Sunday, September 7, 2014

Northwestern Outlasted by Visiting Northern Illinois, 23-15

After a scoreless first half on a sun-splashed afternoon at Ryan Field, Northwestern and Northern Illinois combined for 38 second-half points, but it was the visiting Huskies who had eight more to come out on top of the in-state showdown, 23-15.

NIU scored three second-half touchdowns, two of which came on passes from quarterback Drew Hare to wide receiver Da'ron Brown, and added a field goal. The Wildcats put up two scores of their own on touchdown passes from Trevor Siemian and Zack Oliver, but it was not enough to knock off the visitors from DeKalb.

Both defenses stood tall in the first 30 minutes of play. The Wildcats held the Huskies to 142 yards of total offense with an equal 71 yards coming both on the ground and through the air. The 'Cats made sure, however, that Northern Illinois was held scoreless in a first half for the first time since the 2011 MAC Championship game vs. Ohio.

Defense reigned through much of the first quarter, particularly during NU's first foray into Huskies territory. On first-and-10 from the NIU 38-yard line, Siemian lofted a well-thrown ball into the end zone intended for Cameron Dickerson. But Huskies DB Paris Logan put himself between Dickerson and the ball, using only his right hand to make an impressive over-the-shoulder interception and put an end to the Wildcats' scoring threat.

The 'Cats flirted again with the game's first score midway through the second quarter when Siemian again hurled a deep ball to the end zone, but the pass fell through the hands of the intended receiver to keep the count at 0-0.

NIU received the ball to begin the second half and it marched 60 yards downfield to break into the scoring column. Tyler Wedel kicked a 32-yard field goal that gave the visitors a three-point lead, the first of the day for either side, with 11:55 remaining in the third quarter.

Northwestern finally got its own offense on the board with a quick-strike drive later in the third quarter. After taking over on his own 40-yard line, Siemian marched the offense down on a four-play drive that took only 58 seconds to complete and culminated with Kyle Prater's first career touchdown catch. The senior hauled in a pair of passes for a combined 41 yards on the drive. Siemian was a perfect four-for-four on that drive as the 'Cats covered all 60 yards through the air. In addition to Prater's two catches, Miles Shuler caught a pass for one yard and Dickerson hauled one in for a gain of 18 yards.

The Huskies responded to their first deficit of the day by orchestrating a methodical drive of its own that ended with Hare finding Da'ron Brown for an 18-yard touchdown, his first of two. The 82-yard drive gave NIU a 10-7 lead.

NU's defense forced a three-and-out behind three stout tackles from interior lineman Greg Kuhar, giving its offense an opportunity to regain the lead. The Wildcats took control at their own 22-yard line and they moved the ball down to NIU's 29, but the drive stalled as Siemian's rush on fourth-and-six to the right sideline came up short of the line to gain and resulted in a turnover on downs.

Shortly after that shortcoming, Hare and Brown hooked up once again on the ensuing drive for a 59-yard touchdown. Northwestern's Nick VanHoose blocked Wedel's extra-point attempt, but NIU clung to a 16-7 edge.

Northwestern's next drive was marred by a holding that wiped out an 18-yard gain from Siemian to Prater and after the Huskies got the ball back again, they capitalized again. This time it was Hare on the ground for a four-yard rushing touchdown that put NIU ahead 23-7.

The two teams were flagged for a combined 17 penalties on the day for 168 yards.

Siemian was knocked out during the next drive on a low hit and Zack Oliver came on in relief. The Baton Rouge, La., native led the Wildcats to the end zone once again. After an incomplete pass on his first play and of five yard run, the redshirt junior found a streaking Pierre Youngblood-Ary for a 54-yard touchdown strike. It was the first career touchdown for both 'Cats. Oliver also found Dickerson in the end zone to convert for two points to bring the home team to within one score at 23-15.

NU's Jack Mitchell attempted an onside kick, but it was covered up by Brown and the Huskies ran out the remaining 2:34 to grab their second win of the season.

Prater caught a game-high seven passes, the most he's nabbed in a Northwestern uniform to date. In addition to his first touchdown catch, the Maywood, Ill., native accumulated 87 yards to lead the Wildcats Saturday.

Northwestern has an extra week of preparation before its next outing, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 20, when the Wildcats welcome FCS opponent Western Illinois to Ryan Field. Kickoff time will be determined early this week.

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