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  • Purdue's Rondale Moore races to the end zone for a touchdown against Northwestern during the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, in West Lafayette, Ind. (John Terhune/Journal & Courier via AP)

Friday, August 31, 2018 1:27 am

Mistakes prove costly as Boilers lose opener

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue spent the summer and early fall deciding between Elijah Sindelar and David Blough at quarterback. Sindelar won the competition and started the season-opener against Northwestern on Thursday.

By the end of the first half, Blough was in.

In between, Sindelar tossed three interceptions, including two in his own territory, and Northwestern scored touchdowns off of all three, propelling the Wildcats to a 31-27 victory at Ross-Ade Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 47,410 despite a record-setting game from Purdue freshman Rondale Moore.

Northwestern got the ball with 7:57 left and held it until the final minutes. Purdue seemed like it would have one last chance to win the game after it stopped the Wildcats on a crucial third down. On the stop, however, defensive lineman Lorenzo Neal committed an unnecessary roughness penalty, giving the Wildcats a first down and letting them run out the clock to end the game.

"We killed ourselves tonight," Blough said. "Penalties, missed tackles, turnovers, penalties at the end of the game. ... We gotta do the little things the right way. It's so frustrating. I don't know if you all can see the steam coming out of my head, but this one hurts."

Northwestern led 31-17 at halftime and Blough led his team back in the second half. A 45-yard run from DJ Knox set up a touchdown on Purdue's first drive of the second stanza to cut the deficit in half. Knox took the ball in from two yards out and he finished with seven carries for 77 yards.

The next time the Boilermakers got the ball, they marched 76 yards on 14 plays, wiping 6:46 off the clock. The threat of Blough scrambling opened holes for the Purdue running game and the quarterback kept it himself several times for solid gains, but the drive ultimately ended in a field goal and Purdue's best chance to draw even came up short.

"(Blough) gives us that (running) element," coach Jeff Brohm said. "He's got athleticism, he's got some savvy to him, he's got a knack for making plays. I thought he did a good job."

The victory was Northwestern's ninth in a row, extending the longest active winning streak among Power Five conference teams. For Purdue, the loss snapped a string of 14 straight years in which it had won its home opener. The Boilermakers have lost twice in their last six games dating back to last season and both losses have come to the Wildcats.

Northwestern's 21 points off turnovers in the first half made a major difference, as Purdue out-gained the Wildcats 472-401. Sindelar made several big throws and finished with 196 yards in the first half, but his interceptions helped Northwestern build a solid lead.

"Elijah is a very good quarterback, made some good throws, got into some good rhythm," Brohm said. "With him, we try to take a few shots (downfield). We're not great at protecting a long time, so when that breaks down, he's gotta understand, just throw the thing away. ... It's disappointing, because at the end of the year (in 2017), he did not do that."

Moore, a true freshman playing his first college game, was the contest's breakout star, gaining 188 yards rushing and receiving and adding 125 on kickoff returns to give him 313 all-purpose yards, breaking a Purdue record that had stood at 312 since 1972. 

"Not good enough," Moore said of his performance. "We didn't win. In our receiver room we like to pride ourself on the receivers doing the most. When we have a bad practice or a bad day, we take it upon ourselves, so I was not good enough."

The Louisville native also scored two touchdowns in the first half, one on a 32-yard reception off a crossing route and the other a 76-yard rush on a jet sweep, the longest run by a Purdue player since 2014. Moore, the top recruit in Purdue's 2018 class, was bottled up in the second half, but was clearly one of the best players on the field in either uniform.

"Rondale is special and I've been trying to tell people that all summer since I saw him," Blough said. "Some incredible plays. I was just waiting for the hat trick, the kickoff return for a touchdown. He's incredible. I tried to downplay how we were gonna use him (to the media) because I knew he's special."

The Purdue defense was on its heels early in the game and Northwestern went on long scoring drives on its first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead. Moore's heroics helped his team climb back into the game and Purdue's defense was much better thereafter.

Linebacker Markus Bailey was a terror, coming up with several big hits and finishing with nine tackles, while the youthful defensive line got some push against the Northwestern offense. Former Bishop Dwenger cornerback Antonio Blackmon had five tackles and batted away a pass intended for former Homestead receiver Bennett Skowronek, who finished with three catches for 47 yards.

dsinn@jg.net