EVANSTON, Ill. — Well, that sure wasn’t pretty to watch.
In an ugly Saturday night affair in Evanston, Northwestern lost its third straight to Miami (OH) 17-14.
The RedHawks won the game on a fourth-quarter drive that lasted almost six minutes. Kicker Graham Nicholson punctuated it with a 36-yard field goal with 21 seconds left.
Ryan Hilinski threw for 257 yards on 25-for-43 to lead the passing attack. On the ground, Evan Hull led the way with 62 yards on 21 carries.
For the RedHawks, it was the Keyon Mozee show. The sophomore rushed for 171 yards on 21 carries. Quarterback Aveon Smith was less efficient through the air, only throwing for 57 yards and a touchdown on 7-for-19 passing.
Despite a horse-collar penalty on Cam Mitchell that extended Miami’s first drive, the ‘Cats held up well defensively to start the game. They forced a punt which Donny Navarro III caught at the NU 10.
Navarro picked up a first down off an eight-yard pass from Ryan Hilinski to keep up that momentum. But the drive stalled at the 28-yard line, forcing Luke Akers to punt
The Northwestern pass rush then made its presence felt. After Sean McLaughlin batted down a pass at the line on first down, Mitchell came off the edge the next play to force a fumble. The RedHawks recovered, but the ‘Cats capitalized on the loss of 22 to force a three-and-out. The ensuing punt left Northwestern in good field position at its own 42.
Hilinski started the drive well with a throw on the run to Marshall Lang to pick up a first down in Miami territory. Although a block in the back briefly set the offense back, the ‘Cats made up the yardage off catch-and-runs from Bryce Kirtz and Washington. Hilinski connected with Lang again on the following play for 23 yards to set the ‘Cats up in the red zone, where the quarterback snuck in at the goal line to put Northwestern up 7-0.
The defensive line continued to wreak havoc on the RedHawks, with Devin O’Rourke sacking Aveon Smith on the first play of the series. On the following snap, Miami used its second timeout of the quarter. That set the tone for its drive, which ended in another three-and-out.
Northwestern seemed to be taking control of the game through the air, as Hilinski connected with Navarro and Kirtz twice each to set the ‘Cats up in opposing territory yet again. But safety Eli Blakeley forced Washington to fumble at the Miami 30, quelling the momentum.
The turnover sparked the RedHawks’ offense. Mozee found his groove on the ground, ripping off multiple big runs to take Miami into field goal range. Smith had a chance to tie the game with one strike, but missed a wide open Miles Marshall down the sideline. Miami paid for that missed opportunity after Graham Nicholson clanked his 38-yard field goal attempt off the right upright.
Once again, the Wildcats started fast. This time, it was Cam Porter who churned for a big play, breaking multiple tackles en route to a 27-yard run. But the drive was halted at midfield, and Akers punted for the second time.
Northwestern’s run defense stiffened up and forced another three-and-out, but its ensuing drive fizzled out at its own 35. Disaster struck for the ‘Cats on the punt attempt, where Caiden Woullard blocked Akers to set Miami up at the NU 10. Smith capitalized with a 12-yard touchdown strike to Mac Hippenhammer, evening the score at seven with 27 seconds left in the half. The turn of events left a sour taste in the crowd, which booed at the end of the half.
Both teams traded punts to start the second half, though it wasn’t without drama. To start the third quarter, Jacob Gill appeared to fumble at midfield, though the call was overturned. After Miami stonewalled the ‘Cats again on their next drive, another RedHawk got a hand on Akers’ punt, allowing Chuck Martin’s squad to start in Northwestern territory.
Smith almost found Marshall for a big gain, but Mitchell delivered a big hit to force an incompletion and a Miami punt. Hilinski delivered a 29-yard strike to Washington and a 19-yard pass to Genson Hooper Price to take the ‘Cats into Miami territory. But the drive ended on a fourth-and-four at the Miami 29, where Donny Navarro wasn’t able to reel in a throw to the sideline.
Miami responded with a long drive, which was extended by a third-down roughing the passer penalty on Adetomiwa Adebawore. But McLaughlin made another big play on Nicholson’s 43-yard field goal attempt, blocking the kick at the line of scrimmage. Theran Johnson scooped the ball up and took it to the Northwestern 40.
Hilinski and Co. couldn’t take advantage of the turnover, though, and gave the ball right back after another three-and-out. But Northwestern’s defensive line continued to stifle the Miami offense to keep the game tied at seven going into the fourth quarter. Adebawore sacked Smith on third down to force yet another punt and give the Northwestern offense an opportunity.
On an additional long drive, Northwestern’s rushing attack finally broke through. Evan Hull — who rushed for 28 of his 62 total yards on the drive — carried the ball six times as the ‘Cats gradually moved down the field. Porter punctuated the drive with a four-yard score off a direct snap, giving the ‘Cats a 14-7 lead with 8:34 to play.
Miami immediately responded with its biggest play of the night: a 66-yard run from Mozee down the right sideline to the Northwestern goal line. Smith scored on the next play with a sneak to tie the game at 14.
NU’s offense couldn’t respond, and gave the ball back to the RedHawks after another three-and-out. Miami went on to string together its longest drive of the evening, as Mozee wore down Northwestern’s defensive line down the stretch. Nicholson punctuated the drive with a 36-yard field goal with 21 seconds left to put the RedHawks up 17-14.
With all of its timeouts gone, Northwestern almost overcame the odds and approached Miami territory. However, Washington fumbled after another 21-yard reception in enemy territory, essentially ending the game.
Northwestern will head east next Saturday to begin the bulk of its conference slate against Penn State at 2:30 p.m. CST. You can catch the game on ABC.