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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: Wide receiver Cam Johnson’s career-game leads Northwestern to reclaim Land of Lincoln Trophy

Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal
Sixth-year wide receiver Cam Johnson celebrates following a score. In Saturday’s 45-43 victory over Illinois, Johnson had a career-high 124 receiving yards and increased his touchdown streak to four games.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — All that was left for Northwestern to cap off a jubilant 2023 regular season was retaking the Hat.

In an offensive dogfight, the Wildcats (7-5, 5-4 Big Ten) outlasted the Fighting Illini (5-7, 3-6 Big Ten) 45-43 — winning the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the first time since 2020 and crushing Illinois chances of bowl eligibility. 

While many players starred Saturday, one player shone the brightest. As he lined up for his final collegiate regular season matchup, sixth-year wide receiver Cam Johnson hauled in seven receptions for a career-high 124 receiving yards and a touchdown.

“(Johnson) embodies so many things that we value in this program,” head coach David Braun said. “He is a warrior. It has been neat to see him and (sixth-year quarterback Ben Bryant) specifically really find rhythm. He is putting his best foot forward, and you can see it in his play.” 

With both teams exchanging three and outs to open the contest, momentum was firmly up for grabs. 

Facing a critical third and goal opportunity, Johnson asserted his authority in the endzone. Bryant dropped back, went through his progressions and connected with his veteran pass catcher for a 10-yard score, handing NU an early 7-0 lead and silencing the Fighting Illini faithful.

Johnson’s early score extended his touchdown streak to four games — a stretch where the ‘Cats have gone 3-1. 

“(The streak) has been special,” Johnson said. “It has meant a lot to me to see my ability to help the team win… whether that is through blocking and doing the dirty work or scoring touchdowns like these past four games. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” 

As the first half winded down, NU’s offense started to feel the pressure for the first time —- Bryant had just thrown a pick-six and the team faced its first deficit in a 20-14 hole. 

With a little over a minute remaining in the half, though, Johnson catalyzed the offense with a bevy of big plays — setting up the offense with its second consecutive touchdown. 

Connecting with Bryant for multiple double-digit yard receptions, Johnson continued to move the chains in the team’s final-minute seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to close the first half on the right foot.

“It wasn’t necessarily about the time,” Johnson said. “It was ourselves and (moving) behind the chains. We knew that as long as we kept moving the ball and running our routes with perfection, we were going to continue to put up points. There was no flinch from us.” 

Out of the locker room, the ‘Cats looked to build off of Johnson’s momentum. The game swiftly snowballed into an offensive shootout, sprinkled with NU’s special teams’ sparks.

Once again, the Nashville, Tennessee native demonstrated his pass catching ability. Bryant connected on three consecutive completions to Johnson — specifically linking up for a 42-yard gain on the final play of the sequence. Just three plays later, the ‘Cats extended their lead to 28-20. 

Graduate student wide receiver A.J. Henning, the beneficiary of Johnson’s route running savvy on that decisive score, said his fellow wideout’s value extends beyond the field.

“(He’s) been huge for the offense and the receiving room as well,” Henning said. “He brings a lot to the room as far as leadership and is a brother I can lean on as everybody else can as well. Him being out there gives us a great opportunity. I know he’s going to make the play if the ball comes his way.” 

Heading into next month’s bowl game, Johnson yearns to continue to lead the receiving corps — hoping to get across the pylon for a fifth consecutive contest and cap off NU’s 2023 campaign on the highest of notes.

The game will also mark the end of Bryant and Johnson’s respective collegiate careers. With Saturday’s performance being the latest example of the profound chemistry the duo have established, the opportunity in their final game together will be endless. 

“It (has been) an unspoken bond,” Johnson said. “With Ben tonight, it felt like I was in a groove, so he kept feeding me the ball. I think that’s the one thing that is special about working with a guy for so long. We’ve been working with each other since summer, and it’s really showing.” 

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Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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