Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

73° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Cats top in-state rival, win Lincoln’s hat

CHAMPAIGN – Coach Pat Fitzgerald tipped his cap to Ron Zook and the Illini for a hard-fought game, but on a sunny Champaign Saturday it was Fitzgerald and the Wildcats who held onto the hat this year.

With a 21-16 victory over Illinois, Northwestern ensured itself a second consecutive bowl appearance and sole control over Lincoln’s bronzed hat atop the Land of Lincoln Trophy.

“It’s cool, considering the man that was underneath it,” senior wide receiver Zeke Markshausen said. “We talked about Abraham Lincoln on Thursday, and considering what he went through and who he was as an individual, it was pretty cool that we named it after him. I like it. Both trophies are pretty cool, but we won this first one, so I like it a lot.”

After NU won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, the teams traded missed field goals in a scoreless first quarter. The Illini put the first points on the board with a 30-yard field goal three minutes into the second period.

Backup quarterback Dan Persa couldn’t ignite the offense on its next drive, and Fitzgerald re-inserted starter Mike Kafka with 2:25 left in the half. The Cats drove 45 yards but failed to convert a fourth-and-one.

“Unfortunately we had a guy open, but we just didn’t make the play,” Fitzgerald said. “We had good momentum on that drive. We needed to have something happen.”

One play later, middle linebacker Nate Williams gave NU new life. The junior picked off quarterback Jacob Charest’s pass, giving the Cats possession at their 46-yard line. Kafka took matters into his own hands, rifling a 28-yard touchdown strike to Zeke Markshausen with 17 seconds left to put NU ahead going into the locker room.

“We couldn’t really get much going before that,” Markshausen said. “It felt good going into the half knowing that we had some momentum built up. We knew we were going to do it, we just had to go out and execute it.”

Before throwing for 54 yards on the final drive, Kafka was 11-of-20 for 109 yards in the half. Still, thanks to 21 rushing yards from Persa and 20 from sophomore running back Scott Concannon, the Cats managed to rack up 222 yards of total offense in the first half.

The Illini struggled to get their air attack off the ground in the opening half. Charest was 5-of-14 for 34 yards, prompting Zook to replace him with Eddie McGee to start the second half. But even with McGee under center, Illinois didn’t fare much better. McGee played the entire third quarter, throwing one incomplete pass and rushing seven times for 42 yards.

Meanwhile, NU’s offense went wild after halftime. On the Cats’ second possession of the quarter, they marched 99 yards downfield for their second touchdown of the game. It was NU’s longest drive since the opening game against Towson.

“We made adjustments in the second half and it paid off,” Kafka said. “The 99-yard drive (was) a big statement.”

The Cats’ offense totaled 169 yards in the third quarter, with 120 of those coming through the air.

NU notched another score at the beginning of the final period, but after that it was all Illinois. Its offense rolled with Charest receiving snaps. The redshirt freshman threw for 111 yards and one touchdown and scrambled for another. Charest’s 36-yard pass to Chris Duvalt pulled the Illini within five, 21-16.

The Cats drained three minutes off the clock on their next drive, but they were forced to punt, giving Illinois the ball with 74 seconds left.

Four plays later, the Illini faced a fourth-and-one from their own 35-yard line with the game and its season hanging in the balance. Charest dropped back and fired to receiver Jarred Fayson. Both Fayson and cornerback Sherrick McManis dove for the pass. Fayson bobbled it on the ground, and in an instant, McManis popped up with the ball in hands. An official review was inconclusive, and the play stood as an interception. A chorus of boos rained down from the stands.

“I don’t care what (the Illinois fans) think,” McManis said. “The ref made the call, and it was the right call.”

NU recorded its 10th win over Illinois in the last 15 contests, guaranteeing its first back-to-back winning seasons and bowl berths since 1995-96.

“It’s very meaningful,” said McManis of the win. “It’s the first time we were playing for (the Land of Lincoln Trophy), and it’s the only tropwhy we play for all year. We wanted that trophy and we got it.”

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For a play-by-play breakdown of Saturday’s win, check out our live-blog on Cats’ Corner: www.catscorner.dailynorthwestern.com

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Cats top in-state rival, win Lincoln’s hat