purdue boilers up the cats: purdue 35, nu 17 (Football)

Matt Baker

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – After a first half plagued by missed opportunities and four turnovers, Northwestern felt lucky to take a three-point lead into the fourth quarter.

But the Wildcats’ luck ran out in the final 15 minutes Saturday.

Purdue scored three touchdowns in the final period and held NU’s offense to four total yards as the Boilermakers beat the Cats 35-17 to snap NU’s three-game winning streak and keep it one win shy of bowl eligibility.

“When you turn the ball over four times and you’re going into halftime tied, it talks about the fight and character of our football program,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I was real proud of our men and told them we have 30 more minutes to fight for what we want. I thought we did it for 15.”

In what was billed as a shootout between the two top passing offenses in the Big Ten, NU (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten) looked out of sync early against Purdue (7-2, 3-2).

Junior quarterback C.J. Bacher misfired on the game’s third play from scrimmage, throwing the ball off of sophomore superback Brendan Mitchell’s shoulder and toward a diving Purdue cornerback Terrell Vinson for an interception.

Bacher’s pass to junior running back Tyrell Sutton a few drives later sailed over his head and into the arms of Vinson. Midway through the second quarter, Bacher was credited with his third pick of the half when junior wide receiver Ross Lane bobbled the ball into the hands of Purdue linebacker Dan Bick.

Junior running back Omar Conteh fumbled on an option near the end of the second quarter to complete the Cats’ quartet of miscues.

“It was kind of like it was two on one,” said Sutton, who finished with 72 yards on 12 carries. “We were playing them, and then we were beating ourselves.”

NU had a chance to capitalize with a forced turnover of its own near the end of the first quarter, when junior linebacker Prince Kwateng stripped running back Jaycen Taylor at the goal line. The ball tumbled into the end zone, and Purdue’s Dustin Keller pounced on it to give the Boilermakers a 7-0 lead.

Purdue extended the lead at the end of the first quarter with a one-yard touchdown pass on 4th and goal from quarterback Curtis Painter to fullback Jeff Lindsay.

Despite the miscues, the Cats hung in the game. Conteh took an option run 11 yards into the end zone two minutes into the second quarter to give NU its first score.

The Cats played trick-or-treat on the Boilermakers at the end of the half. Bacher hit Kim Thompson on a nine-yard pass over the middle, and the senior wide receiver tossed the ball behind him to a streaking Eric Peterman, who sped 15 yards down the left sideline and dove into the end zone to tie the score at halftime.

After Purdue missed a field goal to start the second half, NU responded with a 79-yard drive that set up 2nd and goal from the one. After a stuffed run and an incomplete pass, the Cats settled for an 18-yard field goal by junior Amado Villarreal, putting the Cats up by three.

That was the offense’s last stand.

NU combined for 13 total yards and zero first downs in its last five drives. Purdue’s defense hounded Bacher in the final 17 minutes, breaking up seven of his final 11 throws and recording one of its five sacks on the day.

“We were making some plays, but we were ending up 4th and short,” Bacher said. “It’s a game of inches, and when you can’t convert on those 3rd and shorts or come up short like that, you really put yourself in a bind. That’s what we did.”

As NU’s offense faltered, the Big Ten’s No. 1 scoring offense found its rhythm in the fourth quarter.

Purdue ran over the Cats with 137 rushing yards – almost double the total through the first three quarters – and scored on three of its four drives, including a 21-yard touchdown pass from Painter to wide receiver Dorien Bryant with 6:24 left to seal the win.

“The chance was there,” said senior linebacker Adam Kadela, who finished with a game-high 10 tackles. “We knew if we gave ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter, we felt like we had an edge on them, but we didn’t make the plays we needed to.”

Reach Matt Baker at [email protected]