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Views from the press box: Schmerge, Polar Bears trounce Berg in Bendo Bowl

The ONU defense held tough in the second half to secure a win for the Polar Bears. (photo/ ONU Sports Information)

The ONU defense held tough in the second half to secure a win for the Polar Bears. (photo/ ONU Sports Information)

Coming off a devastating loss to Baldwin Wallace, the Ohio Northern football team could ill-afford another OAC defeat heading into October. On Saturday, the Polar Bears were faced with stopping Jon Sandwisch and a Heidelberg offense that had given them fits in recent years.

Linebacker Zach Schmerge and the ONU defense turned the tables on Saturday, holding the Student Princes scoreless for the last 26:13 of the game. ONU cruised to a 34-20 victory on Homecoming, led by Schmerge’s 16 tackles and Will Freed’s 274 passing yards.

However, things started slowly again for Ohio Northern’s offense on Saturday.

On the first play from scrimmage, Freed was intercepted by Heidelberg’s Dom Scott. Northern punted on the next three possessions and was held scoreless in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, Heidelberg scored a touchdown on their second possession when Sandwisch found wideout Tony Morris for a 39-yard touchdown. A field goal on their next possession would put the Student Princes ahead 10-0 heading into the second quarter.

The Polar Bear offense showed some signs of life in their first possession of the second quarter, driving the ball down the field and setting up Matt Chaney for a 46-yard field goal. The crowd roared, somewhat enthusiastically (following the Bears’ kicking debacle in week two), when Chaney’s kick split the uprights. Finally, ONU was on the scoreboard.

The momentum swung back towards Heidelberg soon, however, as they converted a field goal on their next possession. Then, the Student Prince defense stopped ONU on a 4th-and-one play from the Heidelberg 30-yard line to kill a potential scoring drive.

With just 1:40 left in the first half, Northern started their possession with the ball on their own 1-yard line. After a couple of big rushes by Freed and senior tailback Justin Magazine, the Bears scored a game-changing touchdown on 4th-and-one from their own 48-yard line. Freed fired a deep strike to wideout Reed Allen, who ran it in for six points. ONU went into the locker room down 13-10 at the half.

Heidelberg scored a touchdown on the first possession of the second half, but would not reach the end zone again on Saturday afternoon. Northern answered with another big pass play from Freed to Allen, this time a 75-yard gain, which set up a Freed touchdown rush on the next play.

Cornerback Darnell Bloom intercepted Sandwisch later in the third quarter, giving ONU the ball at Heidelberg’s 33-yard line. Freed would later find tight end Logan Ray in the end zone for a touchdown, giving ONU their first lead of the game, 24-20, heading into the fourth quarter.

The final quarter was simply more of the same.

A 37-yard run by Magazine set up an ONU touchdown (on a 1-yard Magazine rush), increasing Northern’s lead to 11. Behind multiple defensive stops, the Polar Bear offense delivered the knockout blow late in the fourth quarter, when Andrew DiMario nailed a 27-yard field goal to seal the deal. The Bendo Bowl belonged to Ohio Northern on Saturday, as they walked off the field with a 34-20 victory over Heidelberg.

Schmerge had another 16-tackle game (he had one against Utica in week one), anchoring a solid Polar Bear defense on Saturday. Allen recorded four receptions for 170 yards (yes, that’s right) and one touchdown. And as always, Freed was doing his thing; the freshman QB completed 15 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns.

Saturday was a day of redemption for Ohio Northern, as they avenged a tough week two loss. WONB’s Brett Wonders and John Kramer, who called the game, shared their thoughts:

Brett: In a game where your defense gave up 500 yards of offense, it is tough to be excited about what they did, but that side of the ball really stepped up in key situations. It was the extreme of the cliche, ‘bend don't break.’ There were plenty of times in this one where Heidelberg moved the ball at will, but Ohio Northern held them to field goal attempts in a couple of key situations and took advantage with interceptions on a couple of tipped Heidelberg passes. The fearlessness of the freshman quarterback was on display as well with a couple of passes deep downfield. The main target was Reid Allen, who averaged a ridiculous 42.5 yards per reception on the day. It's an impressive connection between the two of them that will need to be on display this week as well against #11 John Carroll.

John: Last week was a much-needed win for ONU, and they certainly played that way. After a mediocre week one, Justin Magazine has carried this team the last two weeks. Will Freed looked good (again) as well. In past years, a win over Heidelberg may have meant more (as they appear to be having a down year), but it certainly gives ONU some confidence heading to JCU next week.

The Polar Bears will now face the gauntlet in the next two weeks- they visit #11 John Carroll on Saturday, then travel to #2 Mount Union the following week. While Saturday’s win over Heidelberg was crucial, they will need to regroup quickly if they hope to upset John Carroll this week.