CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – Ellsworth Community College (4-8) handily defeated No. 20 Northland Community & Technical College (9-3) 55-14 on Saturday to win their fourth straight Graphic Edge Bowl game and 24th in school history.
Northland was able to strike first after an Ellsworth punt to begin the game. Pioneer quarterback Shannon Patrick connected with wide receiver Malik Williams for a 55-yard touchdown to cap off the 72-yard drive.
For their second drive, the Panthers re-inserted sophomore quarterback Paris Chambers after the regular season backup, Jake Schuman, started the game. Chambers immediately had a 57-yard run negated by an offensive holding penalty. The Panthers were unable to get anything going after that and ended punting for the second time in as many drives.
Fortunately for the Panthers, Ellsworth was able to force a Northland punt on the ensuing drive.
The Panther offense finally found its stride in their third drive of the game as quarterback Jake Schuman helped lead a 77-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a 22-yard touchdown pass from Schuman to Rooney on a play-action fake, bringing the game to a 7-7 tie with just under four minutes to play in the opening quarter.
Ellsworth caught the Pioneers by surprise by executing a perfect onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. However, the Panthers were unable to capitalize and turned the ball over on downs after an incomplete pass in the end zone from Chambers.
After a long stint on the sidelines, the Northland offense returned to the field and relied on their pass-heavy play calling to easily drive into Panther territory. After a key pass interference penalty on Ellsworth, Pioneer quarterback Shannon Patrick connected with Malik Williams once again for Northland's second touchdown of the game, making it a 14-7 Northland lead.
However, Ellsworth followed it up with a touchdown drive of its own, capped off by another touchdown pass from Jake Schuman to Ben Rooney. With 9:18 remaining in the first half, the opening game of The Graphic Edge Bowl was all tied up at 14.
After a strong defensive stand and time running out late in the first half, Chambers was able to notch his first touchdown pass, connecting with Rooney for a 27-yard touchdown pass, making it a 21-14 lead heading into halftime.
The story of the second half was all about Ellsworth. The Panthers overwhelmed Northland, outscoring the Pioneers 34-0 in the second half, capping off the 55-14 victory.
Ellsworth's defense had its strongest outing of the year, forcing six turnovers, including five interceptions, in the game. Linebacker Nik Ricks was named Defensive MVP after picking up two sacks and returning an interception for a touchdown.
"Everyone from top to bottom came out with a plan and we executed our plans," Ricks said, "That's really what we wanted to do from the beginning."
Ellsworth was able to force five of the six turnovers in the second half. Ricks attributes that to the work ethic of the team.
"We finally applied the pressure…that we've been trying to apply all year," the sophomore linebacker said, "If you look back at our games, we've been in every game with every team. We just didn't know how to apply that pressure."
Panther wide receiver Ben Rooney was named the Offensive MVP after racking up five catches for a career-high 177 yards and a career high four touchdowns.