Game Recap: Northwestern 42, Syracuse 41

The Cardiac ‘Cats returned in true nail-biting form for the first game of the 2012 season, beating Syracuse in a 42-41 thriller.

(Photo courtesy of Hans Pennink, Associated Press)

The Cardiac ‘Cats did it again.

The Northwestern Wildcats (1-0) fought off the Syracuse Orange (0-1) at the last possible minute in a  42-41 win Saturday afternoon, pulling ahead with a nine yard touchdown pass from sophomore backup quarterback Trevor Siemian to senior Demetrius Fields with 44 seconds remaining.

Syracuse scored first, going up 6-0 on two field goals from junior place kicker Ross Krautman in the first quarter. The two teams exchanged touchdowns – Northwestern on Mark’s punt return and Syracuse on a 14 yard touchdown run from junior tailback Prince-Tyson Gulley – before NU quarterback Kain Colter and the Wildcats went off for 28 straight points spanning the halftime break.

The Wildcats took a 35-13 lead deep into the third quarter, but Syracuse pulled ahead 41-35 late in the fourth behind fifth year senior quarterback Ryan Nassib’s school record-setting 44 completions for 470 yards, and four second half touchdowns.

Colter, an all-purpose threat in 2011 at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, paced the Wildcats to a big lead, completing 14 of 21 pass attempts for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 40 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.

But as Syracuse started to fight back, Northwestern’s offense stalled, leading NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald to substitute Siemian in for Colter. The backup struggled at first, but eventually responded by engineering a brilliant 75 yard, 1:56 minute final drive that put the Wildcats up for good.

Siemian finished with 8 completions on 11 attempts for 78 yards and the game winning touchdown pass.

Fields, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass, led the Wildcats with eight receptions for 83 yards and the one touchdown. He was the only Northwestern receiver with more than three receptions, as Colter and Siemian connected with eight different targets on the day.

Nassib also spread his passes around, as 10 Syracuse receivers got their hands on the ball. Syracuse wide receiver Marcus Sales finished with 11 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown.

Northwestern was paced by junior running back and return man Venric Mark, who scored twice and accumulated 203 all-purpose yards in the first half alone.

Mark finished with 14 carries for 82 yards, a touchdown reception and two massive punt returns, one for 52 yards that set up a touchdown and one which he took all the way to the house for a 82 yard touchdown return.

Mark stands only at 5’8” and has always displayed excellent top-end speed, but the explosive back was tackled a little too easily during the 2011 campaign, weighing in at only 165 pounds. Against Syracuse, with ten to fifteen more pounds of bulk than last year, he was a little harder to take down.

Northwestern’s oft-maligned defense was mercurial, at times looking like a new and improved unit, but at times looking as shaky as it was throughout the 2011 season.

The unit gave up 596 total yards to the Syracuse offense – 470 passing and 126 rushing – but also forced three turnovers, including an interception and a 33 yard fumble return for a touchdown from sophomore linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo.

Reach Cameron Albert-Deitch via email at or on Twitter at @c_albertdeitch.


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