For the first time in a rivalry that spans over 110 years, the Northwestern Wildcats have won five consecutive games against its in-state rival, the Illinois Fighting Illini. Since 2010, the ‘Cats are 7-3 against the Illini, so we ranked the five best moments for NU in the rivalry throughout the past 10 years.
5. Andrew Marty and Coco Azema have breakout performances
After struggling to win a Big Ten game in the 2019 campaign, the Wildcats made the trek to Champaign for the final game of the season in a last-ditch effort to win a conference matchup. The ‘Cats delivered thanks to stellar performances from two unexpected heroes. After filling in for Hunter Johnson the previous week against Minnesota, pre-season fourth-string QB Andrew Marty started his first career game against Illinois and torched the Illini for 111 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
In addition to Marty, Coco Azema, who previously played cornerback, dashed the Illini for 123 rushing yards including a 24-yard touchdown to preserve the ‘Cats five-game winning streak in the rivalry.
4. Justin Jackson puts on a show
There were many highlight-worthy moments in Northwestern’s massive 42-7 win over the Illini in 2017 but none greater than the longest run of Justin Jackson’s career. JJTBC torched the Illini in the second half with a 79-yard rush, and he punched it in a play later for a touchdown, giving the ‘Cats a commanding 28-7 lead.
Jackson passed Montee Ball to become the fourth-leading rusher in Big Ten history with his 144-yard performance against the Illini. Ultimately, this victory gave the ‘Cats their ninth win of the season, leading NU to Nashville for a matchup against Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.
3. The 2016 rushing onslaught
Many think of John Moten’s 77-yard rushing touchdown against Ohio State in terms of his most memorable career moment, but NU fans should add his performance against Illinois in 2016 to the list.
Moten scored the first rushing touchdown of his career in the first quarter to give the ‘Cats an early 7-0 lead.
Shortly after, he sliced through the Illini defense for a 43-yard score and Northwestern’s second rushing touchdown of the day.
Feeling left out, Justin Jackson answered with a three-yard touchdown in the first half, before punching in a 54-yard touchdown to give the ‘Cats a two-touchdown lead in the second half.
JJTBC completed the hat trick with a four-yard score in the fourth quarter to clinch the victory, making the ‘Cats bowl eligible where they would travel to NYC to face Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl.
2. The 2012 revenge game
In 2011, the ‘Cats were the victims of a 38-35 defeat to the Illini that was quite literally gut-wrenching when Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown kneeled NU offensive lineman Patrick Ward in the groin area.
The ‘Cats responded a year later in 2012 with a dominant 50-14 victory over the Fighting Illini. Kain Colter paced the Wildcats with a vintage performance, throwing for 102 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 88 yards and a score.
The victory gave NU a 9-3 record before the team won its first bowl game in 64 years on New Year’s Day against Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
1. Victory at Soldier Field
After an embarrassing defeat on the national stage in 2010 at Wrigley Field, the Wildcats had an opportunity to redeem themselves at another Chicago landmark just five years later.
In 2015, on the heels of 10 wins, the ‘Cats stormed into Soldier Field and defeated the Illini in a classic, ugly victory. In the press conference after the game, Fitz utilized a classic Fitzism when speaking about the team’s identity:
“We’re a Chicago football team...four yards and a cloud of dust. People think it’s boring, but I don’t care. I’d love to put up the Baylor numbers, but they can’t shake a stick at our defense.”
While the game was not pretty, there were a few memorable moments. Austin Carr and Clayton Thorson connected on a 48-yard reception early, but it was Dan Vitale’s 19-yard touchdown reception later in the series that stuck with ‘Cats fans most.
The win prevented Illinois from beating NU for the second consecutive season and allowed the Wildcats to advance to the Outback Bowl.