- Associated Press - Saturday, September 6, 2014

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) - An already tough day for Northwestern seemed to get a lot worse when quarterback Trevor Siemian had to be helped off the field late in a 23-15 loss to in-state rival Northern Illinois Saturday.

The quarterback couldn’t put any weight on his right leg as he left, but downplayed the significance of the injury afterward.

“I’m thankful it wasn’t worse than it is,” Siemian said. “It’s just a lower leg injury. I’ll be fine.”

What wasn’t fine was Northwestern’s second-half performance.

Drew Hare passed for two touchdowns and ran for another to lead Northern Illinois. He got help from Da’Ron Brown, who hauled in the two TD passes and finished with six receptions for 128 yards.

Hare, who didn’t play until the second half, completed six of 10 passes for 109 yards and had 11 rushes for 31 yards. Hare was the third quarterback to play for the Huskies.

“He came in that first drive and completed a couple of balls and got us down there,” Huskies coach Rod Carey said of Hare. “You see the flow of the game and all of a sudden, ‘Drew, you’re staying in.’”

NIU (2-0) is 5-3 versus Big Ten teams since Sept. 19, 2009. The Huskies also lead the nation with 16 straight road victories (games played in opponents’ stadiums).

Northwestern is 0-2 for the first time in coach Pat Fitzgerald’s nine seasons. The Wildcats lost 31-24 to California in their opener last week.

The Wildcats amassed 394 yards of total offense - Siemian completed 27 of 41 passes for 268 yards with a touchdown and an interception - but most of their drives were stalled by mistakes - a dropped pass, a penalty or a sack.

“From an offensive standpoint, the self-inflicted wounds with penalties, that’s inexcusable,” Fitzgerald said.

It was the first meeting between the schools, roughly 70 miles apart, since 2005 when Northwestern posted a 38-37 win in a wild finish. NIU scored with 6 seconds left and could have opted for a tying extra point, but then-coach Joe Novak called for a two-point conversion that failed.

It was the Huskies’ first win in eight meetings between the schools. Northwestern had posted six wins and a tie in the previous seven games.

The Huskies got the ball to start the second half and went on a 10-play, 60-yard drive - the key play being a 25-yard pass to Brown - to set up a 32-yard field goal by Tyler Wedel for a 3-0 lead with 11:55 left in the third quarter.

After showing flashes, the Northwestern offense finally put together a complete drive on its second possession of the second half. Siemian capped a four-play, 60-yard drive with a 19-yard TD pass to wide receiver Kyle Prater for a 7-3 lead with 4:51 remaining in the third. All four plays were completed passes and the drive took just 58 seconds.

NIU, though, answered with a 13-play, 82-yard drive capped by an 18-yard scoring pass from Hare to Brown for a 10-7 Huskies lead with 52 seconds to play in the quarter.

The Huskies stretched the lead to 16-7 (the extra point failed) when Hare and Brown hooked up again, this time on a 59-yard scoring pass with seven minutes to go in the game.

On the next NIU possession, Hare scored on a four-yard run to make it 23-7.

Northwestern scored late as backup Zack Oliver connected with Pierre Youngblood-Ary on a 54-yard pass with 2:34 to play.

By that point, most of the NU fans in the crowd of 41,139 had left and Ryan Field was overtaken by red-clad Huskies fans.

Despite Saturday’s result, Siemian said he is still optimistic.

“We’ve still got a lot of hope on this team and a lot of fight left in it,” he said. “We’re two games into the season. There’s plenty of room to turn this thing around.”

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