EVANSTON, Ill. — Linebacker Damien Proby and defensive end Dean Lowry each had an interception return for a touchdown to lead No. 18 Northwestern to a 35-21 win over pesky Maine on Saturday.
Northwestern improved to 4-0 as it wrapped up its nonconference slate, but this was not the consistent, steady performance coach Pat Fitzgerald was looking for heading into the Big Ten season. If not for the interception returns for scores, the Black Bears (3-1) of the Football Championship Subdivision very well could have been shooting for an upset down the stretch.
“I thought maybe if we don’t throw two interceptions that they run back for touchdowns, maybe we’re still playing,’’ said Maine coach Jack Cosgrove. “Our defense played their fannies off for three quarters; I thought they were outstanding. We made too many mistakes to be there at the end, but facts are facts, they got 14 points off of turnovers, and that’s how we lost the football game; [at least] that’s the margin we lost the football game by.’’
Running back Mike Trumpy and quarterback Kain Colter each had rushing TDs for Northwestern.
Marcus Wasilewski was 25 of 40 for 237 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for Maine, which had a 379-373 edge over the Wildcats in total yards.
Maine’s defense put forth a great effort, holding the Wildcats to season lows in points and passing yards (122), led by Cabrinni Goncalves (Taunton, Mass.), who had 11 tackles, including a sack, and senior linebacker Troy Eastman (six tackles).
Northwestern scored on its first offensive possession as Colter and receiver Tony Jones hooked up on a 27-yard scoring pass to cap a nine-play, 76-yard drive with 10:18 left in the opening quarter. That was the Wildcats last offensive score until the fourth quarter.
Fortunately for Northwestern, the defense came through.
Proby had a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter to give Northwestern a 14-0 lead. On the play, Wasilewski’s pass was tipped by receiver Derrick Johnson and Proby took it back the other way with a convoy of blockers along for the ride.
Less than five minutes into the second half, the defense made another huge play. Proby pressured Wasilewski, which caused the quarterback to lose control of the pass as he attempted to throw on the run. Lowry scooped the floating pass and returned it 19 yards for the score to make it 21-0.
Maine finally got on the board with 3:02 left in the third as Wasilewski found tight end Justin Perillo for an 11-yard pass to make it 21-7.
The catch was the 101st for Perillo in his career while the 11 yards put the senior tight end over 1,000.
Northwestern, though, dashed hopes of a Maine comeback on the ensuing possession when the offense produced an eight-play, 74-yard scoring drive capped by Trumpy’s 7-yard run that made it 28-7 five seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Black Bears again answered when Wasilewski hit Johnson with a 59-yard pass inside the Northwestern 10. Two plays later Wasilewski found John Ebeling in the back of the end zone to make it 28-14 with 11:06 to play. But the Wildcats were able to seal the win with a 5-yard rushing score from Colter with 7:49 left.
Maine closed out the scoring when Nigel Jones finished off an eight-play, 49-yard drive with his first rushing TD of the season with 2:22 remaining.