After spending the beginning of the 2011 season on the sidelines recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered last November, Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa returned with a bang, leading the Wildcats to a commanding 28-10 lead over No. 24 Illinois with four touchdown passes in the first three quarters.
But Persa suffered a leg injury on a sack late in the third quarter, never returning to the field as the Illini stormed back to take a 31-28 lead thanks to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who had an incredible 12 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns against an overmatched Wildcat secondary.
But with Persa on the sideline having his right leg tended to, the Northwestern offense still rallied for a potential winning score when back-up quarterback Kain Colter lead the Wildcats to a touchdown with only 75 seconds remaining.
Yet Scheelhaase and Jenkins got back to work, with the Ilini needing only four plays to get to first and goal at the Northwestern five yard line. From there, Scheelhaase did the rest, running the ball three times and scoring the winning touchdown.
The 38-35 win moves Illinois to 5-0 for the first time in the Ron Zook era. It pushes Northwestern back to .500, with No. 19 Michigan on the horizon.
There’s little information available about Persa’s injury, but another injury to Persa’s ankle is serious news for Northwestern, who had high hopes this year thanks to the returning All-Big Ten quarterback.