Freshman Coco Azema rushed for a career-high 123 yards and a touchdown and sophomore quarterback Andrew Marty added 111 yards and two rushing touchdowns, as Northwestern pulled out a 29-10 victory over host Illinois on Saturday in Champaign.
Northwestern ran for 378 yards and relied on a stout defensive effort that held the Illini to a paltry 160 total yards, including 14 on the ground.
The Wildcats (3-9, 1-8 Big Ten) ended an ugly season by knocking off their in-state rivals for the fifth straight time to win their first conference game.
Marty, a fourth-stringer at the start of the season, ran the ball 30 times and completed 6 of 10 passes for 55 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
Northwestern forced a fumble late in the game, leading to 24-yard touchdown run by Azema with 1:09 left to seal the victory.
“This feels great, finish 5-0 as a senior,” Gaziano said. “We fought and did not give up on the season.”
The Illini (6-6, 4-5) are bowl eligible but ended the regular season on a sour note, spoiling an opportunity to win seven games for the first time since 2011.
Marty tossed a 34-yard touchdown pass to Riley Lees to extend the lead to 17-7 with 8:03 left in the third quarter. Illini kicker James McCourt drilled a 50-yarder to slice the deficit to 17-10 late in the third.
Marty gave the Wildcats some cushion, capping a seven-play, 83-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to pad the lead to 23-10 with 13:28 left in the game.
The Illini offense had a dreadful first-half showing, collecting one first down, 1 yard rushing and 30 yards of total offense. Illinois’ offense sorely missed starting quarterback Brandon Peters, who sat out the game with an injury.
Illinois quarterback Matt Robinson, a redshirt freshman from California, struggled passing the ball in the heavy wind and rain. Robinson, in his second career start, completed 8 of 17 passes for 108 yards.
But the Wildcats failed to pull away in the first half, mainly because of a costly interception and failing to convert two of their four fourth-down attempts despite racking up 180 total yards, including 162 on the ground, and dominating the time of possession battle (25:08).
Illinois senior running back Dre Brown scored on a 6-yard run early in the second quarter before Marty gave the Wildcats a 10-7 lead with a 12-yard touchdown run with 5:20 left until halftime.
Northwestern freshman running back Evan Hull, who rushed for a combined 271 yards against Massachusetts and Minnesota, did not play in order to retain his redshirt.
—Field Level Media