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Football: Jackson explodes in huge Pinstripe Bowl performance

Justin+Jackson+dives+into+the+end+zone.+The+junior+running+back+ran+for+a+career-high+224+yards+and+scored+three+times+against+Pittsburgh.
Justin Jackson dives into the end zone. The junior running back ran for a career-high 224 yards and scored three times against Pittsburgh.

Justin Jackson dives into the end zone. The junior running back ran for a career-high 224 yards and scored three times against Pittsburgh.

Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Justin Jackson dives into the end zone. The junior running back ran for a career-high 224 yards and scored three times against Pittsburgh.

Max Schuman, Digital Projects Editor

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Football


NEW YORK — Under the bright lights at Yankee Stadium, Justin Jackson shined brighter than ever.

The junior running back capped off a sterling season with a maestro performance in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday, putting up 224 yards on 32 carries and scoring three touchdowns to lead Northwestern (7-6, 5-4 Big Ten) to a 31-24 victory over No. 23 Pittsburgh (8-5, 5-3 ACC). Jackson sparked the Wildcats’ offense repeatedly, galloping through the Panthers’ defense with ease en route to a career-high in yardage on the ground.

“It was so back-and-forth, you felt like you always had to make a play offensively to get us back in the game,” Jackson said.

Time and again, Jackson made those plays. His longest run came with NU backed up at its own two-yard line in the first quarter, a 68-yard burst that put the Cats in scoring position and helped turn the tide of the game.

Two quarters later, Jackson made another impressive highlight, juking by a Pittsburgh safety in the open field to cruise into the end zone from 40 yards out.

“He’s got a brutality about his game, he’s tough, the pile always goes forward,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He can make you miss in space, he’s got some incredible ankle-breaking moves out there. He’s just incredibly consistent.”

With the Panthers’ supposed weakness in the secondary, most expected NU to lean on sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson to move the ball through the air in its bowl matchup. Instead, Jackson stole the show, piling up yardage inside and out and earning the Pinstripe Bowl MVP award postgame.

Jackson’s scintillating showing gave him 1,524 yards on the year, a new single-season school record. And after shaking off the idea of entering the NFL Draft this year — “You don’t come here and not get a degree,” the junior said after the game — Jackson is poised to lead the way for NU on the ground again in 2017.

Fitzgerald said Jackson’s performance Wednesday was one of the best by a running back in school history.

“He’ll be the first to give credit to the offensive line and the wide receivers for the great job that they did blocking, but I think he made quite a few guys miss out there on the field too,” Fitzgerald said. “It was a spectacular day.”

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