Oct. 16, 1999
EVANSTON, Ill. - Northwestern’s overpowering first half, combined with a career day from junior running back Damien Anderson (Wilmington, Ill./Wilmington), were just enough to push Northwestern to a 23-21 last-gasp victory over Iowa on Homecoming Day at Ryan Field.
Without a single gain longer than 10 yards, Anderson motored for a career-high 169 yards on 42 carries. In the end, though, it was junior quarterback Zak Kustok (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg) — making only his second collegiate start — who led the Wildcats to victory in the game’s final minutes.
Down, 21-16, with 2:47 left to play, Kustok completed five passes to take the ’Cats 59 yards for the game-winning score. He capped off the drive with a two-yard touchdown keep on fourth down that won the game with four seconds to play.
Northwestern’s much-needed Big Ten victory — its first in the conference since the Wildcats beat the Hawkeyes in the 1997 season finale — came on the strength of a dominant first half. The Wildcats scored 16 unanswered points, possessing the ball more than 22 minutes and holding the Hawkeyes to just four first downs. Anderson took advantage of wide-open holes opened up by NU’s much-improved offensive line, racking up 104 of the team’s 130 rushing yards for the half.
A couple of key plays — a muffed punt recovered by Tyrone Gooch deep in Iowa territory two minutes into the game, and a 23-yard pass from junior punter J.J. Standring (Chicago, Ill./St. Rita) to senior wide receiver Aaron Burrell (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Washington) for a first down on a fake punt in the second — kept the scales tipped heavily in the home team’s favor.
The only thing the Wildcats could not do well was execute deep in Iowa territory. Northwestern drove the ball inside the Iowa 12 three times early in the game, only to settle for a field goal each time. However, with 1:57 left in the second, the Wildcats eliminated the problem when Kustok found junior wide receiver Teddy Johnson (Elgin, Ill./Larkin) on a 21-yard strike for a 16-0 halftime lead.
Iowa got back into the game with two quick third-quarter strikes after a Northwestern fumbled punt. Then, with 11:13 left in the fourth, running back Ladell Betts then gave the Hawkeyes their first lead with a 74-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career. After four punts and very little movement offensively by the Wildcats in the second half, Kustok was able to rally his troops for the game-winning drive.
Northwestern finished the day with 349 yards of total offense, including 180 on the ground. The ’Cats led 21-12 in first downs, and dominated with nearly 38 minutes of possession. Sophomore linebacker Kevin Bentley (North Hills, Calif./Montclair Prep) led the team on defense with six tackles (two for loss) and also came up with his second interception of the year.
On a more somber note, one of Northwestern’s offensive and special teams leaders this season, sophomore wide receiver Sam Simmons (Kansas City, Mo./F.L. Schlagle) suffered a broken clavicle in the first quarter and will not play the rest of the season.