Offense, defense and special teams make big plays in comeback

It’s never easy to win, no matter how well you play. In football, you can dominate or be dominated for the majority of the game and still not get the desired result.

For Western Illinois, the Leathernecks were struggling the majority of the game against Montana, but in the fourth quarter, when it counted most, Western made its move. Trailing by 10 with under seven minuted to go, WIU received contributions from all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams, earning the thrilling, come-from-behind win over the Grizzlies.

“That’s why we won, it’s hard to win if you get two out of three, you’re never going to win if you get one out of three and even if you get three out of three against a good team like that you still might not win but we were able to get all three today,” WIU quarterback Sean McGuire said.

The Western defense forced four turnovers, held Montana’s strong offense in check most of the day and had a big fourth-and-goal stand to keep the team in the game.

“I’m so proud of our defense, they were put in tough spots but did not break,” WIU coach Jared Elliott said. “They had a goal-line stand, they played on short fields and had sudden changes, but they went out and played with relentless effort.

“One thing we haven’t done is generate takeaways, but guys got their hands on the ball and played physical, which is encouraging.”

Justin Fitzpatrick generated the biggest defensive play of the game, knocking a ball loose that led to the go-ahead WIU touchdown, but the safety knew it took all three phases of the game to get the win.

“We can’t do it without everyone, we need that 11 on the field to make plays,” Fitzpatrick said. “This was a big game of momentum and it seemed like in the fourth quarter every phase kept giving us more and more.”

Offensively, after scoring 14 points in its first three plays, the Leathernecks went silent for much of the game. But on their final drive of the night, the Leathernecks were able to go down the field and get the game-winning touchdown on a McGuire pass to Steve McShane.

“Football is a team sport, football is more than one person, trust your one out of 99, do you and everybody else will connect it together, and we did,” McShane said.

For all the offensive and defensive heroics, special teams may have made the biggest contributions to the comeback.

Sean McGuire’s pooch-punt pinned the Grizzlies deep in their own territory and after a defensive stand, McShane returned a punt 58 yards to cut the deficit to three points.

“Our playmakers started making plays when we needed them, everyone started making plays when we needed them,” Elliott said. “We started doing things we haven’t done. We started winning field position battles, we won the turnover margin, the things we need to do we did today and that gave us a chance against a team like Montana.”

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