By Will Greer
Through one half in its 2017 opener Saturday, Northwestern’s slow-start-to-the-season story seemed all too familiar.
Sizable underdog Nevada led the Wildcats 17-7, was set to begin the second half with the ball and seemingly had all sorts of momentum. Shades of Western Michigan. Shades of Illinois State. Shades of 2016.
But, led by quarterback Clayton Thorson and a clearly motivated defense, the Wildcats rallied in the second half, outscoring their friends from Reno 24-3 en route to a 31-20 win at Ryan Field.
As Pat Fitzgerald simply put it after the game, Northwestern turned a two-possession halftime deficit into a two-possession win.
The ‘Cats scored the game’s first points midway though the first quarter when Thorson connected with receiver Macan Wilson for a 33-yard touchdown.
But Nevada scored 17 straight points to end the half and led 17-7 at intermission.
The Wolf Pack maintained a seven-point lead until the middle of the third quarter, when Thorson connected with freshman Riley Lees on a 19-yard touchdown pass, tying the game at 17.
Nevada retook the lead early in the fourth quarter thanks to 33-yard field goal following a Northwestern interception, but the Wildcats’ longest points-yielding drive of the day — an 11-play, 75 -yard, 4:45 campaign — resulted in the go-ahead score, a Thorson one-yard rush. Another Thorson one-yard carry with less than a minute remaining iced the cake and put Nevada away.
Thorson clearly highlighted the second-half offensive attack, connecting on 15 of 21 passes in the second 30 minutes for 237 yards. The junior quarterback accounted for all four Northwestern touchdowns Saturday, scoring twice through the air and twice on the ground.
And not to be forgotten, Northwestern’s defense limited Nevada to just three points and 120 yards in the second half.
The Wildcats will hit the road for the first time in 2017 next Saturday when they travel to Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium to take on the Blue Devils. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. CST from Durham.