EVANSTON, Ill. — Although it appeared his missed extra point might prove to be the difference, Sean Slattery said his thoughts never turned negative.
“Coach told me at halftime, ‘You’re gonna hit a big one,'” Slattery said. “That gave me some confidence. You just have to believe in yourself and get it done.”
Slattery connected on a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give Illinois State a 9-7 upset of Northwestern on Saturday.
Jake Kolbe completed 30 of his 41 passes for 287 yards and two interceptions, Anthony Warrum had nine receptions for 116 yards and George Moreira had 57 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown for Illinois State (2-0).
“We feel like we belong playing teams like this,” Kolbe said. “We stressed all week we’re good enough to play with teams like that.”
Clayton Thorson was 17 of 41 for 191 yards for Northwestern, which fell to 0-2.
Justin Jackson had 39 yards on 11 carries for the Wildcats before leaving the game early in the fourth quarter with a leg injury.
Thorson connected with Austin Carr on a 10-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-down play early in the fourth quarter that gave the Wildcats a 7-6 edge with 9:04 remaining. That appeared to be the winning score before Kolbe led the Redbirds on an 11-play, 77-yard drive in the final 3:11 for the winning score.
“We knew that today was going to be a battle,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Did I think it was going to be this type of battle from a standpoint of scoring? Quite frankly, no. I thought we’d be able to move the ball better on the ground. I thought, obviously, we’d be able to pitch and catch better, so you’ve got to credit ISU’s defense. They did a great job up front.
Slattery missed the extra point following Moreira’s 6-yard touchdown run just before halftime and missed a 49-yard attempt in the first quarter.
“Even when they went up 7-6, I always felt like we were gonna come back and win the game,” Illinois State coach Brock Spack said.
Illinois State: The Redbirds suffered a 37-3 loss in their previous visit to Ryan Field in 2010. That was coach Brock Spack’s second season and Saturday’s result shows how far the program has come since then. With Kolbe and Warrum leading a high-powered offensive attack, the Redbirds should again be one of the better teams in FCS.
Northwestern: The struggles against Western Michigan in the opener weren’t an aberration. Once again, the offense could not find any consistency and Jackson could not bail them out because the Illinois State defense was keying on him. Thorson cannot seem to get on the same page with his receivers and completions over 10 yards were rare. Defensively, the Wildcats struggled to get off the field and continue to get pushed around in short-yardage situations.
Jackson left early in the fourth quarter and wasn’t much of a factor before that, averaging just 3.5 yards a carry.
“Early on, I felt like we dominated the line and stopped him,” Redbirds linebacker Alejandro Rivera said.
The Northwestern players didn’t disagree. “Offensive line wise, I thought we got our butts kicked up front,” guard Connor Mahoney said. “The credit goes to Illinois State. We didn’t bring it today and that falls on the whole group.”
NO WORK OF ART
The Wildcats won 10 games last season, but now have dropped two games by a total of three points. They lost 22-21 to Western Michigan in the opener.
“I wouldn’t say either of the teams we’ve played have put together a Picasso,” Fitzgerald said. “Obviously, we haven’t either. Our hallmark around here is we typically win close games because we make plays down the stretch and right now that isn’t happening, so obviously that’s my responsibility. I’ve got to find a way for us not to be in these types of close games.”
Illinois State: The Redbirds host Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
Northwestern: The Wildcats season-opening four-game home stand continues Saturday night against