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Strong defensive play helps No. 18 Northwestern defeat Maine

Sep 22, 2013 - 2:55 AM Evanston, IL (Sports Network) - Northwestern's offense failed to generate any consistency for much of the contest, but its defense scored twice and forced three turnovers to help guide the 18th-ranked Wildcats to a 35-21 win over the Maine Black Bears.

Kain Colter took the majority of the quarterback snaps for the Wildcats (4-0), tossing for 85 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 5-for-9. Colter also ran 12 times for 38 yards and a score while quarterback Trevor Siemian went 5- for-8 for 37 yards.

With starting running back Venric Mark hampered for a third straight game with a lower body injury, Mike Trumpy rushed for 94 yards and a score on a season- high 17 attempts. Damien Proby and Dean Lowry each had a pick-six in the triumph, giving Northwestern a school-record four interception returns for touchdowns on the season.

"It starts off with the offensive line. I thought they did a great job today," Trumpy said. "I think each week they continue to improve and I'm just trying to do what I can to help out the team in any situation possible."

The Wildcats collected a season-low 373 total yards in what was supposed to be a tune-up game before conference play. The Wildcats, who have won 17 of 21 non-bowl games dating back to 2011, have next week off before hosting Ohio State in their Big Ten opener.

Marcus Wasilewski passed for 237 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of picks on 25-of-40 for Maine (3-1), which converted 9-for-16 on third down. Nigel Jones ran for 73 yards and a score.

"We had a couple opportunities in the first half to punch in points, but we couldn't capitalize off of that," Wasilewski said. "We still played hard and never gave up."

Maine's first drive stalled quickly when Ifeadi Odenigbo sacked Wasilewski on third down, forcing a punt less than two minutes into the contest. Northwestern took over on its own 24 and marched down the field in nine plays, capped when Tony Jones bounced outside for a 27-yard touchdown scamper after receiving a short pass from Colter. Colter completed three passes on the drive, all to Jones.

Masilewski then orchestrated a drive down to the Northwestern 15, setting up a field goal try, but Tyler Scott got a hand on Sean Decloux's 32-yard attempt, keeping the Black Bears off the scoreboard.

Both offenses stalled until midway through the second period, when a promising Maine drive ended with another missed field goal, this one from 38 yards out.

A pair of interceptions highlighted the opening half's final moments. A Wildcats' drive ended when Colter's pass down the middle on 3rd-and-20 was deflected and picked off by Axel Ofori. Four plays later, the momentum shifted back to Northwestern when Derrick Johnson dove for a Wasilewski delivery but popped it up to Proby, who took it 49 yards for a Wildcats' touchdown.

The home team led 14-0 at intermission.

Proby made another key defensive play on Maine's first second-half series when he blitzed and pressured Wasilewski into making a poor decision, ultimately costing the Black Bears seven points. Proby wrapped up the Maine signal caller, who tried to get off a pass but got very little muscle behind it, setting up Lowry's second pick-six of the season.

Maine broke through for a score with 3:02 left in the third quarter when Wasilewski hooked up with tight end Justin Perillo for an 11-yard score, but Northwestern struck right back.

Consecutive passes for 24 and 23 yards, respectively, to Tony Jones and Christian Jones set up a Trumpy 7-yard touchdown plunge for a 28-7 advantage.

Maine countered with another score early in the fourth quarter to cut the FCS school's deficit in half. Johnson's 59-yard reception down to the Northwestern 2 set up a John Ebeling touchdown catch on third down in the back of the end zone.

The Wildcats' ground attack was too much for Maine in the final quarter. Colter's five-yard touchdown run finished off an eight-play drive, all runs, which spanned 70 yards.

Nigel Jones capped the scoring when he took a handoff in from 10 yards out late in the fourth, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Northwestern.

Game Notes

Northwestern has reached double figures in points for the 77th straight games ... Pat Fitzgerald improved to 28-5 in non-conference play as head coach of the Wildcats ... NW has won 16 straight home games against non-conference opponents.