NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

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    Aug. 23, 1997

    Wildcats Defeat Oklahoma, 24-0

    CHICAGO - After going unranked in both preseason polls, Northwestern did not wait long to make a statement.

    The Wildcats, who have won or shared the last two Big Ten Conference titles, used a strong fourth quarter to wear out Oklahoma, 24-0, today in the opening game of the 1997 college football season, the Pigskin Classic at Soldier Field in Chicago.

    The opening weekend continues Sunday when 16th-ranked Syracuse plays number 24 Wisconsin in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

    The Wildcats were 9-3 last season, including a 7-1 mark in the Big Ten, but suffered a stunning one-point loss in their opener against lowly Wake Forest. This time, there was no doubt, although the defense allowed 351 total yards, eight fewer than the offense amassed, managing a season-opening win for the second time in 21 years.

    On the scoreboard, however, it was all Northwestern as Faraji Leary and Levelle Brown had touchdown runs and Brian Gowins kicked three field goals. It gave the Wildcats the upper hand in the first meeting between the schools since 1960, a 19-3 Northwestern triumph.

    For Oklahoma, the first game after a 3-8 season -- the school's worst in 31 years -- ended in the Sooners' first shutout loss since the final two games of 1995. The whitewash was Northwestern's first since a 35-0 thrashing of Wisconsin on October 21st of the same season.

    The Wildcats' exuberance might have been tempered by an injury suffered to wide receiver D'Wayne Bates, but it was only a sprained ankle.

    "That was a great team win," Northwestern coach Gary Barnett said. "To have D'Wayne Bates go down with an injury and have everyone step up ... everybody stepped up and played hard. It took us awhile to get going."

    Trailing 6-0 in the third quarter, Oklahoma had 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line. But on third down, Justin Fuente tried a short pass that was deflected and intercepted by end Keith Lozowski.

    "The running back came, it was a collision opportunity," Lozowski said. "I probably shouldn't have done what I did. But I hit him because he was running in my gap. So I took a lick at him and he kind of stumbled. I think he might have fell down and the quarterback was looking to throw a screen pass to him. And luckily, I sniffed out the screen pass."

    "You make a lot of mistakes in your first game," explained Oklahoma coach John Blake. "We could turn out to be a good team. We have to get better; we can't keep putting ourselves in the position when they know you have to throw. It's the same swan song, we shot ourselves in the foot again like last year. We are our own worst enemy. Turnovers and penalties cost us the game."

    The Sooners were inside the Northwestern 30 four times, but two drives ended in interceptions and two others culminated in missed field goals.

    "It's pretty frustrating to move the ball like that and not get it in the end zone," Blake said. "We ran the ball real well, but once we got it inside the 30, we broke down for some reason."

    On Sunday, Ron Dayne, a freshman sensation for Wisconsin a year ago, gets an early chance to impress Heisman Trophy voters when he leads the Badgers against Syracuse.

    Wisconsin was 8-5 last season, but closed the campaign winning five of its last six contests for coach Barry Alvarez.

    Syracuse, the 1996 Big East co-champions, finished last season at 9-3, including a 30-17 victory over Houston in the Liberty Bowl.

    The Orangemen have a potential Heisman Trophy candidate of their own in quarterback Donovan McNabb, the Co-Offensive Player of the Year in the Big East in 1996.

    Top-ranked and defending national champion Florida opens its season against Southern Mississippi on August 30th.