Northwestern (3-3, 1-2 B1G) took down Howard (2-3) 23-20 on Saturday to move to a .500 record on the season, but it wasn’t without some last-minute excitement.
Northwestern, the heavy favorite, got out to a 16-0 lead in the first half, but the game was just a field goal away from being tied with minutes left in the game.
Brendan Sullivan, slotted in for Ben Bryant who was sidelined against Penn State, went 13-for-18 over 131 yards and rushed for a touchdown himself. Cam Porter played a major role in the win, rushing for 78 yards. Cam Johnson and Bryce Kirtz also tallied 55 and 41 receiving yards, respectively.
Quinton Williams led the way for Howard, going 18-for-30 over 169 yards. Eden James also contributed 177 rushing yards, and Richie Ilarraza snagged 65 yards on the day.
Sullivan may have been a bit of a surprise in the QB slot, but he wasted no time getting the ‘Cats on the board in NU’s opening drive. Northwestern easily got two first downs to cross midfield, with charges from Porter and passes to Johnson and Kirtz. The sequence set up Sullivan’s 35-yard touchdown less than five minutes into the game.
The Wildcats’ defense quickly halted the Bison’s first possession, but the offense was unable to capitalize. Hunter Renner then booted a punt that left Howard to take over from its own 3-yard line.
Pinning the Bison proved worthwhile for the ‘Cats. On third down, Xander Mueller pounced on Williams in the end zone. Intentional grounding was called on Williams, resulting in a safety and a 9-0 ‘Cats’ lead.
Following a kick and re-kick from the Bison, Porter opened up the drive with a 5-yard gain, but the ‘Cats were forced to punt after Sullivan rushed for a loss and was taken down by Clayton Perrin on the next two opportunities.
The Bison were finally able to move the chains for the first time, but once again were forced into punting. On two subsequent attempts, Porter got NU a first down. An incomplete pass and another sack on Sullivan seemed like a punt fest would begin, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from Howard moved Northwestern across the 50-yard line.
A false start put the ‘Cats back, but a 23-yard pass to Kirtz powered them right back forward to regain positioning at the end of the first quarter. On third and long, Sullivan was sacked again, forcing NU to punt.
Howard seemed to start gaining momentum, achieving two straight first downs and making it to the Northwestern 49-yard line — its first-time past midfield, but ultimately, the Bison found themselves punting again. Northwestern found similar luck on its next drive.
Howard put up more of a fight the next time around. On two sequences, the Bison moved 46 yards before turning it over on downs. That was the closest they had been to the end zone all day.
Beginning on their own 23-yard line, NU picked up the pace to convert on downs for the first time in the second quarter. A combination of 35 rushing yards from Porter and passes to Johnson and Joseph Himon II accelerated the ‘Cats to the opposing 14-yard line.
Sullivan ran the ball for five yards and sent a short pass to Charlie Mangieri to set up a Northwestern first-and-goal with 34 seconds left in the half. A short pass to Kirtz put the Purple and White on the board, once more, to close out the half, 16-0.
Over the course of a long drive, the Bison entered striking distance halfway through the third quarter.
On third-and-seven at the Northwestern 8-yard line, Williams passed to Ilarraza who ran toward the end zone. The original touchdown call was erased, putting the Bison on the 2-yard line.
Northwestern was called for disconcerting signals before Howard could try again. Howard substituted Williams for Ja’Shawn Scroggins, who ended the nearly eight-minute drive with a touchdown.
The Wildcats put Porter to work on their next drive, with him running the ball on five of eight plays. After an impressive catch by Johnson was wiped out by a penalty, NU was pushed back to the 35-yard line. Johnson was able to avenge the mishap with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Sullivan to extend the lead, 23-7.
Howard was able to make it to the Northwestern 9-yard line to start the fourth quarter but was unable to score — largely thanks to back-to-back sacks from Richie Hagarty and Mueller.
Northwestern found itself in very a similar situation later in the fourth quarter, as it was unable to convert on a fourth down attempt that ended with Sullivan being sacked.
Despite being on the opposite end of the field, the Bison just needed one play to punch it in, with James scoring on a 64-yard run to make it 23-13 with less than six minutes to play.
And, with that, came the energy and motivation for a last-minute push from the Bison.
After a three-and-out from NU, Howard regained possession on its own 37-yard line. A combination of passes from Williams and rushes from James moved the Bison down the field to the 1-yard line, where Hunter Jarret ran it in for a score.
At 23-20, the ‘Cats were able to fend off the Bison to preserve their lead and win their third game of the season.
Northwestern has a bye week but will look to achieve a winning record in an away game at Nebraska on Oct. 21.