NU resists urge to rub it in after routing Illinois in trophy game
BY NEIL HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org November 24, 2012 9:10PM
Northwestern wide receiver Cameron Dickerson (19) celebrates with teammates after recovering a fumble by Illinois defensive back Justin Green (26) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: December 26, 2012 9:46AM
‘Sweet Home Chicago” can be heard at Ryan Field after Northwestern victories. That wasn’t the case after the Wildcats defeated Illinois 50-14 on Saturday, however. As tempting as it might have been to needle the Illini with the song, Northwestern officials were determined to take the high road. After what happened last year, when “Sweet Home Chicago” and “My Kind of Town” blared from Memorial Stadium speakers after Illinois’ thrilling victory, they didn’t want Illinois fans unfamiliar with their postgame soundtrack to misinterpret it as one-upping the Illini.
The silence was satisfying for reasons that had nothing to do with Wildcats improving their bowl options, sending off the winningest five-year senior class in school history on a high note or coach Pat Fitzgerald tying Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf’s record of 49 all-time victories.
Beating Illinois is enough, even if it was the ninth consecutive defeat for Illinois and their 14th conference loss in a row dating to last season. The Wildcats (9-3 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) had lost two in a row to the Illini (2-10, 0-8), and while they said all the right things this week, they remembered the postgame scene from last season, which was an obvious reference to Northwestern billing itself as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team,” prompting Illinois officials to come up with a competing slogan — ‘‘Illinois. Our State. Our Team.’’
Besides, the scoreboard spoke volumes. There’s no reason to rub it in after drubbing a rival like the Wildcats did Saturday, even if there is no love lost between the programs.
“We really just wanted to focus on us,” quarterback Kain Colter said. “Our values and our character in this program and what we believe in in this program is what we follow. What other teams do when they win, we don’t focus on that.”
Colter threw a career-high three touchdown passes as the Wildcats took advantage of four Illinois turnovers. Venric Mark rushed for 127 yards on 18 carries including 55 yards on six carries during a second-quarter drive that ended with his three-yard TD run giving the Cats a 24-14 lead. It was the eighth time the junior running back has rushed for more than 100 yards this season.
The victory will likely send Northwestern to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., the Outback Bowl in Tampa or the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since 1949.
“Nine wins is a great year,” Fitzgerald said. “Ten is special. To be a bowl champion would be a great exclamation point. It’s the only lingering negative in our program that you guys just love to talk about. The only thing I can do to get you guys not to talk about it is to win.”
Northwestern led 27-14 after a sloppy first half and added two more touchdowns after third-quarter interceptions by Ibraheim Campbell and Nick VanHoose. Northwestern scored 28 points off Illini turnovers and did not punt.
Players paraded around the field afterwards with the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which is shaped like a stovepipe hat.
“I have a short memory,” defensive end Quentin Williams said when asked if this victory was more satisfying after what happened last season.
“I have a bad memory, really. I don’t remember much from last year at all. I remember the feeling walking off that field for sure but we just tried to put it behind us.”