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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | KEEPING TABS

Bentley Is Never Sorry for Defense

October 31, 2000|STEVE HENSON

Big Ten, Pac-10, same trend. A defense can consider itself staunch despite allowing 30, even 40 points in a game.

As long as a victory results.

Northwestern is a prime example. The Wildcats appear headed for a bowl game because of defense. No matter that they allowed Wisconsin 44 points, Minnesota 35 and Indiana 33.

All victories. No apologies.

Linebacker Kevin Bentley touts the Northwestern defense every chance he gets. He's the leading tackler for the Wildcats and is on the watch list for the Butkus Award.

"We make the plays when it counts," he said. "There are a lot of good offensive football players in this conference and they make plays, too. But we've been making plays when it counts."

Bentley never was shy. That much the folks around Montclair Prep knew four years ago, when he dressed for football and basketball games like every day was Halloween.

Also a trend-setter then, he dyed his hair and wore socks of different colors, a sartorial touch easily noticed when he dunked the basketball or quarterback, depending on the season.

Now he and fellow junior linebackers Napoleon Harris and Billy Silva anchor a defense that held Minnesota scoreless in the fourth quarter Saturday. That the Gophers led, 35-14, with five minutes to play in the third quarter didn't faze the Wildcats.

Northwestern came back to win, 41-35, on the final play, a 45-yard touchdown catch by Sam Simmons. The Wildcats improved to 6-2, 4-1 in conference play.

Bentley was on the sidelines, sort of praying, sort of hoping, confident in a somewhat irrational way.

"I really thought we could win it," he said. "I really did."

Next for Northwestern is Michigan in a game that is sold out, although the Wildcats already have enough victories to merit bowl consideration. Quite an improvement from last season's 3-8 team that finished with four consecutive losses.

The offense has been a pleasant surprise. The defense has lived up to its billing.

"We've got the best linebackers in the nation," said tailback Damien Anderson, who has rushed for 1,378 yards.

Bentley led the Big Ten with 148 tackles last season and is on a similar pace. His 13 tackles against Minnesota give him 85, including 53 unassisted and 13 for losses. He has four sacks, two against Minnesota.

"He just has an incredible work ethic," said Jay Peterson, the Northwestern linebacker coach. "Kevin is stronger, he's faster and is more experienced now. He's got great instincts, but now he's got 19 games of experience, too."

Bentley played mostly on special teams as a freshman and became a starter last year.

He flourished immediately in the Wildcats' attacking defense that forces mistakes at the risk of getting burned occasionally.

"He's rarely caught out of position, something that was a problem last year," Peterson said. "He's executing the defense. Kevin is a playmaker. He wants to make every play. Now he does it within our scheme."

*

UCLA snapped an eight-game road losing streak with a 27-24 victory over Arizona with no help from Wildcat defensive lineman Alex Luna (San Fernando High).

Luna had six tackles and two sacks to help hold the Bruins to 54 yards rushing.

Arizona (5-3) ranks No. 5 in the nation in rushing defense and Luna, a junior, is a big part of the Cactus Curtain. He has 21 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Against Washington State, he returned a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown.

What makes Luna tick?

"Alex is quick off the snap and he really has a nose for the football," Coach Dick Tomey said. "He is a big-play defender."

*

Arizona receiver Malosi Leonard (Palmdale) did not catch a pass against UCLA but is having his best season.

Leonard, a junior, has eight catches for 90 yards, including a leaping catch on third-and-nine in overtime to set up the winning touchdown in a 53-47 victory over Washington State.

"Malosi gets the most out of what he has physically as anyone on the team," Tomey said.

Leonard has four tackles on special teams.

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