Even in losing twice to open the season, Northwestern (1-2) proved they could mount a comeback.
Against TCU, the Cats came back from deficits three times and tied the game with nine second left to send it to overtime. Against Arizona St., NU fought back from the short end of a 24-7 score to get within three points but again fell short.
On Saturday, Northwestern rallied and finally posted a win, nipping Kansas (2-1) 20-17 in front of a crowd of 24,817 at Ryan Field.
Northwestern seemed to be in control through three quarters, holding a 13-3 lead. But two Adam Barmann-to-Brandon Rideau touchdown passes in the fourth quarter gave Kansas a 17-13 lead and the momentum with 6:45 to go.
Facing its first deficit of the game, the Wildcats responded by marching 81 yards in only four plays to take the 20-17 lead they wouldn't relinquish. The big play was a short screen pass from Brett Basanez to Mark Philmore, who weaved through traffic for a 52-yard gain. After a Noah Herron 13-yard run, Basanez hit Brandon Horn with a 12-yard touchdown pass to close the scoring.
Kansas made Northwestern sweat it out, however. The Jayhawks drove to the Northwestern 26-yard line but kicker Johnny Beck missed a 43-yard field goal that would have tied the game.
Coach Randy Walker criticized his team's lack of passion a week ago but lauded his team's effort against Kansas. "We played with some passion today," said Walker. "You play passionately, you play hard, you fly around, you find a way to win. Our kids did that today. I'm proud of the way they bounced back from last week's tough loss."
Neither team could find its offensive rhythm early in the contest and the first half ended in a 3-3 tie. The Cats outscored the Jayhawks 10-0 in the third quarter on a hard-earned two-yard Basanez touchdown run and a 21-yard field goal by Brian Huffman.
Basanez was 20-for-33 on the day for 192 yards. His favorite target was Mark Philmore, who caught seven passes for 113 yards. Herron, who was listed as questionable and didn't start, led the rushing attack with 85 yards on 18 carries. Terrell Jordan ran five times for 49 yards.
The much-maligned Northwestern defense had its best game of the season, holding a Kansas offense that had averaged 42 points per game to 17 points and only 47 rushing yards. Ironically, the Wildcats were outgained by their opponent for the first time this year, 350 yards to 337. Barmann led the Jayhawks with 294 yards passing and two touchdowns.
"This was a big lift," said Northwestern linebacker Nick Roach, who had a big game with a sack and three tackles for losses. "We felt bad after two bad losses and all we needed was a win like this to get that good feeling going into next week."