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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern loses a heartbreaker

It’s just not meant to be.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON— Northwestern (1-8, 0-7) perhaps had its best performance of the season today, but it wasn’t enough to avoid defeat, falling to Purdue 24-22.

An NU offense that hadn’t put a touchdown on the board in over a month was able to score three times, while a defense that had struggled to take the ball away from its opposition picked the ball off twice, but a game-winning drive and field goal denied Northwestern of its chance at a victory.

After forcing a Purdue offense led by former walk-on and North Shore native Aidan O’Connell into an opening drive punt, Northwestern put together arguably its most impressive drive of the season, though it was only two plays. An Aidan Smith 13-yard completion was followed by a 79-yard touchdown run from Kyric McGowan. It was the first touchdown the ‘Cats have scored in 44 drives, going back to the loss against Nebraska.

The subsequent Boilermaker drive went into Northwestern territory before Cam Ruiz picked off O’Connell. The ‘Cats responded with a 12-play, 83-yard drive capped off with Smith finding Jace James in the end zone for the latter’s first career touchdown, pushing Northwestern’s lead to 14-0.

The two teams traded punts before an Andrew David 32-yard punt put Purdue in good field position, and a 12-yard touchdown run from King Doerue cut Northwestern’s lead in half.

Later in the quarter, Andrew David pulled off a fake punt, executing a 17 yard rush for a first down. However, the ‘Cats failed to capitalize and were forced to punt once more. On the next Purdue drive, O’Connell was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety. Northwestern went into the locker room up 16-7, its first halftime lead since the win against UNLV.

After a Northwestern three-and-out, Purdue drove the ball down the field quite easily in nine plays and 76 yards, concluding with a 13-yard touchdown pass from O’Connell to David Bell. On the ‘Cats’ next drive, Smith was picked off on a pass intended for Jace James. The Boilermakers took advantage of the turnover, as O’Connell found Amad Anderson from 11 yards out for the touchdown. Just like that, Purdue had the lead.

The ‘Cats managed to drive into Purdue territory, but Fitz opted to keep the offense on the field on a 4th and 7 from the 27-yard line. Smith’s pass led Riley Lees out of bounds in the end zone as Northwestern turned it over on downs. However, Paddy Fisher deflected an O’Connell pass into the awaiting arms of Blake Gallagher, the second Northwestern pick of the game. The ‘Cats failed to capitalize on this potential momentum-swinger and went three-and-out.

Another Purdue punt led to good Wildcat field position. Smith found Berkeley Holman for 33 yards to punch the ball deep into Purdue territory before finding Lees for the score to make it 22-21. Northwestern subsequently failed to convert its two point conversion on a “Philly Special” play. Purdue once again went three-and-out, highlighted by a great pass breakup on third down from Cam Ruiz.

The ‘Cats chewed clock on their next drive, highlighted by some strong runs from Drake Anderson, who assumed the role as the primary running back after Kyric McGowan went to the locker room early in the fourth quarter.

But a missed 32-yard Charlie Kuhbander field goal allowed for Purdue to have an opportunity to put together a game-winning drive. The Boilermakers drove the ball to the NU 39 and were faced with a fourth-and-4. A pass intended for David Bell was intercepted by J.R. Pace, but Cam Ruiz was flagged for pass interference.

With eight seconds left, kicker J.D. Dellinger knocked a 39-yard field goal through the uprights, giving Purdue the win.