Sept 6, 2003
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EVANSTON, Ill. -- Despite a solid effort from its defense, Northwestern could not overcome three fourth-quarter turnovers, and that helped Air Force beat Northwestern 22-21 Saturday at Ryan Field. Air Force (2-0) outscored the Wildcats 15-0 in the final 15 minutes to hand NU (1-1) its first loss of the year.
With the Wildcats in front 21-7, the Falcons cut into the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter, a 4-yard rush by Anthony Butler. The PAT attempt, however, was blocked by Northwestern's Loren Howard, leaving the 'Cats with an eight-point lead.
Then disaster hit for Basanez and the NU offense, which through three quarters, had amassed 406 yards of total offense -- 262 yards by Basanez alone -- and 19 first downs. On the Wildcats' first three offensive possessions of the final frame, each ended with an interception.
The first one was picked off by Nate Allen, who returned Basanez's errant throw 79 yards for a touchdown. Air
Force went for two, but backup quarterback Adam Fitch was stopped short of the
Air Force picked off Basanez again on the next possession. This time it was
Dennis Poland who stepped in front of the pass, returning it 14 yards to the
Northwestern 15. That set up Joey Ashcroft's game-winning 25-yard field goal with 2:01 remaining.
Northwestern (1-1) had two more chances to win it, but Basanez was
intercepted for the third straight possession as Air Force beat Northwestern
for the second year in a row.
"That was one of the toughest games I've had as a coach," said NU coach Randy Walker, who is in his 14th year as a head mentor. "Our kids prepared exceptionally well. I'm proud of the way they worked to get ready to play this football game. I don't think we left anything behind. When you've invested greatly and you come up short, it's really difficult. The key will be how we respond, because this was a devastating loss."
Walker's football teams have prided themselves on "winning the fourth quarter." The comeback by Air Force represented only the third time in Walker's 14 years he's surrendered a fourth-quarter lead.
Walker said he would need to review the game tape before knowing more answers about what went wrong with the offense in the final 20 minutes, and in particular, the play of Basanez, who looked extremely sharp in the early going.
"I need to watch the tape to get a read on what was happening out there," said Walker. "All I know is we personally handed them nine points out there."
Basanez finished the game 15-of-38 for 234 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. He entered the game with eight career interceptions in 11 games. In the fourth quarter, Basanez was 1-of-15 for 16 yards and the three interceptions.
"We can't have those errors happen in the fourth quarter," said Basanez. "I have to make those shots. And I can't let it go downhill like that."
Anthony Butler ran for 107 yards and two touchdowns for Air Force, which won
despite the ejection of quarterback Chance Harridge.
After running for a first down in the third quarter, Harridge had the ball
stripped from his hands at the Northwestern 37 by Marvin Ward. Harridge got up
off the ground and threw a punch at one of the Northwestern players, prompting
Fitch replaced Harridge at quarterback and immediately led the Falcons on a
scoring drive. Fitch drove Air Force 80 yards in 11 plays that ended with the
4-yard TD run by Butler.
Air Force took a 7-0 lead when Harridge hit Darne Stephens for a 37-yard
gain, and two plays later Butler broke a pair of tackles at the line of
scrimmage for a 56-yard touchdown. The scoring drive covered 93 yards in three
Northwestern made it 7-7 in the second quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by
Jason Wright that was set up by a catch from backup tight end Gilles Lezi, who was filling in for Ray Bogenrief, who had left the game with a sprained knee.
Facing third-and-21, Basanez hit Lezi for 23 yards across the middle for a
first down at the Air Force 2. Lezi had two career receptions entering the
Basanez gave Northwestern a 14-7 halftime lead with a 20-yard TD pass to
Noah Herron, then led the Wildcats on another scoring drive to open the second
Basanez had a 28-yard completion to Roger Jordan, and rushed for gains of 2
and 10 yards before Herron plunged through the middle for a 1-yard TD that gave
Northwestern a 21-7 lead.
Wright finished with his ninth 100-yard game in his last 12 outings, totaling 108
yards on 22 carries. His 2-yard TD run was his fifth of the season and the 17th of his career.
Northwestern outgained Air Force 452 to 409 in total offense.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)