Northwestern Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa was the 8th ranked national trending term on Twitter yesterday during the Illinois-NU game. Not locally trending, but national. Given his story: playing in his first game in almost a year since tearing an Achilles tendon, looking dominant at times- when he was in there, and then leaving late in the game but it wasn’t immediately clear why.
This narrative all took place within the framework of a wild in-state rivalry game which had three lead changes in the final quarter. Yes, this was college football reality television at its finest. And I haven’t even gotten to what we learned after the game.
Persa threw a career high 4 TD passes in just 14 attempts. He finished 10-14 passing for 123 yards, no interceptions. His rushing numbers were very unimpressive though 9 carries for -3 yards. Persa played his tail off and gave the Wildcats’ offense a familiar spark. Unfortunately, he left the game with a re-aggravation of the injury.
“I just got hit when I was throwing and I felt some pain at the bottom of my heel. I told my coach it was starting to stiffen up and, in the past, that’s when steps back have happened, so it was my decision. Kain came in, did a good job and we got back up, so it was a smart decision at that point. It’s tough when you want to go back in, but at the same time, you don’t want to risk further injury.”
So he could have played, and it seems the decision was more precautionary. And Colter did lead the Cats back down to take the lead; before the Illini offense marched right back down in the final minute. However, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Persa is still not 100%- and probably won’t be 100% versus the Michigan Wolverines next Saturday night.
And that’s a shame because Persa truly looked like the “Iron Cat” he is on Saturday- on two plays especially. The Cats went for it on 4th and 4 in the 3rd quarter. The Illini defensive front had in him pinned down and back for a loss when Persa escaped twice, scrambled and then made a guy miss before completing a pass which converted the down, and led to a TD that put the Cats up 28-10.
The other play involved him ducking as Illini DE Whitney Mercilus (greatest name ever) had in sacked, but Persa got low and he went flying over him. It was like a “suplex” in wrestling. Then Persa broke another tackle in the backfield before turning the play into positive yards.
Mercilus talked about the play and was impressed by Persa’s performance.
“Had he been able to continue playing, the outcome might have been different,” Merclius said.
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