Wildcats appear headed for New Year's Day bowl game
Northwestern 50, Illinois 14: Kain Colter threw a career-high three touchdown passes and ran for another as the host Wildcats regained possession of the Land of Lincoln Trophy.Venric Mark rushed for 127 yards - his eighth 100-yard game of the season - and a touchdown as the Wildcats (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) finished the regular season with two straight victories and appear headed for a New Year's Day bowl game. Colter, who had only five touchdown passes entering the game, was 9-of-11 for 102 yards and also ran for 88.Donovonn Young ran for 74 yards and a score for the Fighting Illini (2-10, 0-8), who finished the season on a nine-game losing streak and extended their conference slide to 14 contests. Starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was 9-of-14 for 91 yards and an interception while backup Ryan O'Toole had a touchdown run.Illinois hardly resembled the worst team in the Big Ten when it took the opening kickoff and went 78 yards on 11 plays, capped by Young's 15-yard touchdown run. Northwestern went ahead for good 10-7 in the first quarter when Colter's 2-yard scoring run came two plays after C.J. Bryant forced Justin Green to fumble on a kickoff return at the Illini 19.Colter left briefly with 29 seconds left in the first quarter with a leg injury and was replaced by Trevor Siemian, who was intercepted by Terry Hawthorne on the next play. The Wildcats regained possession on the ensuing play when David Nwabuisi picked off Scheelhaase, and two plays later, Colter connected with Tony Jones for a 9-yard touchdown.After O'Toole's 12-yard run brought Illinois to within 17-14, Northwestern answered with an 11-play, 79-yard drive and Mark's 3-yard scoring run with 6:13 left in the second quarter en route to a 27-14 halftime lead. Colter added touchdown passes to Tyris Jones (15 yards) and Paul Jorgensen (24) in the third quarter.GAME NOTEBOOK: Northwestern entered the game with a plus-11 turnover margin, second-best in the Big Ten, while Illinois was a conference-worst minus-10. The Illini had four turnovers Saturday compared to two for the Wildcats. ... Mark entered the game as the fifth-leading rusher in the Big Ten at 105.0 yards per game. ... Illinois leads the series 54-47-5, although the teams have split four meetings since the Land of Lincoln Trophy was created in 2009.