Thor­son leads Wild­cats to vic­tory

De­feat of Badgers strength­ens chance for shot at Big Ten ti­tle game

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

EVANSTON, ILL. — This was no nar­row es­cape for North­westen against a strug­gling op­po­nent. Not this week­end.

The Wild­cats took out one of the Big Ten’s heavy­weights and strength­ened their chance for a spot in the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game.

Clay­ton Thor­son ran for two touch­downs and threw for one, and North­west­ern beat No. 20 Wis­con­sin, 31-17, on Sat­ur­day.

The first-place Wild­cats (5-3, 5-1) so­lid­i­fied them­selves as con­tenders for the Big Ten West cham­pi­onship while gain­ing some re­venge for a loss at Camp Ran­dall Sta­dium early last sea­son that helped pre­vent them from win­ning the di­vi­sion.

They in­creased their lead over the Badgers (5-3, 3-2) and Pur­due — a 23-13 loser at Michi­gan State — to 11⁄2 games. Iowa, which be­gan the day tied with the Boil­er­mak­ers and Wis­con­sin, vis­ited No. 17 Penn State.

With quar­ter­back Alex Horni­brook side­lined by a con­cus­sion and the de­fense with­out sev­eral in­jured starters, it was sim­ply a rough af­ter­noon for Wis­con­sin. North­west­ern turned two fum­bles by star run­ning back Jonathan Tay­lor and an­other by quar­ter­back Jack Coan into 17 points on the way to its fourth straight vic­tory.

The Wild­cats went on a 17-0 run in the se­cond half af­ter ral­ly­ing to beat then­win­less Ne­braska in over­time and top­ping strug­gling Rut­gers by three last week­end.

“Around here, a lot of times we’re called the Car­diac ’Cats,” Thor­son said. “I don’t know how much we like that name. But we haven’t given any­one any rea­son not to call us that so it’s nice to get a win like that.”

North­west­ern strug­gled early on for the se­cond straight sea­son. Now, the Wild­cats have their sights set on their first ap­pear­ance in a Big Ten cham­pi­onship game.

“I think our team is start­ing to im­prove,” coach Pat Fitzger­ald said. “I think we’re grow­ing up. There were some grow­ing pains there early. I think these guys have had faith. They just stayed the course, had be­lief and are get­ting a re­ward for that ef­fort. They can’t stop now.”

Thor­son was a bit shaky again af­ter strug­gling in a nar­row win at Rut­gers. He com­pleted 17 of 30 passes for 167 yards with three in­ter­cep­tions against a short-handed de­fense. But he ran for two TDs in the first half and found Kyric McGowan for a 24-yard score in the third quar­ter.

Fresh­man Isa­iah Bowser had his se­cond straight 100-yard rush­ing game, fin­ish­ing with 117 on 34 at­tempts. He scored on a 2-yard run early in the fourth, mak­ing it 31-10 af­ter Coan fum­bled.

“I was proud of the ef­fort cer­tainly of a lot of our guys, but we need to play bet­ter foot­ball,” Wis­con­sin coach Paul Chryst said. “We need to take bet­ter care of the foot­ball. When you turn it over and you’re backed up in the op­po­nent’s red zone, that’s hard.”

Coan was 20 of 31 for 158 yards and a touch­down in his first ca­reer start.

Tay­lor, the na­tion’s lead­ing rusher, ran for just 46 yards on 11 car­ries af­ter fin­ish­ing with 100 or more in eight straight games.

Gar­rett Groshek ran for 68 on seven at­tempts.

North­west­ern was lead­ing 14-10 early in the third when Wis­con­sin’s Jack San­born got flagged for rough­ing the punter. That set up Thor­son’s touch­down pass to McGowan in the back of the end zone.

Tay­lor then lost his se­cond fum­ble of the game when Paddy Fisher poked the ball out as he was tack­led and Mon­tre Hartage re­cov­ered at the Wis­con­sin 42. That led to a 26-yard field goal by Char­lie Kuh­ban­der, mak­ing it 24-10 with 2:39 left in the quar­ter.

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