Nov. 30, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Northwestern and Illinois squared off for the 107th time Saturday in Champaign, where the Wildcats closed their 2013 campaign with an exciting 37-34 victory over the host Illini. The victory for NU kept the series' rivalry hardware, the Land of Lincoln Trophy, in Evanston for the third time in five years.
Playing without injured senior QB Kain Colter, the Wildcats received a terrific effort from Trevor Siemian. The junior threw for a career high 414 yards on 31-of-44 passing with four touchdowns. His completions were the most for an NU QB since Dan Persa connected on 31 attempts against Iowa in 2011.
WR Christian Jones needed only one quarter to set a single-game career high for receiving yards, racking up 95 yards on six receptions in the first period. His previous high of 94 yards was set in the 2013 season-opener at California. Jones finished with 13 receptions -- tied for the fifth-best single-game effort in school history and the most since Jeremy Ebert notched 13 at Iowa in 2011 -- while his 182 yards were the second-best total for a 'Cat this season behind Tony Jones' 185 vs. Syracuse.
The Wildcats also received a typically stellar performance by place-kicker Jeff Budzien, who kicked three field goals in his final game as a 'Cat, including a long of 42 yards. With the effort, Budzien set a new Northwestern single-season record with 23 made field goals (on 25 attempts), surpassing the previous mark of 20 held by Brian Gowins and Amado Villarreal. Budzien also assumed sole possession of second place on NU's career field goals list with 48, and leaves NU as the school's career leader in field goal percentage (.873) and points scored (280).
Northwestern scored on its first two possessions of the game, moving inside the 5-yard line of Illinois on its opening series before an apparent Siemian-to-Rashad Lawrence touchdown was taken off the board due to an illegal touching flag against Lawrence. Budzien came on to convert a short field goal, setting a Northwestern single-season record with 21 made field goals in the process.
NU's second possession resembled the first, as Siemian continued to sling the ball around Memorial Stadium. Christian Jones made receptions of 18 and 14 yards on the drive before getting open on a post route to the goalline, using only one hand to bring in a 27-yard TD reception and give the Wildcats a 10-0 advantage.
Illinois' offense began to come alive late in the opening period, and with 45 seconds to go before the quarter break notched their first points of the day. QB Nathan Scheelhaase lofted a 27-yard pass to the right pylon, where wideout Steve Hull had fallen down at the pylon but managed to snare the pass while seated in the end zone for a touchdown.
After a Northwestern three-and-out, the Illini assembled an efficient six-play scoring drive that ended in a Josh Ferguson touchdown run from one yard out with 11:08 left in the first half.
The Wildcats came right back on the arm of Siemian and the sure hands of Christian Jones, who brought NU to the Illinois 25-yard line with a 22-yard reception. Three plays later, Siemian hit a crossing Dan Vitale underneath, an 11-yard scoring pass that was Vitale's third touchdown catch of 2013.
Illinois pulled level at 17 barely two minutes later when place-kicker Taylor Zalewski stepped up and drilled a 51-yard field goal with 5:13 left in the half. There was plenty of action left in the quarter, however, as the Wildcats drove back to the 5-yard line before attempting a fake field goal that ended with an incomplete pass by holder Brandon Williams.
But NU would get those three points back in short order, forcing a three-and-out and getting a career-long 22-yard punt return by Tony Jones to set up shop at Illinois' 31-yard line with 16 seconds remaining. Lawrence then made a spectacular catch on a 22-yard pass from Siemian, and Budzien converted a 26-yard field goal try to give the visitors a 20-17 lead at halftime.
The offenses did not let up in the third quarter, with Illinois scoring on a 55-yard rush by Ferguson on the second play out of the locker rooms. The teams then traded field goals over the next two drives -- a 42-yarder by Budzien and a 37-yard boot by Zalewski - as Illinois maintained a 27-23 lead.
After being pinned at their own 2-yard line with 4:24 left in the third quarter, Northwestern put together an 11-play drive to cover the 98 yards to the end zone, with the scoring play coming on a 23-yard rocket by Siemian to Lawrence on the first play of the fourth.
Scott then halted a promising Illinois drive near midfield with his juggling interception, returning possession to the Wildcats with 12:16 to go in the game. The ensuing drive was capped by an absolutely ridiculous Christian Jones seven-yard catch to put NU up 37-27 with 8:07 remaining in the game.
Illinois would add a late score to make it 37-34, but NU recovered the onside kick and Treyvon Green punched through for a clock-killing first down to seal the deal.
Chi Chi Ariguzo and Damien Proby each led NU's defense with 14 tackles.
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