It was a nail-biter till the end, but the Cardiac Cats pulled off a 42-41 win over Syracuse in their season opener this afternoon at the Carrier Dome.
The Orange got on the board first, scoring a field goal about four minutes into the game and adding another one with just about four minutes left in the first quarter. Northwestern responded with an 82-yard punt return by Venric Mark, though, and took a 7-6 lead as the first quarter came to a close.
Syracuse was back on top less than five minutes later, tacking on a TD of their own and giving them a 13-7 lead. Northwestern answered with two touchdowns. The first came after a turnover by the Orange, as NU’s Chi Chi Ariguzo picked a deflected pass and took it 44 yards, to the ‘Cuse 21. Mark then caught a pass from Kain Colter in the corner of the end zone to put the Cats back on top by one. Mark had a hand in the second TD as well, returning a punt 53 yards to the Syracuse 28. Colter then hit Christian Jones to put Northwestern up 21-13 at the half.
The Wildcats tacked on two more touchdowns in the third quarter. A minute and a half into the quarter, Ariguzo returned a fumble 33 yards for the first score. Syracuse players had thought the ball was dead, but it was ruled live and the TD stood. On Northwestern’s next possession, Mark again rushed all over the field before Colter took the ball on a one-yard run into the end zone. With a 35-13 lead, the Cats looked to be in control. Not so fast, said the Orange.
‘Cuse scored twice in the final two and a half minutes of the quarter, including on a 50-yard pass from Ryan Nassib to Jeremiah Kobena that made the score 35-27 with one quarter to go. On their first possession, the Orange added another touchdown, this time on a seven-yard pass from Nassib to Kobena. They elected to go for the two-point conversion but the pass failed, leaving NU clinging to a 35-33 lead with about six and a half minutes to go.
The Wildcats did nothing on their next possession, giving Syracuse another chance on which to capitalize – and capitalize they did. Nassib hit Christopher Clark with a 20-yard pass in the corner of the end zone and Prince-Tyson Gulley ran in the two-point conversion, which put the Orange up 41-35. With about two and a half minutes remaining, things looked promising for SU and bleak for the Cats.
NU backup QB Trevor Siemian, who was used partly because Kain Colter sustained an injury and partly because coach Pat Fitzgerald thought he provided a stronger arm (and better shot at winning), engineered a stellar 75-yard drive that ended in a Northwestern touchdown. The Wildcats were helped by the fact that Keon Lyn was flagged for unnecessary roughness (read: a late hit), which gave the Cats a critical first down inside the red zone. Sieman threw a beautiful pass and found Demetrius Fields in the end zone, putting NU up 42-41 with under a minute to go. Unfortunately for Syracuse, there was no miracle play in the cards today.
Despite the loss, Nassib was outstanding for the Orange, going 44-for-65 (a school record) for 470 yards, four touchdowns, and a pick. Colter went 14-for-21 for 135 yards and two TDs, plus he had 14 carries for 40 yards and a TD. Siemian was 8-of-11 for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Mark led Northwestern in rushing with 14 carries for 82 yards, Gulley led Syracuse with seven carries for 50 yards, a TD, and the two-point conversion. Fields had eight catches for 83 yards and a TD to lead NU, Marcus Sales had 11 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown to lead SU.
‘Cuse outgained Northwestern in total yardage 596-337. They also had 12 penalties and three turnovers, though, including two lost fumbles.
This game had been billed as the “Battle of the Journalism Schools,” as Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Public Communication are regarded as two of the best j-schools in the country. As a current Medill grad student, I think it’s pretty clear who I was pulling for in this game (thanks for taking years off my life, guys). That being said, the Orange looked like the better team, at least in the second half. They went from being down by 22 to taking a late-in-the-game lead and did so impressively. If it hadn’t been for the slew of penalties they racked up (and Siemian’s stellar final scoring drive), they very likely would’ve come away with a win.
Northwestern is now 1-0 and have won their past eight season openers. They will have their home opener next weekend against Vandy. Syracuse is 0-1 and will take on the current No. 1 team in college football, Southern Cal, next weekend at MetLife Stadium.