Evan Hull’s fumble on potential game-tying drive seals Northwestern’s loss to Duke

Duke’s Brandon Johnson had an interception with 1:18 left, then pounced on the ball after Hull lost it at the goal line with 12 seconds left.

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Duke defensive back Jaylen Stinson (2) forces a fumble in the end zone by Northwestern running back Evan Hull with 12 seconds left.

David Banks/AP

Northwestern running back Evan Hull fumbled at the goal line with 12 seconds left on what could’ve been the game-tying drive, and the Wildcats paid for a slow start with a 31-23 loss to Duke on Saturday at Ryan Field.

Hull caught 14 passes for a career-best 213 yards and a touchdown and had 65 yards and a score on the ground for the Wildcats (1-1), who trailed 21-0 after 16 minutes.

But his last touch ended badly. Duke defensive back Brandon Johnson, who ended NU’s previous drive with an interception in Wildcats territory that set up a field goal with 1:18 left, pounced on Hull’s fumble, which was forced by fellow DB Jaylen Stinson.

“So many times you see that play turn into a touchdown because your guys don’t finish the play,” Duke coach Mike Elko said of the recovery in the end zone. “It’s just a credit to the effort our kids are playing with now.”

Northwestern bounced back from a rough first quarter, but the defense came away looking even worse than it did in a season-opening win over Nebraska in Dublin, Ireland. The Blue Devils practically split their 461 yards between the ground and air and averaged more than eight yards per play. 

“We can’t allow that to continue to happen,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “That’s a recipe for disaster in the long term.”

Wildcats quarterback Ryan Hilinski completed 36 of 60 passes for a personal-high 435 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

“He probably doesn’t throw the ball 60 times if the game didn’t start out the way it did,” Fitzgerald said. “Our guys had great resolve and kept battling, but to sum it up, there was a lot of self-inflicted wounds.”

Northwestern got within 21-10 by halftime and twice cut the lead to five points in the second half.

The Wildcats went for it on fourth-and-three from the Duke 39-yard line late in the third and cashed in when Hilinski found Hull with a short pass. Hull sailed down the sideline for a touchdown. A failed two-point try left the score 21-16.

Duke took the momentum right back on the ensuing possession, a long drive that ended with Leonard’s short scoring pass to Moore.

“Biggest drive of the game,” said Elko, who won his first road game with Duke. “They had all the momentum going, and that’s the time your guys have to answer back. That’s a critical four-point play we had to convert.”

Jordan Waters rushed for a career-best 91 yards and two touchdowns and Jaylen Coleman had 83 rushing yards and a short touchdown run for Duke (2-0). Riley Leonard went 13-for-24 for 240 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He found Jordan Moore with a short scoring pass early in the fourth quarter to give Duke a 28-16 lead. 

Jalon Calhoun had six catches for 108 yards and Eli Pancol added two for 102.

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