Sept. 4, 2010
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Site: Nashville, Tenn. (Vanderbilt Stadium)
Score: Northwestern 23, Vanderbilt 21
Records: NU (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten), Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-0 SEC)
Next NU Event: Sept. 11, 2010 -- vs. Illinois State (Ryan Field), 11 a.m. (BUY TICKETS)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Northwestern took an early lead over Vanderbilt Saturday night in Nashville, Tenn., staving off several Commodore rally attempts before stuffing a late two-point conversion attempt to secure a 23-21 season-opening win on the road.
Junior Dan Persa, making the first start of his career, was 19-of-21 through the air for 222 yards and three touchdowns while adding a team-best 82 yards on 17 carries. He threw a two-yard TD strike to Josh Rooks with 4:39 remaining in the game that put the Wildcats up 23-15 following a fumbled snap on the extra point.
Vanderbilt roared back with a 33-yard touchdown run with 2:25 to play, but the snap on the two-point conversion sailed past the quarterback. Northwestern then ran out the clock on offense to preserve the victory, which moved head coach Pat Fitzgerald to a perfect 5-0 in season-opening games.
Persa's favorite target in the game was Jeremy Ebert, who caught five balls for a career-best 99 yards and a touchdown. Six other Wildcats had at least two catches in the game. Defensively, Nate Williams recorded a team-high 12 tackles while Brian Peters added 11. Ben Johnson made five tackles including a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
Northwestern went 80 yards on its opening drive of the 2010 season, propelled by five Persa rushes covering 54 yards. Stefan Demos capped it with a 26-yard field goal to give NU an early 3-0 lead. On the Wildcats' second drive, Persa found Ebert with a 33-yard touchdown strike up the middle to make the lead 10-0 midway through the first.
The teams traded punts until Vanderbilt forced a Persa fumble at the Commodores' 48-yard line late in the second quarter, sparking a 52-yard touchdown drive, though the extra point attempt sailed wide right. VU got the ball back with 44 seconds left in the frame and drove into Wildcat territory to drill a 30-yard field goal as time expired, making the halftime score 10-9.
After a Northwestern 3-and-out to start the second half, Justan Vaughn intercepted Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith and returned it to the NU 46-yard line. Persa then directed an eight-play, 54-yard drive that saw four different receivers catch passes and three different Wildcats run the ball. Persa capped the drive with a nine-yard touchdown toss to Drake Dunsmore to extend the Northwestern cushion to 17-9 with 5:03 to go in the third quarter.
Vanderbilt immediately answered with a 36-yard touchdown pass to pull within 17-15 with 1:51 left in the third. The Wildcats stuffed a two-point conversion attempt to maintain its two-point lead, then drove deep into Commodore territory, but a Demos field goal attempt was blocked.
Vanderbilt took the ball into NU territory on its ensuing drive before a big first-down sack by Johnson and a forced fumble by Williams put the Commodores behind the chains. VU eventually tried a 46-yard field goal to take the lead with 8:48 left in the game, but the attempt sailed low and left to set up the final flurry of scores.
Northwestern returns to action at 11 a.m. CT Saturday, Sept. 11, in its home opener against Illinois State at Ryan Field. Tickets (including season tickets, which still are available!) can be purchased by calling 847-491-CATS (2287) or by clicking (here).
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