Cats pop the Champaign: NU 27, Illinois 10

The Sweet Sioux Tomahawk will remain in Evanston for good. Northwestern made sure of that in its 27-10 win over Illinois on Saturday.

The Wildcats played arguably their most complete game of the season, dominating in all facets of the game and winning the rivalry trophy for the fifth time in six years. More importantly, the senior class walked off Ryan Field for the last time as winners.

“I’m very proud of 23 young men who have battled through as much adversity as young men can go through throughout their collegiate years,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “They’ve stayed together, fought and battled.”

NU got on the board first with a one-yard touchdown rush by sophomore Stephen Simmons. The Cats drove 77 yards down the field in just over four minutes, taking the early 6-0 lead after senior kicker Amado Villarreal missed the extra point.

On NU’s first drive of the second quarter, Bachér made the play of the day. Facing third-and-seven inside Illinois territory, Bachér rolled out right and looked as if he’d run out of bounds. Instead, Bachér stopped and threw a wobbling pass across his body 14 yards to a wide open Ross Lane in the back of the end zone. Lane caught six passes for 57 yards.

“That was fun,” Lane said of the touchdown.

In the opening half, Bachér went 15-of-20 for 162 yards and a touchdown. The senior gunslinger played arguably his best half of football, dinking and dunking his way down the field with efficiency. For the game, Bachér completed 22-of-33 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cats led 13-0 going into halftime by holding the Illini to just 86 yards of total offense.

On the first drive of the second half, Williams orchestrated an 11-play, 80 yard drive that brought Illinois within six. Williams’ biggest play came of the drive on third-and-14 near midfield. Williams spotted wide receiver Jeff Cumberland for a 31-yard strike behind NU’s secondary. Two plays later, Williams scampered for 16 yards up the middle into the red zone. Freshman Jason Ford rushed for a 1-yard touchdown to finish the drive.

Then, the teams traded field goals. Villarreal connected on a 28-yard field goal and Matt Eller hit a 21-yarder to keep the game within one possession.

The field goal was Illinois’ only score of the final period.

After forcing Illinois into a three-and-out, returner Brendan Smith fielded the punt and raced 51 yards all the way to the Illinois 20. Two plays later, Bachér found senior wide receiver Eric Peterman on an 18-yard post corner for a touchdown. Simmons’ easiest carry of the game came on the ensuing two-point conversion try, extending the Cats lead to 14. In Peterman’s final regular season game, he caught 8 passes for 111 yards.

Villarreal tacked on a 27-yard field goal to push the final margin to 17 points.

“Collectively as a team, I think this may have been our best game of the year,” Fitzgerald said.

NU won the first Sweet Sioux Tomahawk trophy in 1945 and closed the series by winning the bookend game. Officials from both schools announced the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk will be retired as Illinois attempts to remove all Native American imagery from its athletic programs.

The 2008 Cats because just the fourth team in school history to win nine games, a point of pride for Fitzgerald.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be a Wildcat,” he said.