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

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

The Daily Northwestern


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Football: Northwestern’s veterans reach likely-end to old-Ryan Field era, secure bowl eligibility in 23-15 victory over Purdue

Senior+running+back+Cam+Porter+takes+a+carry+against+Purdue.+Porter+amassed+95+rushing+yards+on+17+carries+versus+the+Boilermakers+on+Saturday.
Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer
Senior running back Cam Porter takes a carry against Purdue. Porter amassed 95 rushing yards on 17 carries versus the Boilermakers on Saturday.

About an hour and a half after senior linebacker Xander Mueller’s game-clinching interception that prompted a purple pandemonium and left the Ryan Field goalposts in danger of a dip in Lake Michigan, Saturday’s November sun began to make its descent above the now-silent 97-year-old stadium.

Northwestern had just secured bowl eligibility for the first time since 2020 in a 23-15 victory over Purdue, and the players’ celebration poured into the locker room and onto the team bus. Students rushed the field and saluted the team’s new permanent chief in coach David Braun.

“It’s all about sending (the seniors) off the right way,” Braun said. “For us to have our last game here in the old-Ryan Field and secure bowl eligibility is really special.”

In the wake of the proverbial party that overtook the corner of Central Street and Ashland Avenue, purple chairs and popcorn boxes populated the stadium’s empty stands. For one final closing shift this season — and likely forever — Ryan Field’s custodial and grounds staff swept through their postgame tasks in the team’s traditional stomping grounds.

By sundown, the field’s gates were padlocked for good, likely marking the end of a near-century long era. At a crossroads of new and old, the Wildcats (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten) leaned heavily on their veterans on Senior Day to bludgeon the Boilermakers (3-8, 2-6 Big Ten) and seal a bowl bid.

“It’s kind of a poetic ending for me on Senior Day,” graduate student quarterback Ben Bryant said. “I grew up watching Northwestern… had a bunch of family, friends, coaches and teachers at the game today.”

Before freshman kicker Henry Helms trotted out to boot the opening kickoff into the skies, a plethora of pregame proceedings honoring the team’s seniors and graduate students ensued. Bienen Director of Bands Dr. Mallory Thompson, who is retiring at the end of the school year, even led a swan song that capped off decades of service to the University.

Braun said although Senior Day marks an exciting celebration of athletes’ accomplishments, the emotions that come with the occasion can pose significant challenges.

“Emotions are an indication that guys really care, but you also gotta manage those emotions and stay present,” Braun said. “I give our guys a lot of credit for getting back in the locker room, resetting and getting ready to go play.”

Senior running back Cam Porter pounced on early rushing opportunities, waltzing into the endzone untouched for the opening score less than four minutes into the first quarter.

While the Cincinnati, Ohio, native appeared to regain his burst of several seasons’ past in Camp Randall last Saturday, Porter continued to up his production against Purdue, posting a season-high 95 rushing yards on 17 carries and punching in two touchdowns.

Although the offense sputtered after Porter’s early conversion, veterans and young contributors alike on NU’s defensive unit slammed the door shut on the Boilermaker offense. 

Capping off a first-half shutout, senior defensive back Garnett Hollis Jr. snagged Purdue quarterback Ryan Browne’s errant throw from his own end zone — though the offense failed to convert its golden field position into points.

With about two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the ‘Cats carried a two-point advantage, but the Boilermakers seemed to have snatched second-half momentum. On the 48-yard line, Bryant, graduate student wide receiver Cam Johnson and the entire NU quarterback room each saw the same development.

“When I saw the look and knew I was gonna get the ball, I was just thinking there was no way I’m gonna get taken down here,” Johnson said.

As Purdue defensive back Markevious Brown looked to wreak havoc in the backfield on a corner blitz, Johnson had just one man to beat on the sideline once he hauled in the catch. Johnson juked right, sprinting and swerving around redshirt senior tight end Thomas Gordon’s crucial downfield block and into the south endzone for a 52-yard touchdown.

Despite the Boilermakers’ valiant comeback push, Porter’s 34-yard scamper for a score and Mueller’s dagger-esque pick proved the difference between the two teams, as the two captains helped push the ’Cats to the magical, yet evasive, six-win mark.

“It’s a reflection of what development really looks like — guys that have stayed the course,” Braun said. “You look at Cam and the injuries he’s overcome, (and) Xander’s development … it’s just guys that have bought in to find a way to improve. Those guys are team-first dudes — they embody that entire senior class and the upperclassmen on this team.”

Earlier in the week, then-interim head coach Braun said words couldn’t do justice to the impact his captains played in sparking the group’s turnaround from a 1-11 2022 campaign and crafting a winning culture. Now, Mueller and Porter have helped pave the way for their first postseason action since the Citrus Bowl in both of their freshman seasons.

For Porter, the moment still hadn’t sunk in as he reflected on his whirlwind career in Evanston.

“This is an awesome place. It felt like yesterday we came in during COVID,” Porter said. “Through the adversity, we’ve stayed strong and we’ve stayed together. It was a blessing to come away with the win and go out the right way.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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