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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern falls short 17-9 in road finale against Purdue

Another Saturday, another loss.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — No matter the quarterback, a double-digit scoring total continues to evade Northwestern.

In Cole Freeman’s first collegiate start, the Wildcats (1-10, 1-7 B1G) fell to Purdue (7-4, 5-3 B1G), 17-9. Northwestern kept it close throughout the contest, but two turnovers and just 78 yards through the air from Freeman allowed the Boilermakers to stymie the ‘Cats.

The sophomore quarterback threw his 78 yards on 9-for-20 passing with an interception. Evan Hull was once again the focal point of the Northwestern offense, as he put up 105 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

For Purdue, Aidan O’Connell threw for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 16-for-25 passing. Charlie Jones led the Boilermakers with 46 yards and a touchdown on six receptions, while Dylan Downing and Kobe Lewis spearheaded the rushing attack with 17 carries for 49 yards and 42 yards on 11 carries, respectively.

The Boilermakers began the game on their own 25-yard line and quickly got to work. Three consecutive runs from Devin Mockobee gave Purdue a fresh set of downs, and two chunk plays from Charlie Jones and the running back brought the offense into Northwestern territory.

A sack by Sean McLaughlin pushed Jeff Brohm’s squad back 10 yards on first down, but a 19-yard reverse play from Tyrone Tracy Jr. made up that ground. After Jeremiah Lewis stifled a Mockobee run on third-and-one, the Boilermakers decided to go for it from the Northwestern 33. However, Lewis made another great tackle on a short out-route to T.J. Sheffield to force a turnover on downs.

Following a quick Northwestern three-and-out, Purdue took back possession at its own 35. An Aidan O’Connell slant to Jones moved the chains on third-and-two, and the Boilermakers converted on third down again a few plays later on a one-yard Dylan Downing run.

Soon after, a 19-yard run by Kobe Lewis brought the Purdue offense into the red zone. It was then when O’Connell and Jones connected for their first big play of the game, a 15-yard touchdown strike that put the Boilermakers up 7-0.

The Freeman-led offense responded well, as a nine-yard throw to Malik Washington and a six-yard run on third-and-one from Cam Porter gave Northwestern a new set of downs. The drive appeared to stall at the NU 46 after a six-yard scramble from Freeman on third down fell three yards short of the line to gain, but the ‘Cats drew Purdue offside to keep the drive alive.

That proved to be crucial, as Evan Hull broke off a 19-yard run on the very next play. After Freeman found Marshall Lang for 17 more, Northwestern found itself on Purdue’s seven-yard line. The drive petered out there, though, and Adam Stage booted a 23-yard field goal through the uprights to put NU on the board.

Both teams went on to trade three-and-outs before Purdue embarked on a long drive. O’Connell found Mershawn Rice, Payne Durham and Mockobee for gains of 13, 27 and 16, respectively, to place the Boilermakers at NU’s 27-yard line. Lewis and Downing each picked up a first down before O’Connell found Durham for a three-yard score. Mitchell Fineran knocked the extra point through to extend Purdue’s lead to 11.

Freeman found Duke Olges for 15 yards on the second play of the next drive, but it ended at about midfield when the ‘Cats couldn’t convert a third-and-long. That effectively drew the half to a close, with Purdue holding a 14-3 edge.

NU got the ball to start the second half, and three runs from Hull gave the ‘Cats a first down. The Boilermakers flipped any momentum Northwestern was building, however, when Jalen Graham picked off a Freeman pass into a tight window. Graham took the interception easily into the end zone, but picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for high-stepping most of the way. As a result, the officials took the apparent touchdown off the board, and the Boilermakers had to start from Northwestern’s 35.

Purdue’s offense went nowhere, which forced Fineran to attempt a 46-yard field goal into the strong West Lafayette wind. The kick fell short, which effectively completed a seven-point swing.

The ‘Cats looked to be building an answer, as first-year Joseph Himon II ripped off a 13-yard run and Freeman converted a third-and-12 on a strike over the middle to Washington. But Purdue’s Lawrence Johnson ripped the ball from Freeman as he ran up the middle on the next play, and Cam Allen recovered the fumble to force a Northwestern turnover for the second straight drive.

The Boilermakers quickly gained 18 on two nine-yard pickups from Lewis, but the Wildcat defense stiffened up. Aidan Hubbard brought up a fourth-and-three at the NU 33 after he limited an O’Connell scramble to three yards. On the fourth-down conversion attempt that followed, Hubbard and Adetomiwa Adebawore combined for another critical stop when they pushed the Purdue quarterback out of bounds as he approached the first-down marker, giving the ‘Cats the ball back.

Both teams went three-and-out on the next four drives before Anthony Tyus III got a piece of Jack Ansell’s punt. That gave Northwestern good field position at its own 41-yard line, and the Wildcats capitalized. Freeman found Genson Hooper Price for 12 yards, and a few more short runs from Hull were enough for another first down.

After the junior broke off a 16-yard run, he found paydirt from two yards out to cut Northwestern’s deficit to 14-9. Freeman could not connect with Donny Navarro III on the two-point conversion try, so the Purdue lead stood at five.

Brian Brohm’s offense immediately answered with a statement drive, as O’Connell peppered the ‘Cats with intermediate passes all over the field to Jones, Deion Burks and Paul Piferi to quickly reach the red zone. The drive almost ended without points when Purdue faced a fourth-and-one from Northwestern’s 11, but Downing was able to find a small hole on the ground for two yards. After NU brought up another fourth down, Fineran made his second field goal of the day from 26 yards out to extend Purdue’s lead to 17-9.

Northwestern responded with a flurry of runs, as Bajakian called 10 rushes in a row. The longest of those was a seven-yard run from Hull that moved the chains, but the most significant of those was a four-yard keeper from Freeman that kept the drive alive.

The clock continued to dwindle down, reaching 1:33 when the ‘Cats faced a fourth-and-four from the Boilermakers’ 43 and called a timeout. Freeman tried to scamper on a pass play, but Purdue’s Jack Sullivan was able to shed Caleb Tiernan’s block and sack the sophomore quarterback to effectively end the game.

Northwestern will head back home to conclude its season against Illinois next Saturday. The start time has yet to be announced.