WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Aidan O’Connell threw two touchdown passes in his final home game and kept the Purdue Boilermakers in contention for the Big Ten West title with a 17-9 victory over Northwestern on Saturday.
The former walk-on went 16 of 25 with 159 yards, hooking up with his childhood friend Charlie Jones six times for 46 yards and one score.
Purdue (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten) could reach its conference championship game by winning its third straight next week coupled with an Iowa loss.
Northwestern (1-10, 1-7) has lost 10 straight since an opening-day win over Nebraska in Ireland, this time in the starting debut of second-year quarterback Cole Freeman. The Wildcats had won the previous five road games in the series.
While the Wildcats kept the score close, they never had a chance to take the lead after O’Connell’s throw across the field to Jones, who made an inside cut to evade a defender and took the ball across the goal line for an early 7-0 lead.
The Wildcats made it 7-3 on a short field goal early in the second quarter, but O’Connell answered with a 3-yard TD pass to Payne Durham to make it 14-3 at halftime.
Northwestern took over at midfield following a partially blocked punt early in the fourth quarter, which set up Evan Hull’s 2-yard scoring run. But Freeman’s 2-point conversion pass failed to keep it 14-9.
Mitchell Fineran’s 26-yard field goal with 7:08 left gave Purdue a 17-9 lead and the Boilermakers took the clock down to 22 seconds after its defense forced a late turnover on downs near midfield.
Purdue has winning records in consecutive years for the first time since 1997-98 and back-to-back seven-win seasons for the first time since 2006-07.
Freeman was 9 of 20 with 78 yards and one interception while losing a fumble. Hull finished with 22 carries for 105 yards.
Northwestern: With their top two quarterbacks, Brendan Sullivan and Ryan Hilinski, out because of injuries, Freeman started but not much changed. The offense still struggled mightily to score points though the Wildcats avoided losing for the sixth time this season by double digits.
Purdue: On a cold, blustery day, the Boilermakers did what they needed to stay in position to win Big Ten’s wild, wild West Division title — and not much more. They held on against the division’s last-place team in a game that wasn’t pretty. But after losing their top runner, Devin Mockobee on the game’s opening series, Purdue managed to close it out.
Northwestern: Closes its season by hosting in-state rival Illinois next Saturday.
Purdue: Hopes to keep the Old Oaken Bucket – and clinch a title game bid– next Saturday at Indiana.