EVANSTON, Illinois — After falling behind by two scores in the first quarter, Purdue staged a comeback and defeated the Northwestern Wildcats, 24-22, on a last-minute field goal.
It was J.D. Dellinger's 39-yard field goal with three seconds remaining that lifted Purdue to victory. The Boilermakers recorded their fourth win of the season, retaining their chances to become bowl-eligible.
"It's definitely gonna boost our confidence," said freshman safety Cam Allen. "We just gotta stay level-headed, and you know the next two teams are gonna be good opponents. We have a good bye week to get focused up for Wisconsin, and just go in and play every game the same way."
The Wildcats (1-8, 0-7 Big Ten) scored their first touchdown in over a month within the first five minutes of the game. Purdue (4-6, 3-4) punted after its first drive. Then the Boilers proceeded to allow a 79-yard rushing touchdown from junior wide receiver Kyric McGowan on Northwestern's second offensive play of the game making it 7-0 with 10:34 to go in the first quarter.
McGowan was Northwestern's leading rusher, with 107 yards on 11 attempts.
The Wildcats followed with a 12-play, 86-yard drive for a touchdown, the first of sophomore wide receiver Jace James' career making it 14-0 with 3:47 remaining in the first.
"The first couple touchdowns they had, we felt like there were just missed cues in one spot," said freshman safety Cam Allen. "We knew that we just had to go out there and just give it a little bit more effort, and just know what we are about to do and just give 100 percent."
Offensively, the Boilermakers put together good drives, finally capitalizing midway through the second quarter with a 12-yard rushing touchdown from freshman running back King Doerue. Aidan O'Connell completed three of three passes in the Boilermakers' opening drive, and connected six times with his receivers to put together a 12-play, 58-yard scoring drive.
O'Connell finished the game throwing 34-of-50, recording for 271 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a fumble.
"I had a lot of fun today," O'Connell said. "It's stressful, but it's so fun.
"You always just try to go out there and cut it loose. Especially when you're down two touchdowns, you don't want to play reckless but you just go out there and do what you're taught, but take risks when you can."
The ground-game was successful early for the Boilers. Doerue rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown off nine carries, and sophomore Zander Horvath broke out an 18-yard run late in the first quarter. Fifth-year Tario Fuller, who was slated to start this season before suffering a broken jaw in August, had two carries as well.
In the air, David Bell was the main target as usual, finishing the game with 14 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown.
"They were giving us some easy stuff, and we took advantage of it," O'Connell said."
The Boiler defense tightened up in the second quarter, shutting down the Wildcat offense for the next two quarters. Still, the Wildcats racked up 435 yards of total offense.
With less than a minute remaining in the first half, an intentional grounding call on O'Connell resulted in a safety, giving the Wildcats a 16-7 lead going into halftime.
The Boilermakers began the second half strong, forcing the Wildcats to punt and following it up with a nine-play, 76-yard scoring drive, bringing the score within 2 points.
Later in the third quarter, O'Connell connected with redshirt freshman wide receiver Amad Anderson three times for 28 yards and a touchdown. That drive was following an interception from Allen.
"Everybody told me it was a crucial time for me to get that interception," Allen said. "I gotta gives thanks to Coach Holt, he called cover two. I was just reading the quarterback's eyes and I saw him coming to the single-receiver side, and broke on the ball and go it out."
Allen finished the game with eight total tackles.
The fourth quarter saw a spark of life for the Northwestern offense when junior quarterback Aidan Smith competed a 33-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Berkeley Holman, following the play with an 8-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Riley Lees. The Wildcats failed while attempting a 2-point conversion, making the score 22-21 to the Cats.
The Wildcat offense continued to drive down the field in the fourth quarter, led by redshirt freshman running back Drake Anderson, who had 16 carries for 51 yards.
That drive resulted in a missed 32-yard field goal attempt, giving Purdue the ball on its own 20-yard line.
The Boilers missed a pass to Bell on 4th and 4, but a pass interference call against the Wildcats gave them an automatic first down, along with another chance to score.
"I had a one-on-one with David, and he had played well all day, and I just wanted to give him a chance," O'Connell said. "He's a great player."
The Boilermakers got down to the 22-yard line, giving Dellinger a 39-yard field goal game-winner.
"I had a good feeling we were gonna at least get a chance at it, so I was just faint my normal progressions and waiting for my chance," Dellinger said. "Every time I kick the ball, whether it's an extra point or a game-winning field goal, I'm running the same progression though my head. Just do what I have to do to be successful and make kicks and help this team win."
After being iced by a Northwestern timeout, Dellinger was good from 39, giving the Boilers a 24-22 lead with three seconds remaining.
The Cats had one shot, attempting multiple laterals that ended in a fumble recovered by Purdue.
The Boilermakers will have a bye week before traveling to Wisconsin on Nov. 23. Game time has not been announced yet.