Northwestern dispatches pesky Purdue 21-14 for its 8th win

On a Saturday filled with nostalgia and emotion, Northwestern was more pleased with putting enough winning points on the scoreboard than style points on the field.

Toward that end, the Wildcats (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) succeeded with a 21-14 victory over stubborn Purdue (2-8, 1-5) on Senior Day at Ryan Field.


"Obviously, Purdue has improved. We saw that on video," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "And I tip my hat to Darrell (Hazell) and his (Purdue) staff. They have stayed the course and their young men are playing their tails off. But we have to be more efficient offensively."

Ranked 18th last week by the College Football Playoff committee, Northwestern struggled to put away the Big Ten West's bottom-feeder. Fitzgerald temporarily benched ineffective starting quarterback Clayton Thorson, only to re-insert the redshirt freshman early in the fourth quarter to engineer the game-winning scoring drive.


"I needed to settle down a bit and just get back into a groove," said Thorson, who had a pair of 16-yard runs before Justin Jackson scored from two yards out with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left. "(Being taken out temporarily) was good. Zack (Oliver) came in and made some big throws. He got us a little momentum and we just finished it off the next drive."

The Wildcats led 14-7 at the half on Warren Long's two touchdown runs. Purdue scored on a 68-yard pass from redshirt freshman David Blough to Domonique Young.

Purdue tied the game 14-14 on Markell Jones' 2-yard run early in the third quarter.

After the game, the 24 Northwestern seniors posed for a traditional picture with the coaches and other students from the Evanston campus.

The younger Wildcats were determined to send the seniors out on a positive note on Senior Day. The final two regular-season games are at Wisconsin and against Illinois at Soldier Field.

"It was really important," Thorson said. "Just growing up in Wheaton and especially with Dan (Vitale) and just knowing everything he has put into this program. And the other seniors … you know, we had a big senior class this year. They have all worked their tails off and they really set the foundation for us for this year. To start 8-2 and hopefully finish even better … they have been huge for us this entire year."

Jackson, a sophomore running back who rushed for 116 yards, added: "I am just really proud that we could get a win for them because they are leading the younger guys and leading our team to victory every single day. Whether it's on the practice field or off the field or game day … just happy to get a win for those guys."

Senior safety Traveon Henry capped off his final home game with an interception.


"I have a bunch of mixed emotions. It's kind of bitter-sweet," Henry said. "Because it has been a very quick four years, but it has been a very fortunate four years. There has been a lot of growth, a lot of learning. It is pretty cool to see it all culminate at this point. To be here is such a blessing. I am just real grateful for it."

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2-minute drill

Quarterback controversy? Clayton Thorson is the Wildcats' quarterback of the future and he continues to grow through experience. But senior Zack Oliver certainly has provided some steadying moments the last two games. And Pat Fitzgerald even said he would not hesitate to call on sophomore Matt Alviti, as well.

Well-grounded: It is not surprising to see the Wildcats' overall success hinge on the running game. Justin Jackson ran for 116 yards and a touchdown, and Warren Long picked up 52 yards on just six carries (8.7 avg.) with two touchdowns.


In your face: Defensive end Dean Lowry continues to showcase his ability to play one day at the next level. His controlled aggression and field awareness complement his size (6-foot-6, 290 pounds) and overall athleticism.

Up next: The Wildcats visit Wisconsin on Saturday.