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‘CATS LEFT TO LICK WOUNDS AFTER BLOWING BIG LEAD

Posted By Ben Chiswick On Nov 8 2010 @ 10:31 am In Northwestern | No Comments

The Northwestern Wildcats (6-3, 2-3) have officially arrived at the end of Lonely Street.

Despite exploding to a 21-0 lead on the road in the first half of Saturday’s game against the Penn State Nittany Lions, the bottom fell out in what turned out to be a disappointing 35-21 loss.

For those of you keeping score at home, that makes it three losses – all in crushing fashion – to land the ‘Cats in a penthouse suite at the Heartbreak Hotel.

On October 9 against Purdue, the then-undefeated Wildcats were on their way to surviving a new-look Boilermakers’ offense when they gave up the lead – and ultimately the game – with under four minutes to play. Two weeks later, Northwestern was on the verge of a top-10 upset before allowing three touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a devastating loss to Michigan State.

And now this.

Saturday started off encouragingly enough. Dan Persa picked apart the Nittany Lions defense, passing for over 200 yards while rushing for over 100. He scored the first two Northwestern touchdowns on the ground before hooking up with Drake Dunsmore – who made a highlight-reel one-handed grab in the back of the end zone – for a 21-0 lead with just 56 seconds left in the first half.

But just when the Wildcats were riding the highest, the wheels suddenly fell off.

While the ‘Cats defense had been dominant up to that point, Penn State responded with a 91-yard drive that culminated in a Matt McGloin touchdown pass with just one second left before halftime. McGloin then took the ball to start the second half and orchestrated an 84-yard drive that delivered another touchdown, cutting the deficit to 21-14 and suddenly making it just a one-possession game.

That turned out to be the beginning of the end.

McGloin was fantastic after taking over from starter Rob Bowen following a sack-and-fumble late in the first quarter. He threw for 225 yards and four touchdowns, picking apart the ‘Cats secondary once he found his groove.

He was aided by a tremendous running attack. Not only did the school’s all-time leading rusher, Evan Royster, rip off 134 yards on 25 carries, but freshman Silas Redd also ran wild to the tune of 131 yards on just 11 carries. Royster added a touchdown through the air, while Redd’s 11.9 yards-per-carry nearly overshadowed his senior backfield mate. Together, the duo absolutely bulldozed its way through a solid Northwestern defense in the second half.

Penn State dominated after the break, outscoring Northwestern 28-0 over the final two quarters. It seemed like everything the Nittany Lions did in the second half worked to perfection, while the Wildcats could not buy a break.

Even late in the game, Persa nearly gave his team a chance to come back. Down 35-21 with just over eight minutes remaining, Northwestern faced a do-or-die 4th & Goal from the Penn State 9-yard line. After a mad scramble, Persa somehow eluded the rush and fired a strike to Mike Trumpy in the end zone – only to watch the ball bounce right off the freshman’s chest. Instead of pulling to within a touchdown with eight minutes and change remaining, the ‘Cats turned the ball over and allowed Penn State to continue draining the clock.

That was all she wrote in another devastating loss for the Wildcats, although another gritty performance from Persa should be noted.

Northwestern will have to regroup quickly to prepare for another daunting challenge this weekend. The Iowa Hawkeyes will come to Evanston ranked No. 13 in the BCS standings after narrowly surviving a near-upset with a last-minute 18-13 win in Indiana on Saturday.

Once again, the ‘Cats will have to lift up those chins and try to bounce back from another tough-to-swallow loss.

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