The SVSU football team fell in the annual Axe Bowl game to rival Northwood, 35-21, on a cold and windy afternoon in Midland.
SVSU built up a 21-7 lead in the third quarter, but Northwood’s option offense rattled off 28 unanswered points to win the contest.
“We had a strong start, but we were not able to make plays in the fourth quarter and Northwood did,” head coach Jim Collins said. “Offensively, we misfired. We missed on some throws, had a couple of drops and did not establish the run like we were early in the game.”
For SVSU, sophomore running back Tommy Scott Jr. and redshirt freshman Chad Gailliard once again turned in big performances. Scott rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, while Gailliard had four catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns.
Following a scoreless first quarter, SVSU got the offense going in the second when redshirt sophomore quarterback Ryan Conklin connected with Gailliard from four yards out to cap an impressive 11-play, 83-yard drive to put SVSU on top 7-0.
However, Northwood responded with an impressive drive of its own, going 66 yards on 13 plays over nearly six minutes. Quarterback Joe Garbarino carried much of the load for the NU offense throughout the drive, including a 17-yard scamper on a fourth-and-six from the SVSU 25. However, on a second-and-goal from the SVSU seven-yard line, Garbarino fumbled following a five-yard rush, but the would-be turnover was picked up by Northwood’s Gary Landless in the end zone for a Timberwolf score, knotting the game at seven heading into halftime.
Two huge plays on offense during the third quarter appeared to give SVSU a comfortable 21-7 lead. On SVSU’s first drive of the second half, Conklin connected with Gailliard for 62 yards to put SVSU in front by a score.
“We had some plays we knew we could hit on their defense,” Conklin said. “It was good to get some points on the board. We just didn’t play well enough in crunch time as an offense.”
Conklin finished the game 16-36 for 218 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Two drives later, it was Scott who burst for a long touchdown on a 66-yard carry on SVSU’s second play of its drive. Following the game, Scott sits in third in the GLIAC with 103.7 rushing yards per game.
“The offensive line played a good game and was able to open up some holes that we were able to expose for a couple of big runs,” Scott said. “Toward the end of the game, we just didn’t execute well enough.”
It was all Timberwolves after Scott’s core, as Garbarino threw and ran for a score and running back Andre Carter ran for two as Northwood completed its comeback win.
Garbarino finished the game with 181 yards on the ground on 29 carries, and Carter added 66 yards on nine carries and the pair of touchdowns.
The SVSU defense was led by junior linebacker Michael Alexander, who had a whopping 16 tackles. Defensive back Myles Collier and linebacker Bryan Jones weren’t far behind with 13 and 11 tackles, respectively.
“For two and a half quarters, our defense was playing really well, but Northwood found themselves offensively and executed the option better than we were able to defend it,” Collins said.
Next week, SVSU (5-5, 3-5 in GLIAC) rounds out its regular season on the road against Ashland University. Ashland enters the contest 9-1 following a 34-31 win over Grand Valley on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
“The biggest thing going into the last week will be our ability to respond,” Collins said. “The true test of the character for our team will be our response to the bitter disappointment of losing. For me, that is the positive, I really want to see the true character of the guys on this team.”