Northern Illinois Falls to Northwestern, 35-17 in Season Opener

Updated 8/31/2000
Northwestern running back Damien Anderson (20) tries to elude Northern Illinois' Demerist Whitfield (29) in the first quarter. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) (August 31, 2000) -- Northern Illinois lost its opening game of the 2000 season, 35-17 to Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.

The Wildcats had back-to-back first-quarter scoring drives of 57 and 95 yards against the Huskies.

Northwestern unveiled a new wide-open, no-huddle offense Thursday night, two defensive stands and Sam Simmons' explosive kick returns sparked a 35-17 victory over Northern Illinois.

On a hot and humid night, Damien Anderson gained 88 yards on 20 carries and scored twice, and Zak Kustok, often throwing out of the shotgun, threw two TD pass in the season opener for both schools.

The speedy and elusive Simmons, who missed the final month last season with a broken clavicle, had more than 200 all-purpose yards on kickoff returns, punt returns and one reception, constantly giving the Wildcats good field position.

Leading 21-10 at the half, Northwestern used a goal-line stand from the 5 and Kevin Bentley's subsequent fumble recovery to stop one drive. Later in the third, Harold Blackmon picked off a pass in the end zone to halt another opportunity.

Northern Illinois quarterback Chris Finlen was stopped inches shy of a first down on a third-and-1 from the 5. Then Finlen tried to sneak again, was hit by Napoleon Harris, fumbled and Bentley recovered.

Northern Illinois head coach Joe Novak watches as his team plays Northwestern in the first quarter. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

From there it took Northwestern just under two minutes to go 91 yards as Simmons caught a 40-yard pass, Kevin Lawrence had a 17-yard run and the Huskies were called for pass-interference and personal-foul penalties. Lawrence then scored from the 2 and what could easily have been a four-point game had become a 28-10 Northwestern lead.

Northern Illinois drove right back down the field, aided by a 15-yard personal- foul penalty on the Wildcats. But Blackmon intercepted in the end zone on a second-and-goal from the 1.

Following Simmons' 63-yard punt return, Kustok hit Ronnie Foster with a 24-yard TD pass late in the third to make it 35-10. Dan Urban scored on a 1-yard run for Northern with 16 seconds remaining.

Northwestern moved ahead 21-10 at the half with a 73-yard drive that featured a pair of fourth-down conversions, one a 28-yard pass from Kustok to Roger Jordan, setting up Anderson's 7-yard touchdown run with less than a minute left in the half.

The Wildcats had back-to-back first-quarter scoring drives of 57 and 95 yards against the Huskies, who appeared to be wilting in the 90-degree heat as Anderson pounded them for 69 yards.

But in the second quarter, NIU regrouped.

Brian Grider kicked a 36-yard field goal after Northern reached the Northwestern 14 and stalled.

Northern got the ball back and Finlen passed 31 yards to Darrell Hill before Thomas Hammock broke loose for a 34-yard run to the Northwestern 6. A pass-interference call on Blackmon put the ball on the 2 where Hammock carried it in to make it 14-10.