CHICAGO, Ill. — The Friendly Confines were not so kind today.
The Northwestern Wildcats (3-8, 1-7 B1G) fell 32-14 to the Purdue Boilermakers (7-4, 5-3 B1G) on Saturday to extend the Wildcat losing streak to a season-high five games.
The story offensively was fifth-year senior quarterback Aidan O’Connell and junior receiver Milton Wright. The duo connected eight times for 213 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow junior receiver David Bell finished with 12 receptions for 101 yards.
There were not many bright spots for the ‘Cats, but the star of the afternoon was running back Evan Hull. The sophomore rushed for 96 yards and added 33 more off of six receptions. Quarterback Andrew Marty went 10-of-14 for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Purdue opened the game on offense and immediately began working it through the air. The Boilermakers strung together a series of positive gains and quickly found themselves in the red zone. It was Northwestern’s defense that showed strength, though, once the Boilermakers began to flirt with a score. A quarterback pressure on third down led to an 37-yard field goal try from Purdue kicker Mitchell Fineran, which missed.
The two sides exchanged punts and eventually gave Northwestern possession in midfield. From there, it was Andrew Clair who produced 35 total yards in three consecutive plays and the ‘Cats suddenly had a red zone trip of their own.
It was deja vu all over again. Purdue stopped Northwestern immediately as the Wildcats began to drive far down the field. Charlie Kuhbander’s kick was blocked by star defensive lineman George Karlaftis, keeping the game at 0-0.
As the quarter winded down, O’Connell unleashed a 42-yard deep ball that was caught by Jackson Anthrop and was eventually caught at the Northwestern 11-yard line.
Jim O’Neil’s unit again did not break. Pass breakups from both Cam Mitchell and Brandon Joseph forced Purdue to a second field goal attempt. This time, however, Fineran found his stride and converted a field goal attempt into a 3-0 lead for the Boilermakers at the beginning of the second quarter.
Following a three-and-out for Northwestern headlined by a Ryan Hilinski substitution, Purdue began to drive right back down the field. A hands-to-the-face call on Northwestern put the Boilermakers back in the red zone, where they tacked on their second field goal of the day. With 6:39 left in the half, head coach Jeff Brohm’s squad had 163 passing yards and only six points to show for it.
Hilinski remained in the game to try and respond to the ever-growing deficit, finding Malik Washington for a 46-yard jump ball over two Purdue defenders. The catch was completed with the ball resting on Washington’s legs, and the junior was able to snatch it up. Northwestern failed to capitalize on the miraculous catch after a fourth-down conversion attempt was stopped.
The Boilermakers got the ball back with 3:47 left in the half, and formed a drive Wildcat fans could only be envious of. O’Connell completed four straight passes for 85 yards in a drive that lasted just over two minutes. With the extra point, Purdue extended its lead to 13-0.
Then, Pat Fitzgerald gave the keys of the offense back to Marty and the senior immediately completed Northwestern’s second 45-yard play of the quarter with the deep ball to Stephon Robinson Jr. As the game clock hit zero, Marty found tight end Marshall Lang for the long-awaited opening score for the ‘Cats. At half, Northwestern trailed 13-7. It was a half defined by missed opportunities for both sides.
On the opening kick of the second half, Purdue kicker Chris Van Eekeran slipped on the kickoff. This created a squib kick of sorts that bounced into, and out of, the hands of the Northwestern return team. The Boilermakers recovered and started the half with the ball in midfield.
This mistake would cost the Wildcats. Bell hauled in his ninth catch of the afternoon for 19 yards, which set up a leaping touchdown grab from Milton Wright in the corner of the end zone. Purdue failed to convert its two-point attempt, leaving the score at 19-7.
With a need to respond, Hull and Marty went to work on the ground. The pair grinded for a combined 12 carries and 51 yards, including a 15-yard pickup by Hull to bring Northwestern to the Purdue one-yard line. Hull punched in the score to keep the ‘Cats in the game, 19-14 with 5:22 left in the third quarter.
Yet in just 79 seconds, O’Connell responded in a big way. The fifth-year senior completed his fourth pass of 30 yards or more for 45 yards and a third score to Wright to bring Purdue back to a 12-point lead.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: O’Connell completed a 50-yard pass to Wright along the sideline. This time around, Northwestern held its own and contained the Boilermakers to their third field goal of the game to keep it a two-possession game.
The Wildcats continued to try go keep their chances alive with the run game, but a series of four consecutive sacks by Purdue (no, that is not a typo) halted any hope for a comeback.
Northwestern will wrap up their season next week in hopes of keeping possession of the HAT against Illinois. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. in Champaign-Urbana.