EVANSTON—Clayton Thorson knew Northwestern’s 31-20 comeback victory over Nevada wasn’t all his own doing.But for a moment, the junior who threw for two touchdowns and ran for two critical fourth-quarter scores in the season opener for both teams couldn’t help but bask in the spotlight.
”I love it,” Thorson said. ”Everyone else does all the work, and I punch it in.”
His two 1-yard plunges, the first for a 24-20 lead and the second for insurance, made the difference on the scoreboard. His leadership may have made more of a difference in the second half.When receiver Bennett Skowronek fumbled after taking the ball deep into Wolf Pack territory in the second quarter, it was Thorson who told him to let it go.
”I was able to refocus after that,” said Skowronek, who had six of his eight receptions in the second half, including two catches worth 41 yards on Northwestern’s go-ahead drive.
For Thorson, a 352-yard passing day is just another routine outing. For Northwestern, Thorson’s 237-yard second half was what was needed to overcome a Nevada defense playing for the first time under head coach Jay Norvell.
”We expected to have to adjust,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
One adjustment came on Thorson’s first 1-yard scoring play. After stacking the line of scrimmage with linebackers on previous plays, the Wolf Pack allowed a gap, and Thorson exploited it, following the block of right guard Tommy Doles.
”They had a lot of guys in different areas,” Fitzgerald said.
It was the final play in a 75-yard drive that finished off a comeback from a 17-7 deficit. Nevada built its lead on a pair of Ty Gangi touchdown passes and Spencer Pettit’s 31-yard field goal late in the first half, then lost it almost as quickly on Charlie Kuhbander’s 23-yard field goal and Thorson’s 19-yard game-tying TD pass to Riley Lee.
”There’s no consolation,” Norvell said. ”We really came here to win the game. That was our goal; to come here to win the game. We tried to show the players how we could win the game all the way through training camp.”
Nevada’s defense kept it close until it began to show the strain of being the field for 38 minutes. The Wildcats wore the Wolf Pack out.
”They kept battling, kept fighting, making Northwestern work and that was incredibly encouraging,” Norvell said.
Gangi couldn’t get the one interception he threw out of his mind.
”I had some throws I wish I could have taken back; decisions I wish I could have taken back,” said Gangi. ”We came to win. We just didn’t come out on top.To get to the locker room down two (scores) and go back in up two shows a lot of resiliency,” Fitzgerald said. ”But we’ve got a ton of work to do.”