CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Ben Bryant completed 24 of 32 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a score, and Cam Johnson caught seven passes for 124 yards and a touchdown to lead Northwestern to a 45-43 victory over Illinois on Saturday, ending the Illini’s hopes for a bowl berth.

John Paddock completed 24 of 34 passes for 334 yards and three touchdowns, all to Casey Washington, and Reggie Love III ran for 106 yards for Illinois. Washington had nine catches for 218 yards.

It was the fourth win in five games for the bowl-bound Wildcats (7-5, 5-4 Big Ten Conference) while Illinois (5-7, 3-6) lost its fourth of seven home games.

“I always tell our guys you lose more games than you win and today we lost,” said Illinois coach Bret Bielema. “Northwestern scored 24 points off our turnovers. You're never going to win a game doing that. Never.”

Northwestern coach David Braun praised his team's focus.

“I'm really proud of this group of men,” he said. “After becoming bowl eligible last week (with a win over Purdue), there were a lot of reasons to not have the laser focus we expect this week. But we had a great week of preparation. Winning a rivalry game is never easy.”

Northwestern's A.J. Henning, a transfer from Michigan, said he was happy to help his new teammates retrieve the Land of Lincoln Trophy from Illinois after the Illini won the last two games between the in-state rivals.

“But stopping Illinois from playing in a bowl game wasn't on our radar,” he said. “We were only focusing on us. We wanted to get another win before our bowl game.”

Two fourth-quarter turnovers that resulted in two Northwestern touchdowns in nine seconds hurt Illinois before the Illini made the game close on a 1-yard TD pass from Paddock to Washington and an 80-yard TD pass from Paddock to Washington with 55 seconds left.

A two-point conversion try after the second Paddock-to-Washington TD was no good as the officials wiped out a defensive pass interference call because the ball was tipped.

“That was bull," Bielema said. “The call should have been defensive holding, then the tip wouldn't have mattered. It's a shame that our season came down to that ... an incorrect call."

The first of the back-to-back Illinois turnovers was a fumbled punt by Isaiah Williams that Northwestern's Raymond Niro III recovered at the Illini 18. Bryant scored on an 8-yard run after the recovery.

Illinois’ Kenari Wilcher fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Northwestern's Garner Wallace caught the ball in the air and returned it 18 yards for a TD.

“When I first caught it, I thought, ‘Can I run with it?’ " Wallace said. “Then I started running and thought, 'I'm not going to get tackled.' "

Illinois went ahead 31-28 early in the fourth quarter on a 14-yard TD pass from Williams, a former quarterback who is the Big Ten's leading receiver this year, to a wide-open Pat Bryant in the end zone.

Northwestern led 21-20 at halftime and struck early in the second half on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Bryant to Henning.

Illinois’ Caleb Griffin kicked his third field goal, a 40-yarder, then Northwestern’s Jack Olsen missed a 45-yarder, leaving the Wildcats ahead 28-23 after three quarters. Olsen kicked a 46-yard field goal with 2:56 left in the game.

The teams traded touchdowns in the final 1:09 of the first half.

Illinois scored on a 55-yard interception return by Miles Scott, who picked off an overthrown pass by Bryant and raced up the sideline into the end zone. It was the second pick-6 this season for the converted receiver.

The Wildcats responded with a touchdown on a fumble recovered in the end zone by offensive lineman Dom D’Antonio. Illinois’ Dylan Rosiek stripped the ball away from Anthony Tyus III near the goal line, and D’Antonio fell on the ball.


Northwestern: A season that began with a hazing-and-abuse scandal and a coaching change will continue on for the Wildcats with a bowl game.

Illinois: A season that started with high expectations ended with a bitter defeat and no bowl game.


This was the last collegiate game for Illinois All-America defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton, who has said he’ll declare for the NFL draft after the season.


The Illini were trying for their third straight win over Northwestern, something they haven’t done since 1988-90. And they were trying for back-to-back wins over the Wildcats at Memorial Stadium. That hasn’t happened since 1999 and 2001.


Northwestern: The Wildcats will play in a bowl game for the first time since 2020.

Illinois: The Illini will pack up their gear and get ready for next season.


Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here


AP college football: and

Copyright 2024 STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.