight wasn't a good start for us since we put the ball on the ground a few times.
"You're fighting an uphill battle when you give the opponent more opportunities than you have. And usually when you turn the ball over they're getting the ball in pretty good field position and it put the defense in a bad spot."
Still, Snyder sees reason for hope moving forward.
"I'm proud of our effort," Snyder said. "It's always tough to lose your first game and I think we just shot ourselves in the foot tonight. We just left too many plays on the field."