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‘CATS DODGE BULLET IN MINNESOTA, WIN BIG TEN OPENER

Posted By Ben Chiswick On Oct 3 2010 @ 4:25 pm In Northwestern | No Comments

Northwestern football fans could not have asked for a better way to kick off the 2010 Big Ten schedule, battling back from a late deficit to gut out a 29-28 win and improve to 5-0.

I know, I know… The Wildcats struggled against a Minnesota team that may not win a home game this season. They lost the turnover battle for the first time all year, giving the ball away three times – twice inside the Gophers’ 10-yard line. They committed 10 penalties and missed an extra point that nearly proved to be the difference. They consistently failed to stop a Minnesota running game that racked up 165 rushing yards and 4.5 yards-per-carry.

But, at the end of the day, Northwestern survived a huge test to pick up a big win. There is no such thing as a “gimme” when you are playing Big Ten competition on the road, especially when you consider that Minnesota was celebrating homecoming while playing the first ever conference game in their new stadium.

Despite a contest filled with self-inflicted miscues, however, the ‘Cats found a way to persevere, making big plays when they needed to and avoiding what would have been a costly loss.

Trailing 28-20 with 8:30 to go in the ballgame, Dan Persa faced a blitz on 3rd-and-7 and threw up a prayer towards the end zone. Jeremy Ebert went up and won the jump ball, shrugging off his six-foot frame to pull in a touchdown that would have been the game-tying score if not for a missed two-point conversion.

On the ensuing drive, the Northwestern defense forced a crucial three-and-out to keep their comeback bid alive. Despite struggling against the run for most of the day, they held strong on two rushing attempts before a coverage sack on third down got the ball back.

Moments later, the Wildcats’ go-ahead drive nearly stalled before Persa rattled off back-to-back first down runs – including a 22-yard scamper on 3rd-and-6 – to set up the eventual game-winning field goal by Stefan Demos with just 2:07 to play.

Whew. Catastrophe averted.

Northwestern picked up the win but will have plenty to work on before Purdue comes to Evanston next weekend. The Wildcats looked like they were on there way to a blowout early, scoring 14 points in their first three possessions before a red-zone turnover on their fourth drive swung the momentum the other way. A medley of penalties and turnovers followed, but the late comeback was enough to keep the ‘Cats perfect.

How about three cheers for Persa?

Forget about the interception and the fumble – this guy flat-out makes plays. In addition to engineering the decisive rally, Persa was 23-for-30 with two touchdowns through the air and another 99 yards on the ground. Most of the rushing yards came on scrambles after the play had broken down, setting the stage for the redshirt junior to make something out of nothing. And, in case you are curious, he still leads the nation in completion percentage (79.4%) while checking in third in passing efficiency (184.6) and sixth in total offense (325.8 ypg).

And how about Mike Trumpy?

After getting a taste of the lead tailback duties during the second half of the Central Michigan game, the redshirt freshman from Wheaton, Illinois, got the start and carried the ball 13 times for 55 yards. In addition to an effective 4.1 yards-per-carry, he also picked up an early score on a 12-yard run and caught a couple of passes to boot. While Arby Fields found his way onto the field a handful of times, he did not touch the ball and has seemingly lost his status as the Wildcats’ starting running back.

But – unquestionably – the player of the game was Ebert. The junior wideout may be undersized, but he found a way to catch seven balls for 105 yards and a huge four-quarter touchdown that started the comeback. He has now scored five times in as many games, averaging 18.2 yards-per-catch to pace the receiving corps.

You can let out that sigh of relief, Wildcats fans. When you make that many mistakes and still find a way to win, you have the chance for a pretty special season.

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