Late touchdown lifts No. 24 Northwestern over Purdue 21-14
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Justin Jackson didn't care how close the score was against struggling Purdue. All that mattered was another win by No. 24 Northwestern.
As for the margin of victory?
"It's a Big Ten game," the Wildcats running back said. "It's gonna be tough."
Jackson ran for 116 yards and a late touchdown, and Warren Long ran for two more TDs to lead Northwestern to a 21-14 victory over Purdue on Saturday.
With a school record for wins and a spot in a prestigious bowl in reach, Northwestern (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten, No. 18 CFP) pulled out another one.
Jackson plowed in from the 2 with 4:37 remaining to cap a 58-yard drive.
The Wildcats faced third-and-14 at the Purdue 37 when quarterback Clayton Thorson broke off back-to-back 16-yard runs to put the ball on the 5. They converted four third downs on the drive, including the TD by Jackson. He wasn't sure he got in until a review confirmed the score.
That lifted Northwestern to its third straight win -- the Wildcats beat both Nebraska and Penn State by two points in their last two games.
The streak comes after Northwestern got blown out by Michigan (38-0) and Iowa (40-10).
"You go into the locker room after games like that -- you're frustrated, you're not very pleased, but you know that you've got a good team," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "You just got to find a way as a coach to get it out of the guys."
Purdue (2-8, 1-5) dropped its second straight and remained winless against ranked teams since 2011.
"It's that last quarter and one-half where we got to make a play," coach Darrell Hazell said. "We have to make a play."
Jackson followed a career-high 186-yard game against Penn State with another solid performance against an opponent that came in allowing a league-worst 205.1 yards rushing.
Long had a 32-yard touchdown on the opening drive and scored from the 1 midway through the second quarter to give Northwestern a 14-7 lead. He ran for 52 yards and Northwestern finished with 250 yards rushing.
Thorson threw for 82 yards and ran for 48 after leaving last week's game with a lower-body injury. Zack Oliver added 50 yards passing.
David Blough completed 26 of 45 passes for 287 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The freshman hit Domonique Young for a 68-yard score on Purdue's first play from scrimmage, but he also had several passes broken up by the secondary.
"We took advantage of it the first play -- how aggressive they are," Blough said. "But they make those windows tight. To make those throws you have to be spot on."
Young, who came in with 60 yards this season, finished with a career-high 107 yards on five catches. And Markell Jones carried 13 times for 58 yards before suffering an unspecified lower-body injury midway through the third quarter.
Northwestern, which has never won more than 10 games in a season, led 14-7 at halftime thanks to two scoring runs by Long.
But Purdue drove 71 yards for a touchdown to start the second half, with Jones scoring on a 2-yard run.
Paul Griggs missed a 43-yard field goal on the Boilermakers' next possession and they came away empty-handed again after Frankie Williams returned an interception to the Northwestern 41.
The Wildcats had the ball on the Purdue 28 when Brandon Roberts intercepted Oliver on the first play of the fourth quarter. But again, the Boilermakers went nowhere. And Northwestern eventually pulled out another close win.
"We really just have guys that are buying into what we have going on," safety Traveon Henry said. "That's the D-line, the linebackers and the DBs. It's really just trusting each other."