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Flashback Friday: A dive into Northwestern’s last win in the United States — 23 months ago

Has it really been that long?

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Being the record holder of an impressive feat will get you recognized by many. Being the record holder of an infamous one will get you recognized by more. At least, that is the case for Northwestern and its drought of winning football games on this side of the Atlantic.

Among teams in Division I, the ‘Cats already have the claim on the longest active losing streak secured (11; Nevada and South Florida are next, both at 10). But what’s more is that NU’s last win was in Ireland against Nebraska in Week Zero of last season. All this to say that if you search for the team’s last victory on American soil, you’ll need to pinpoint Week Seven of 2021 — mid-October of Ryan Hilinski’s junior year.

Your eyes don’t deceive you. By the time the ‘Cats take the field in Piscataway, New Jersey, they’ll have gone 23 months without earning a win on their own continent. That’s the type of accomplishment you try to hide from the Guinness World Record reporters.

The intention of this article is not to underscore the already well-publicized fact that NU is in the midst of a brutal losing streak — quite the opposite actually. This Friday, just two days before Northwestern kicks off its 2023 campaign, why don’t we relive the squad’s last win in the United States? Chalk it up to a manifestation for Sunday.

Coincidentally, that Week Seven win was against none other than Northwestern’s pending opponent: Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights and the Wildcats entered the 2021 matchup each under significantly different circumstances. Rutgers, fresh off three straight losses to ranked opponents, sat at .500. A victory would put the Knights back on track with a winning record and the toughest part of their schedule out of the way, a bowl game not out of the question. NU was playing for less and had more luck on its side. Staring down a 2-3 record and a flurry of formidable Big Ten opponents, the ‘Cats were coming off a bye week which was preceded by a Week Five shellacking, courtesy of Nebraska.

To make a long story short, this game had the opportunity to propel Rutgers toward a coveted late-season extra contest while Northwestern was well-positioned to be a mid-season spoiler.

The ‘Cats hosted the afternoon game, donning a purple uniform and white helmets to complement. Big-time plays were the name of the game, and we got our first one hardly 30 seconds into the game. Hilinski launched a near-50-yard bomb on a play fake that sent a relatively well-occupied Ryan Field into a frenzy (ah, what once was…). Still, this is Northwestern football we’re talking about, and the drive ended with a Charlie Kuhbander missed field goal.

It wasn’t until later in the quarter that scoring opened, as Malik Washington — who transferred to the University of Virginia this offseason — took a slant over the middle to the house. The effort was impressive, given that his 45 yards after catch included a nasty truck move against a Rutgers defender who looked sizably bigger than the then-junior wideout.

The quarter wrapped at 7-0 NU. Aside from an awkward flea flicker near the end of the period between Evan Hull and Hilinski, which led to a (recovered) fumble and an ocean of jerseys on the grass, the game was off to a smooth start for the home side.

The Scarlet Knights equalized in the second quarter, largely enabled by a few plays that Cam Mitchell botched. Rutgers’ Noah Vedral lofted a 45-yard jump ball to Bo Melton that he corralled over a scrambling Mitchell. Later in the drive, after a Bryce Gallagher sack, Vedral summoned his inner Patrick Mahomes before completing a jump pass on third-and-12. Seconds later, Vedral found a wide open teammate in the endzone, who dusted Mitchell.

Luckily, some impressive moves after the catch from NU wideouts put the ‘Cats right back in the red zone. From there, Hilinski nailed Marshall Lang for a touchdown, and Northwestern extended its lead to 14-7 going into the half.

Quarter Three was a forgettable one. Featuring four punts, an unsuccessful fourth down attempt and a missed field goal, neither team got on the board.

In opposition to what we saw in 2022, the ‘Cats managed to actually extend their lead in the fourth quarter. A methodical drive from Hilinski and Co. with roughly seven minutes left in the game resulted in a touchdown, deepening the Scarlet Knights’ deficit, 21-7. A pair of big sacks, including one from Samdup Miller on Rutgers’ last-ditch fourth down attempt, sealed the deal.

In all, Hilinski went 18-for-33 with two touchdown passes and 267 yards in the air. Andrew Clair was the ‘Cats’ leading rusher, averaging over five yards per carry. Stephon Robinson Jr. paved the way among wideouts, totaling 115 yards on the day. Oh, how times have changed.

Northwestern notched 402 total yards on the day, and it especially outperformed Rutgers on the ground — 135 to 63. RU’s outing was marred by penalties, as the Knights racked up 90 yellow yards to the ‘Cats’ 50.

Northwestern’s win in that Week Seven game would be its last for the season, as it went on to drop six straight. It would also mark the team’s last victory on American soil for the foreseeable future.

The ‘Cats have the chance to reset their losing streak to zero if they can nab a win against Rutgers on Sunday. No task seems small nowadays, but this will serve as one of the better chances Northwestern gets to conclude what’s been a miserable period of American history.