For the first time in nine years, the Boilermakers defeated Northwestern. The game ended 24-22 on a last-minute field goal from junior kicker J.D. Dellinger.
“(Dellinger) has been our most consistent guys all year,” head coach Jeff Brohm said. “He’s kicked phenomenal.”
Dellinger, who is 10-for-12 in field goals and made a 53-yarder against TCU earlier this year, was good from 39 yards with only three seconds remaining.
“It makes me feel good that some of my work I've been putting in, in the off-season, is starting to pay dividends,” Dellinger said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about winning football games, and that's what I’m glad I helped us do.”
The win served as the fourth of the year for Purdue (4-6, 3-4 Big Ten), and moved them one step closer to bowl eligibility, which can only be achieved by winning at least six games in a season. With only two games remaining, every game is a must-win.
“It’s a huge boost,” Brohm said. “A little momentum going into a tough game at Wisconsin. This football game means a lot. It means a lot for our team.”
The win did not come easily, though.
Northwestern (1-8, 0-7) came into the game ranked in the bottom 10 of all of college football in points per game, yards per game and passing completion percentage. Furthermore, they had not scored a touchdown in over a month. But the Boilermakers did not take this team lightly.
“We really don't worry about stuff like that,” freshman safety Cam Allen said. “We go out with the same approach every game. No matter what you’re doing on offense, we’re gonna go out there and give 110% and just give it our best.”
Despite the Boilers’ preparation, the Wildcats scored twice in the first quarter, jumping to an early 14-point lead. The first of those came in the form of a 79-yard touchdown run from junior wide receiver Kyric McGowan.
“The interior of our defensive line had to improve and get better," Brohm said. “We were getting pushed sideways too much. (There was) a lot to correct, but we did correct it. We got better as the game went on.”
The Boilermaker defense did not give up another score until late in the fourth quarter, after Northwestern had almost half of its rushing yards in the first.
Offensively, Purdue was firing on all cylinders. The Boilermakers focused on the run game early on; freshman running back King Doerue had nine carries for 43 yards and a touchdown. As the Northwestern defense adjusted, and its lead increased, the offense relied more and more on sophomore walk-on quarterback Aidan O’Connell.
“It was really taking what they gave us,” O’Connell said. “That’s a team that's gonna make you go earn it.”
O’Connell did all he could to earn it, throwing 50 passes and connecting 34 times for 271 yards and two touchdowns. The touchdowns were caught by freshman receivers David Bell and Amad Anderson, who combined for 32 receptions and 182 receiving yards.
“That’s a credit to him,” Brohm said. “He’s worked extremely hard since he’s got here.”
O’Connell has now led the team on two game-winning drives in only two games as a starter. Next week, he will have his biggest challenge yet, facing off against the No. 15 Wisconsin on Nov. 23 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.