Sep 1, 2013
Box Score |
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Hitting the gridiron in the state of California for the first time since the 1996 Rose Bowl, 22nd-ranked Northwestern found itself in a dog fight with host Cal in its 2013 season-opener Saturday night. The Wildcats found a way to come out on top, and it came in the form of junior linebacker Collin Ellis. The Louisiana native twice returned interceptions for touchdowns in the second half, helping Northwestern achieve a 44-30 victory.
Junior quarterback Trevor Siemian was called upon early in the first quarter after senior Kain Colter sustained an injury that kept him out for the duration of the contest. Siemian was up to the task, throwing for 276 yards on 18-of-29 passing with one touchdown. Siemian completed five passes each to wideouts Tony Jones and Christian Jones as well as sophomore superback Dan Vitale, who recorded his second career 100-yard receiving effort (101 yards).
The NU offense also received an enormous boost from junior running back Treyvon Green, who exploded for 129 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns, surpassing his previous single-game career high for rushing yards by 59 yards.
Northwestern now is a perfect 8-0 in season-opening contests under head coach Pat Fitzgerald, with the last four coming on the road against BCS conference opponents (Vanderbilt, Boston College, Syracuse, California).
California's first offensive series under new head coach Sonny Dykes was a memorable one, with the Bears breaking off three long runs to move inside Northwestern's 30-yard line. After the Wildcats forced the hosts into a 4th-and-7 scenario, Cal executed a well-planned fake field goal attempt as holder Vincenzo D'Amato found Johnny Ragin III for a short touchdown pass to electrify the home crowd.
But Northwestern's offense made it clear that the 'Cats can move the ball as quickly as anyone, watching as Vitale rumbled 23 yards off a shovel pass on the first play from scrimmage. After Siemian connected with Christian Jones on a key 3rd-and-2 play, Green notched Northwestern's first touchdown of the 2013 season when he broke a 33-yard rush up the middle for his sixth career rushing score.
The Wildcats defense found its footing after that, forcing back-to-back three-and-outs deep in California territory. On offense, Siemian's first incomplete pass on the evening resulted in an interception over the middle by Cal's Avery Sebastien, but Northwestern stood up once again on D and held off the Bears on the sudden change.
Siemian found a rhythm on the other second of the first-quarter break, completing a third-down pass to California native Mike Jensen for 12 yards before lofting a perfect fade pass to the corner of the end zone that Tony Jones hauled in for a 19-yard touchdown. At that point, Siemian had completed 10-of-11 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown.
A promising California drive stalled out with a series of false start penalties, returning the ball to Northwestern on its own 3-yard line following a punt. Siemian stayed cool under pressure in the shadow of his own goalposts, twice converting third-and-10 pass attempts -- first for 18 yards to Tony Jones and then another 18 to Christian Jones -- before hitting Christian Jones for another 36 to move NU into field goal range. Senior Jeff Budzien converted his first attempt of the year from 35 yards as Northwestern took a 10-point advantage.
An eventful final two minutes of the first half saw Cal's Brandon Bigelow have a remarkable touchdown run called back after being ruled down at the 27-yard line, but the Bears booted a short field goal to cut the Northwestern lead to 17-10 at intermission.
Coming out of the locker rooms, Northwestern moved into field goal range thanks to a 23-yard scamper by senior tailback Venric Mark, but Cal's defense managed to end the Wildcats drive at the 2-yard line. Budzien came on for his second field goal of the day and restored a double-digit Northwestern lead.
Cal cut into its deficit on a 52-yard touchdown bomb from freshman QB Jared Goff to Chris Harper with 10:42 left in the third period. The Bears sustained momentum on the next play when NU's Stephen Buckley had the ball punched loose on a his kickoff return attempt, and Cal scored three plays later on a 7-yard pass from Goff to Bigelow, taking its first lead at 24-20.
It didn't last long, however, as Northwestern came to life thanks to the first career interception by Ellis, which was returned 56 yards under duress to paydirt to put Northwestern in front, 27-24.
The hosts came right back in search of a tying or go-ahead score and eventually drove inside the Northwestern 10-yard line. But, following a penalty, senior Tyler Scott came roaring off the edge to blow up Goff and force the Bears to kick a field goal that leveled the game at 27 apiece. It was Scott's 11th career sack, moving him into a tie for seventh on Northwestern's career list.
The Wildcats countered with Budzien's third field goal of the day to take a three-point lead, and Ellis provided the lift once again shortly after when he got his hands on a ball tipped by the intended Cal receiver and went untouched 40 yards for a historic and game-changing second touchdown.
Following a Cal field goal that set the score at 37-30, the teams traded interceptions on back-to-back plays, the second of which came courtesy of Ibraheim Campbell on a deep ball at NU's 10-yard line. Northwestern then iced the game with a drive featuring a 55-yard rush from Green and a 25-yard scamper by Mike Trumpy to set up Green's second score of the contest, assuring Northwestern of a 1-0 start to the season for a ninth consecutive season.
Next week, Northwestern makes its 2013 home debut when it welcomes Syracuse to Ryan Field. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. CT Saturday with the Big Ten Network providing the national broadcast.
STORIFY SOCIAL MEDIA RECAP
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook, subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter and sign up to receive promotional text alerts for the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!