Nov. 12, 2011
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Site: Evanston, Ill. (Ryan Field)
Score: Northwestern 28, Rice 6
Records: NU (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten), Rice (3-7, 2-4 Conference USA)
Next NU Event: Saturday, Nov. 19 -- vs. Minnesota (Ryan Field), 11 a.m.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Dan Persa completed 25 of 32 passes for a career-best 372 yards while tying another career high with four touchdown passes as Northwestern rolled to a 28-6 nonconference win over Rice Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field.
Senior wide receiver Jeremy Ebert was the primary beneficiary of Persa's strong right arm, hauling in seven receptions for a career-best 208 yards and a pair of scores. Ebert's yardage total ranks as a tie for the third-best single-game effort in school history.
The Wildcats got on the board first in a big way on its second drive. With NU, facing 3rd and 4 on its own 10 yard line, Persa hooked up with Ebert on a 90-yard scoring strike to make it 7-0. It marked the second-longest pass play in Northwestern history, surpassing the 81-yard hookup between Kain Colter and Ebert on the same play at Nebraska one week earlier.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats defense made things tough on the Owls offensively as Rice was forced to punt on each of its first five possessions. Northwestern was finally able to build on its lead with 4:26 remaining in the opening half as Persa and Ebert connected once again, this time from 17 yards out, to give the hosts a two-touchdown lead. The big play of the drive was a 50-yard completion from Persa to Demetrius Fields for a third-down conversion.
On Rice's ensuing drive, Ben Johnson pressured Nick Fanuzzi into an interception that fell into the waiting hands of Tyler Scott to give Northwestern the ball back with 65 seconds remaining in the stanza.
The Wildcats took over at their own 45-yard line and it took them just four plays to drive 55 yards for one final score in the half. Fields displayed some fancy footwork to get into the end zone for a 15-yard reception on Persa's third touchdown pass of the half.
The Owls nearly got on the scoreboard on the final play of the half, but Chris Boswell's 60-yard field goal attempt banged off the crossbar.
NU exploited Rice's pass defense which entered the game ranked 116th out of 120 teams in the nation, allowing an average of 289.44 passing yards per contest. The Wildcats surpassed that mark in the first half alone as they threw for 292 yards over the opening 30 minutes of play, including 278 by Persa.
Northwestern extended its lead to 28-0 with 13:12 remaining in the contest as Colter was the recipient of Persa's fourth touchdown toss as the duo connected from three yards out.
With time winding down, Rice used some trickery to move the ball down the field, completing a 43-yard reverse pass from Taylor Jordan to Andre Gautreaux to get the Owls inside 'Cats' 10 yard line. Tyler Smith punched it in from nine yards out on the next play, but it was not enough as a missed extra point followed by a short Northwestern series to run out the clock.
The Wildcats return to Big Ten play next Saturday as they host Minnesota at Ryan Field. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. Tickets are available at NUsports.com or by calling 888-GO-PURPLE.
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