Tensions boiled over at Ryan Field on Saturday, for both Northwestern football and the Northwestern community. In addition to one of the most hard-fought games the ’Cats played this season, protesters from multiple student organizations interrupted play for several minutes during the game, displaying messages on large banners.
According to The Daily Northwestern, the protesters belong to several activist groups on campus, including NU Community Not Cops, Students for Justice in Palestine, Fossil Free NU, Students Organizing for Labor Rights and NU Dissenters.
The banners included messages from all the groups, such as “Abolish NUPD. Invest in Black Lives;” “Stop Funding the War on Palestine;” and “Board of Trustees Meet with Us Now.”
The demonstration continued for several minutes without interruption from Ryan Field security. Some of the fans in attendance began to boo the protestors, and the display came to a head when a fan wearing Iowa attire stormed the field as well, attempting to tear through the signs and bringing one of the protesters to the ground.
The Daily reported that the protesters only began to leave the field after threats of arrest were made, but no arrests or further punishment was announced, according to Lia Assimakopoulos of Inside NU. The threats of arrest were made following the demonstrators approaching the Northwestern football team, which garnered loud reactions from both the audience and members of Northwestern’s athletic staff following the game.
“My first focus is the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said following the game’s conclusion. “There’s an arena for the athletes, the officials, the coaches and those that are supposed to be in it. Anytime that that gets compromised, it gives you pause, and you have great care and concern. I don’t know if anybody saw, but that’s all I was focused on was trying to keep our guys away. You never know what may happen and how things may happen.”
Northwestern athletics staff have made no further comment.
Unfortunately for Northwestern’s football team (3-6, 1-5 B1G), the protest may have been the highlight of the night at Ryan Field, as they dropped a 17-12 game to Iowa (7-2, 4-2 B1G) in what was arguably their most frustrating game of the season. Despite going down 14-0 early in the second quarter, the ’Cats fought hard until the very end, with only a couple offensive miscues keeping them from toppling their rival.
“We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds down in the red zone,” said sophomore running back Evan Hull. “That’s a thing we just can’t have in those crucial situations.”
Northwestern was led in their effort by senior quarterback Andrew Marty, making both his first start this season and first career start at Ryan Field for the team’s senior night. While Marty did have flashes of brilliance, throwing for 270 yards and a touchdown, his decision-making proved costly for the team, as he threw three interceptions in the loss, including a few wobblers in clutch moments.
“Obviously, today did not go the way I wanted it to,” Marty said postgame. “I hold responsibility for a lot of the mistakes that happened, and that’s something I’m going to learn from.”
On the other sideline, Iowa was led by junior running back Tyler Goodson, who rushed for 141 yards and picked up a touchdown, and junior defensive back Dane Belton, who intercepted two of Marty's three picks. Also starring for the Hawkeyes was sophomore quarterback Alex Padilla, who entered the game late in the first quarter following three stalled-out drives for the Hawkeyes, and threw for 172 yards, giving up no turnovers.
As the final score implies, the game was a total slogfest from the beginning, as neither offense could gain any momentum. Both teams’ first three drives ended in a punt, and almost nothing was happening that deserved any mention. Finally, upon Padilla’s entry into the game, Iowa began breaking through the Wildcat defense, culminating in a touchdown run for Goodson right up the middle.
The Northwestern offense tried to respond with an explosive play of their own, but the push ended in the first of Belton’s two interceptions for the Hawkeyes. Emboldened by their new quarterback, Iowa marched down the field once again and picked up their second touchdown of the night, putting the team up 14-0 with plenty of time left in the second quarter.
Following the outburst, the story of the game – beyond the protests – was Northwestern’s inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities. For example, the ’Cats had a critical opportunity when junior wide receiver Raymond Niro III blocked a punt and returned the ball to the Iowa nine-yard line. But the ’Cats stalled out on the ensuing possession and settled for three points on a field goal.
Another chance for the ’Cats occurred early in the third quarter, when they came up huge on a fourth down and converted for a big gain to set themselves up for a score. After the ensuing play went awry, Fitzgerald took issue with a non-call in the endzone and stepped onto the field, resulting in a 15-yard penalty for the offense; that drive would also end in a field goal for the 'Cats. According to multiple sources, Fitzgerald apologized to the team following the game, saying he had to “be more disciplined.”
With Marty throwing another interception midway through the fourth quarter, it looked as though Iowa had fully wrapped things up, leading 17-6 with just three minutes to play. Undeterred, the ’Cats pushed down the field and set up a nice run-after-catch from running back Hull, putting the ’Cats right back into the game.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. After the ’Cats got the ball back with just under two minutes to play, Marty heaved the ball right into the hands of Belton for his third interception of the game, sealing the Wildcats’ doom.
Despite the defense playing possibly their best game in Big Ten action and plenty of things to be optimistic about, the game’s result left a sour aftertaste for many Northwestern fans. With the inability to convert when it mattered most, the team lost possibly their biggest chance for an upset win this season. While not dead in the water yet, the ’Cats will have to win all three of their final games in order to make postseason play, a daunting challenge for any team. Let's hope they're up to the task.