Northwestern loses QB Dan Persa to injury in loss to Illinois
BY TINA AKOURIS firstname.lastname@example.org October 1, 2011 10:30PM
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa (7) passes over the Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown (45) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Northwestern 0 14 14 7 — 35
Illinois 7 3 7 21 — 38
Ill—Jenkins 14 pass from Scheelhaase (Dimke kick), 2:28.
NU—Dunsmore 6 pass from Persa (Budzien kick), 12:31.
NU—Ebert 3 pass from Persa (Budzien kick), 2:08.
Ill—FG Dimke 49, :00.
NU—Ebert 39 pass from Persa (Budzien kick), 11:42.
NU—Ebert 4 pass from Persa (Budzien kick), 7:11.
Ill—Jenkins 33 pass from Scheelhaase (Dimke kick), 3:51.
Ill—Jenkins 50 pass from Scheelhaase (run failed), 14:53.
Ill—Young 1 run (Harris pass from Scheelhaase), 6:53.
NU—Schmidt 6 run (Budzien kick), 1:15.
Ill—Scheelhaase 1 run (Dimke kick), :13.
TEAM STATISTICS NU ILL
First downs 21 23
Rushes-yards 51-169 38-82
Passing 163 391
Comp-Att-Int 12-16-0 21-32-1
Return Yards 28 0
Punts-Avg. 6-34.0 4-36.0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-Yards 4-48 8-70
Time of Possession 30:29 29:31
RUSHING—Northwestern, Green 17-67, Trumpy 12-63, Colter 6-29, Schmidt 6-14, A.Smith 1-(minus 1), Persa 9-(minus 3). Illinois, Scheelhaase 20-35, Young 8-29, Pollard 3-9, Ford 7-9.
PASSING—Northwestern, Persa 10-14-0-123, Colter 2-2-0-40. Illinois, Scheelhaase 21-32-1-391.
RECEIVING—Northwestern, Ebert 5-68, Schmidt 3-40, Dunsmore 3-26, Fields 1-9, Colter 0-12, Watkins 0-8. Illinois, Jenkins 12-268, Harris 6-63, Ford 2-24, E.Wilson 1-36.
Updated: November 15, 2011 9:46AM
CHAMPAIGN — Illinois did all it could to make people forget about Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa’s return from a ruptured Achilles tendon as the No. 24 Fighting Illini captured the Land of Lincoln trophy with a 38-35 victory Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Wildcats running back Jacob Schmidt scored on a six-yard run with 1:15 left to put NU ahead 35-31. But Illinois regained the lead with 13 seconds to play when quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase scored from one yard out.
Persa left the game limping at the 13:38 mark of the fourth quarter after getting sacked and hit on the back of his right foot — the same leg with the repaired Achilles. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said sitting Persa, with the Wildcats holding a 28-23 lead, was precautionary. Kain Colter filled in.
“It got hit when I was rolling out, and I felt some pain in the bottom of my heel and the top of my Achilles started to stiffen up, and in the past that’s when setbacks have happened,” Persa said. “It was a smart decision at that point. If it tightens up and I can’t run that well and escape, I [find] myself with even more problems.”
The Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) can’t afford that after dropping their second consecutive game and with Michigan coming to a sold-out Ryan Field on Saturday night.
Before Persa tweaked the heel, he shook off the rust and had the Wildcats up 28-10 with 7:11 to play in the third quarter. He threw for a career-high four touchdowns, eclipsing his previous best of three against Vanderbilt on Sept. 4, 2010. Persa also managed to quiet a boisterous Illini crowd with a three-yard touchdown toss to receiver Jeremy Ebert late in the second quarter, putting the Wildcats ahead 14-7.
But Persa (10-for-14, 123 yards, four sacks) was getting hit — hard. At one point, he ducked as an Illini defender hurdled over his back. Persa dodged as many Illini as he could before a hit finally forced him to sit.
A wild fourth quarter saw Illinois (5-0, 1-0) score three touchdowns to erase Northwestern’s lead. The Wildcats had a final chance with time running out. From their 37-yard line, Colter threw a 13-yard pass to Demetrius Fields, who pitched the ball to Ebert, who threw back to Fields, who tossed back to Colter for a 17-yard gain. Colter made a last-ditch effort to pass back to Fields before the Illini defense swarmed and finally stopped the play.
“We run that play all the time in practice, and it’s never worked out that way,” Colter said. “We tried to make a play, and it was kind of surprising and I never really expected it. I just saw the ball coming, and I tried to make a play. I could have gotten more creative, but we fought our butt off today, and that last play showed it.”