Break out your bowling shoes.
For the first time since 2020, Northwestern (6-5, 4-4 B1G) is heading to a bowl game after knocking off Purdue (3-8, 2-6 B1G) 23-15. While it was only a 6-0 lead at halftime, the Wildcats pulled away with 17 second-half points.
In his second game back from injury, Ben Bryant finished the day 13-for-24 for 230 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Cam Johnson hauled in three passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, Cam Porter added 95 yards and two touchdowns.
Purdue split the game between quarterbacks Ryan Browne and Bennett Meredith. However, it was the ground game that anchored the Boilermakers. As a team, PU had 303 rushing yards.
Northwestern kicked it off to the Boilermakers to start the game, and Tyrone Tracy Jr. ran it out to the 28-yard line. After a short run on first down, Jaheem Joseph almost came away with an interception, knocking Meredith’s pass away. To close the drive, Anto Saka demolished Meredith in the backfield for a sack, and the ‘Cats took over at midfield.
After a first down run goes nowhere, Bryant uncorked a 33-yard pass to A.J. Henning, who made a diving toe tap catch along the sideline. Cam Porter followed it up with two straight runs, including a seven-yard scamper into the end zone to put NU up 6-0, with a bad snap dooming the extra point.
The Boilermakers kept it all on the ground on their next drive. Devin Mockobee picked up 13 on an inside handoff, and Tracy added 28-yards on a jet sweep to get inside NU territory. However, Carmine Bastone got into the backfield and jarred the ball loose from Ryan Browne, pushing Purdue out of field goal range. Browne was able to get PU back in field goal territory, but the kick fell well short, and the ‘Cats took back over up 6-0.
After the Wildcats got the ball back, they faced a third-and-5. With the pressure all on Bryant, the QB flipped it out to Porter for a fresh set of downs. However, the Wildcats stalled out after Cam Johnson dropped a wide-open deep ball from Bryant. A clean pass breakup by Purdue forced NU to punt.
Tracy started Purdue’s drive by bouncing a run outside for 17 yards. He picked up another 28 yards through a gaping hole to put the Boilermakers inside Northwestern territory. Mockobee churned his legs for another first down, as the ‘Cats struggled to bring down Purdue’s backfield tandem. Despite a third-and-long, Meredith nearly picked up a first down on a scramble, and Mockobee punched it forward for a fresh set of downs as the clock expired in the first quarter. As the teams flopped sides, NU clung to a 6-0 lead.
To start the second quarter, Purdue was ruled just short of the line to gain on second down, and the ‘Cats stopped all momentum there. On third down, Aidan Hubbard blew up a handoff in the backfield, setting up a forth-and-short. The Boilermakers decided to keep the offense on the field, but Xander Mueller shot the gap perfectly and laid out Tracy well short of the line to gain, and the Wildcats took over on downs.
NU could not get anything going on offense. After a holding penalty pushed the Wildcats back 10 yards, Bryant was put on his back two times, and the ‘Cats had to punt. It turned from bad to worse when Hunter Renner shanked a punt, setting up Purdue at Northwestern’s own 31-yard line.
Despite the short field, the ‘Cats held once again. Purdue worked the ball all the way to the half-yard line following QB runs but was unable to punch it in. The Wildcats had three straight goal-line stops, including a fourth-down tackle by Bryce Gallagher to hand the ball back to the offense.
Out of its own end zone, Bryant found Bryce Kirtz on a deep crosser for a 29-yard gain. However, the ‘Cats had to punt once again, and Purdue took over at its own 31.
Purdue once again moved the ball easily down the field, but a bad exchange allowed the ball to hit the turf, and NU fell on it for a recovery. Back on offense, Bryant hit Kirtz in stride for a 28-yard, third down conversion. However, on the ensuing play, Bryant was walloped by a blindside rusher. It didn’t get any better, as another Purdue sack forced NU out of field goal range. But, Renner’s punt was down inside the 2, and Hollis intercepted Browne at the Boilermakers' 20-yard line. However, the offense could not do anything, and Jack Olsen’s 38-yard kick went wide right, sending NU headed into the locker room up 6-0.
Out of the halftime break, a holding penalty set NU back 10 yards, and the ‘Cats were unable to overcome the foul, punting the ball once again. However, the Boilermakers went three-and-out on their first possession too. On Northwestern’s next sequence, Bryant found Henning for a third down conversion. Despite having to punt, Renner’s sky-high punt could not be corralled by Purdue’s T.J. Sheffield, and Greyson Metz recovered the muff at the Boilermakers’ 21-yard line. Yet, the NU offense was not able to find the end zone, but Olsen converted the 30-yard attempt to expand the ‘Cats’ lead to 9-0.
On Purdue’s next drive, Browne split the coverage and found Mockobee down the seam for a 25-yard gain, once again reaching ‘Cats territory. On third-and-short, Mockobee hurdles his way to a 14-yard gain, reaching the red zone. A few plays later, Tracy walked into the end zone to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 9-7 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
The ‘Cats picked up a first down on a screen to Joseph Himon. A few plays later, Bryant flipped it out to a wide-open Cam Johnson, and No. 14 did the rest. The sixth-year pass catcher shook a defender and ran it all the way into the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown, pushing NU’s lead back to two scores.
On the ensuing drive, Purdue went three-and-out, sending the ball right back to the Wildcats to close out the third quarter. With one frame remaining, Northwestern held on to a 16-7 lead.
On the first drive in the final quarter, Johnson climbed the ladder for a 25-yard, third-down catch. Porter picked up a first down on two straight runs, and NU inched closer to field goal range. However, on the next set of downs, Porter ran untouched for a 34-yard score, giving Northwestern a 23-7 lead with 12:08 left in the game.
On the back of Mockobee and Tracy, the Boilermakers found themselves in Northwestern territory again. However, like the rest of the game, the Wildcats’ defense did not break. The ‘Cats forced another turnover on downs, thanks to a nice pass breakup by Theran Johnson. With 7:49 left in the game, this one was getting late early.
After it appeared the ‘Cats had to punt, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gifted NU a fresh set of downs; however, the penalty was null as Bryant threw a deep interception on the next play to Dillon Thieneman.
The Boilermakers did not go away quietly. Tracy took a handoff 62 yards down to NU’s 8-yard line. However, the defense stood on its head one more time, making three straight stops to bring up a fourth-and-goal from the two. On fourth down, Purdue finally punched it in on a toss to Mockobee and converted the two-point try on a reverse from Deion Burks, cutting NU’s lead to 23-15.
The ‘Cats had to punt the ball away, and Purdue got the ball with 1:59 left to play. The Boilermakers picked up a first down with 1:34 left to play and crossed midfield with 1:13 to go. On second down, Heard delivered a massive shot to Tracy, who required medical attention. Because the Boilermakers were out of timeouts, the injury required a 10-second run off, leaving 28 seconds for Purdue to go 34 yards. However, on third down, Xander Mueller called game, intercepting Browne and securing the ‘Cats’ 23-15 victory.
Northwestern is back in action next weekend to finish the regular season, taking on Illinois in Champaign at 2:30 p.m. CT.