Focus on the positives.
Kent Kessinger and his Braves will build off what went right from Saturday’s 41-16 loss to Northwestern, he said. The focus now turns to a stretch of road games, including the next two and three of the next four. The Ottawa University football team plays 1 p.m. Saturday at Concordia University in Nebraska.
“We go to Nebraska and play a team that I thought we played pretty tight last year,” Kessinger, OU head football coach, said. “Hopefully we can come back and give them something they gave us last year.”
The Braves fell 34-23 against the Bulldogs last season in Ottawa in a game that was much closer than the score indicated. Concordia notched two field goals in the final 5:30 to extend what was a one-score lead.
Concordia dropped its season opener Saturday 28-13 at Kansas Wesleyan in Salina.
Northwestern 41, Ottawa 16
Ottawa had a tough time containing a Red Raider offense from piling up the yards and the score in the second half of Saturday’s game at Peoples Bank Field in Ottawa. Northwestern finished with 674 yards of total offense, 402 coming on the ground.
Ottawa moved the ball well on offense, but was tormented by costly mistakes and turnovers. Ottawa turned the ball over twice, both in Red Raider territory. A fumble by James Reeder, freshman running back, stalled a drive in the first quarter at the Northwestern 31-yard-line. Conner Byers, sophomore quarterback, later had a pass intercepted by Jerod Hansen that ended another drive in the third inside the red zone.
“As we went through the game, I thought we were moving the football,” Kessinger said. “I just kept saying, ‘We are going to have a ton of yards, and no points to show for it because we keep shooting ourselves in the foot once we get into the red zone.’ We are still learning, and we are young in some spots.
“We were 100 percent scoring in the red zone if we didn’t turn it over. It is just one of those things. It is about who makes the least amount of mistakes, and Northwestern did that.”
The Braves made enough plays to keep them within striking distance. After falling behind 20-0, a 72-yard drive capped off by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Byers to Mauricio Uribe, senior wide receiver, put Ottawa on the board with 8:49 left until halftime.
The Brave defense stood their ground on a fourth down deep in their own territory to give the offense the ball back with enough time to put together another scoring drive. A 57-yard drive ended with Kyle Wokutch, sophomore kicker, booting a 35-yard field goal to cut the Red Raider lead in half.
The defense once again bent, but didn’t break. Northwestern put together an impressive two-minute drive all the way down to the Ottawa two-yard-line. A tipped pass from Red Raider freshman quarterback Tyson Kooima was snatched by Ottawa’s Markie Beltram, senior linebacker, to end the half.
Despite the defensive effort, the Red Raiders had drives of 66, 91 and 61 yards, all ending with touchdowns in the second half to seal the win.
Depth and conditioning were both topics Kessinger addressed after the game. He noted the senior Uribe played kickoff return, punt team and punt return, all while seeing a hefty amount of offensive snaps. The team has to find a way to plug in players to give others a breather, he said.
“My concern was, coming into the camp, that we weren’t in the shape that we needed to be in,” he said. “You always have that concern as a coach. We’ve tried to do some extra conditioning, but there’s really not much you can do. You can run them into the ground, but then you don’t have any legs for Saturday.
“I told them after the game that we still aren’t in the shape that we need to be in to run both offensively and defensively. We’ve got to build some depth with some of our young guys. We got some young guys in so hopefully they won’t have as many of the jitters as they did coming down the road.”
Young players highlighted what Kessinger liked about the game. He praised Reeder, who led the Braves with 123 rushing yards on 21 carries. Parker Williamson, sophomore receiver, added 35 yards on six carries.
“I think there were plenty of positive things that we can point out,” Kessinger said. “I can name three right off the bat – James Reeder running the ball, Parker coming in and running the ball hard and Cole Greenwood [sophomore defensive lineman] giving everything he had on the defensive line to the point he could hardly breath coming off the sideline there in the last series. Those are the things we are going to build off of.”
Byers completed 19 of 34 passes for 184 yards with a touchdown and interception. He added 66 rushing yards on 15 carries with a touchdown.
Uribe led the team in receiving with 87 yards on eight receptions.