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Posted By Ben Chiswick On Nov 14 2010 @ 10:42 am In Northwestern | No Comments

Apparently, Dan Persa’s grittiness knows no bounds.

But who would have thought – with the way he lays his body on the line and all of the big hits he takes on a weekly basis – that it would be a non-contact injury that ended his junior season?

The mood was bittersweet on Saturday in Evanston despite a thrilling comeback victory in which the Northwestern Wildcats (7-3, 3-3) scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to upset the 13th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes (7-3, 4-2) on Senior Day at Ryan Field. After Persa’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Fields capped the 21-17 win with just 1:22 to play, however, the team’s unquestioned leader heard a pop in his right leg that was later discovered to be a ruptured Achilles tendon. He underwent season-ending surgery on Saturday night and will now shift his focus to coming back stronger than ever for his senior campaign.

Despite the shortened season, Persa’s first year as a starter can only be described as a tremendous success. His 73.5% completion rate leads all FBS quarterbacks while his 310 total yards-per-game and his 159.04 passing efficiency rank 9th and 12th in the nation, respectively. He threw for over 2,500 yards and 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions in 10 games. None of those numbers can truly do justice to his impact on the field, however, where Persa’s leadership stood out while engineering Northwestern’s no-huddle spread offense. Nearly every play was left up to his interpretation regardless of whether it was a pass or a run, enabling the field general to analyze weaknesses in the defense and react accordingly.

That was evident in Saturday’s upset, and it was nice to hear ESPN’s broadcast team – as well as studio hosts Lou Holtz and Mark May – praise his ability to run the offense in front of a national audience. Persa certainly saved his best for last, completing 32 of 43 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for another 50 yards on the ground, including a two-yard plunge into the end zone. Trailing 17-7 in the fourth quarter, he engineered touchdown drives of 85 and 91 yards to bring the Wildcats back for the dramatic victory. While Iowa’s vaunted defensive linemen were struggling to stay on the field and gasping for air on the sideline, Persa showed no signs of fatigue and continued to orchestrate the offense with his presence as a dual threat out of the backfield and his trademark precision timing.

In a season in which all three of Northwestern’s losses have come in devastating late-game fashion, Persa made sure that the shoe was on the other foot Saturday.

It is a shame that the season has abruptly come to an end for the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania native, who will be replaced by redshirt freshman Evan Watkins (3-7, 44 yards) for the final two games against Illinois (at Wrigley Field) and at Wisconsin. The bowl-bound Wildcats quest to win their first bowl game since 1949 has hit a bump in the road, but you better believe that Pat Fitzgerald is not going to let his troops get down.

He may have some help. Don’t be surprised to see Persa – his on-field coach – standing right beside him.

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