The Northwestern football team ended the regular season against Dordt. NW pulled away in the second quarter and cruised to the finish, winning 45-28.
The Raiders pushed their record to 7-2 in the GPAC, 9-2 overall, while the Defenders went winless in conference play on the season, dropping to 0-9 in the GPAC.
The NW offense clicked throughout the game. Sophomore quarterback Davis Bloemendaal was 18-25 throwing the football, including three touchdowns, and he ran another score in himself. Junior running back Brandon Smith rushed his way to 216 yards and two touchdowns in the Raider win, ending the season with 15 rushing scores.
“As far as having 200 yards, I really had no idea I was up there that high,” Smith said. “When Coach told me after the game, I was surprised. Our line wore them down, and we kept getting chunks of yards as the game went on.”
NW scored first, but struggled early, allowing Dordt to take a 14-10 lead. In the second quarter, however, the Raiders broke the game open, scoring 28 unanswered points.
“We came out flat, and they came out really ready to play,” said head coach Kyle Achterhoff.
“Dordt/Northwestern is their Super Bowl,” Smith said. “There is no one they would rather beat. We try to come out with the same intensity every game and not worry about who we’re playing. I never had any doubt we would win the game, despite the score. We just didn’t execute as well as we have been.”
Dordt scored twice in the second half, but they never really threatened again. Overall, the Raiders offense moved 509 yards. The defense allowed 327 yards to Dordt, but NW grabbed four interceptions and three sacks.
NW finished the season ranked 17th in the nation, just outside the playoff picture, so Saturday’s matchup was the final game of the season for the Raiders.
“Obviously, next season we will miss seniors like Ben Aguilera, Travis Hofmeyer, and Paul Lundgren,” Achterhoff said. “But we will also miss players who people don’t see as much in games, like Jeremy Sheppard who does a great job on special teams.”
But Smith believes the Raiders will be better prepared next year.
“We came together really well after Doane,” Smith said. “It would have been easy to give up, but we got better and better every week. We beat a lot of good teams, and we beat them convincingly, [which] makes those early two losses hurt even more. We’ll learn from it and know we can’t take any games off next year.”
For the second consecutive year, NW’s football team finished the season unsure where they would rank. And for the second consecutive season, they were disappointed to find themselves just outside the playoff picture.
The top 16 teams in the nation make the playoffs. However, if a team wins the conference championship and they are ranked outside of the top 16, they take the place of the 16th-ranked team. That happened this season when co-conference champion of the Mid States Football Association (MSFA) Grand View, ranked 18th in the country, replaced William Penn, who was ranked 16th.
So after an eight-game winning streak, during which no opponent finished closer than 17 points, how did the Raiders get left out? Conference voters felt they had to take care of teams in their conferences.
The GPAC gets two votes for the top 25. A bigger conference, such as the MSFA, gets four. Not so coincidentally, five teams from the MSFA (three of whom have records worse than NW) are going to the playoffs, while only conference champion Morningside represents the GPAC.
“Honestly, it’s a flawed system,” Achterhoff said. “I hope they fix it, not just for our sake, but for other teams who might be in the same situation as us.”
Three juniors earned first-team all-conference awards. Smith, a first-team pick last year, left guard Nathan Nieuwendorp and defensive lineman Jordan Carlson.
Junior wide receiver Eli Groenendyk, senior center and captain Travis Hofmeyer, junior Aaron Jansen and sophomore defensive back Jerel Kyles were all elected to the second-team.
Twelve Raiders received honorable mention recognition. Sophomore quarterback Davis Bloemendaal, sophomore running back Theo Bartman, junior guard Wil Van’t Hof, sophomore tackle Marcus Van Voorst and junior receiver Tyler Walker were the offensive selections. Four of NW’s five starting lineman were recognized
Sophomore punter Alex Herrington was a special teams pick.
On defense, junior defensive end Ethan Lensch, sophomore linebacker Isaiah Twitty, senior linebacker and team captain Ben Aguilera, sophomore linebacker Nate Van Ginkel, junior defensive end Stanley Fleming and senior Paul Lundgren were selected.