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
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
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
"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
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
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
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.