All Purdue wanted was a first down to avoid having to punt out of its end zone.
Instead, the 13th-ranked Boilermakers produced the longest play in their 112 years of football and a 31-23 victory over Northwestern. Drew Brees' 99-yard touchdown pass to Vinny Sutherland with 6:20 left came just after Northwestern nearly had a safety on the two previous plays.
"We said, Hey, we've got to try and make a first down, so we called for a pass," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "I saw the ball floating in the air. It was going slowly like it was in slow motion. Vinny made a nice move to get open and I was thinking is he or is he not going to catch it. Once he did, I didn't think anyone would catch him because of his speed."
Purdue (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) was protecting a 24-23 lead when the game turned. Sutherland caught the ball around the Purdue 40 and outraced two defenders for the score.
The previous longest play in school history was a 95-yard touchdown pass from Len Dawson to Erich Barnes against Northwestern on Nov. 12, 1955.
"It was not the play that was called," Brees said. "We checked off at the line, and Vinny came open late. The offensive line brought a lot of time for me. Vinny turned the route upfield and took it to the end zone."
"I knew I was behind the secondary, and Drew let it fly," Sutherland said.
"It was a slant that went down the field a ways. He (Brees) made a great shot over the top of us," Northwestern coach Randy Walker said. "We couldn't have scripted it (the defense) any better."
Bress completed 32 of 50 passes for a season-high 405 yards and three ouchdowns as Purdue extended its winning streak to 10 games. The junior moved past Mike Phipps into fifth place on Purdue's career list for passing yardage with 5,530.
The winning streak is the longest for the Boilermakers since an 11-game run from Nov. 17, 1928 to Oct. 4, 1930. Purdue also has opened with four victories for the first time since 1967.
Northwestern (2-2, 0-1) went into the game a four-touchdown underdog but kept Purdue's defense off balance with the running of Damien Anderson, the passing of Nick Kreinbrink and the receiving of Teddy Johnson.
Anderson had career highs of 38 rushes and 150 yards. Kreinbrink connected on 17 of 38 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson, who didn't have a catch in Northwestern's first three games, caught seven passes for 128 yards and one touchdown.
Purdue scored the first two times it got the ball to lead 10-0. Randall Lane returned the opening kickoff 25 yards to the Purdue 34 and seven plays later, Chris Dorsch kicked his third 47-yard field goal of the season.
Following a Northwestern punt, Purdue moved 81 yards in nine plays to score on a 2-yard toss from Brees to Sutherland. Brees completed five passes for 43 yards on the drive, which also included a pass interference call against the Wildcats.
Northwestern had an 84-yard touchdown pass from Kreinbrink to Johnson nullified by a holding penalty early in the second quarter and the same combo combined for a 25-yard TD with 1:14 left in the half. The score capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive, which included two passes from Kreinbrink to Jon Schweighardt for 31 yards.
Purdue moved 68 yards to a first down at the 2 as time ran down in the half. Brees, who completed six consecutive passes for 46 yards on the drive, downed the ball since Purdue had no timeouts remaining. He then threw incomplete and, on third down, Northwestern's Napolean Harris and Chris Jones combined for the first sack of Brees this season.
Brees fumbled the ball and Northwestern's Jeff Dyra recovered at the 11.
In the third quarter, Northwestern took a 14-10 lead on a 3-yard TD toss to John Cerasani to cap an 80-yard, 10-play drive. Purdue responded with a 47-yard TD run by J. Crabtree, who had 113 on 13 rushes.
A 24-yard field goal by Tim Long tied the game at 17-17 and Northwestern regained the lead when Kevin Bentley stepped in front of Sutherland on a pass in the flat and returned it 40 yards for a score. However, the extra point attempt by Long was blocked after a high snap and Purdue then moved 65 yards in nine plays to score on a 4-yard pass by Brees to Stratton.
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