Prolific performances and a late fumble mark Hull’s historic day

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EVANSTON, Ill. – For the second time in the third quarter, Northwestern found themselves fourth-and-one.

Running back Evan Hull came to the rescue, breaking through the sea of ​​white uniforms to deliver a first down. But his efforts did not contribute to a score – the Wildcats fumbled on the next play and Duke recovered.

Hull’s burst of speed and subsequent failure on offense was just a snapshot of a highlight-worthy performance for the Minnesota native amid a wider and lackluster offensive outing for NU.

“He’s been absolutely spectacular for two games,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “It’s the way he trains, how he eats, sleeps, prepares – his commitment to not being a good teammate, but a phenomenal teammate. This is what I want the heart of our football team to be, and I know it will carry us through a tough loss.

That fire was evident in Hull’s performance on Saturday despite a wider NU attacking effort with misses and errors. Hull posted a career-high 14 receptions — nine more than his previous career-high — and also led the Cats with 72 rushing yards and 213 receiving yards, the latter stat fourth in a single game in the league. history of the program.

Hull’s role on the pitch was initially central to NU’s strategy. He communicated with quarterback Ryan Hilinski frequently starting in the first quarter, but the Cats offense made little progress.

As the Blue Devils gained momentum, NU focused on their passing game. Down three scores, Fitzgerald and his team opted to throw the ball rather than run. Hull ducked into a receiver role, snapping large chunks of footage off screens and under roads.

The strategy worked. In the first half alone, Hull equaled their previous record for single-game receptions. In the second half, Duke couldn’t stop the Hull-Hilinski connection.

On a fourth attempt late in the third quarter, Hilinski threw a pass towards Hull at Duke’s 38-yard line. Hull took the ball and displayed his speed again, reaching the end zone in a strong moment. Ball in hand, Hull said all he could think about was running – and he saw plenty of green too.

“(I was) confident in my speed and decided I was going to get into the end zone no matter what,” Hull said.

While he delivered a solid performance, Hull made a crushing error that sealed NU’s first loss of the season. With 12 seconds left and the Cats looking for a touchdown and a two-point conversion to even the score, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian tried to catch the Blue Devil defense off guard and called a run. Hull broke all the way to the end zone, but fumbled just before crossing the plane. A Duke recovery secured the Cats’ loss.

Fitzgerald called Bajakian’s decision “courageous” and was proud that the coaching staff trusted the players with the ball.

As a running back, Hull said he was proud of the safety of the ball and was in disbelief when he lost the ball. He thanked his teammates for picking him up afterwards and his faith for getting him through the moment.

Hull’s dynamic performance on Saturday has its roots in training and outside of football. He approaches every practice as if it were a game, he said.

“(I) come in with the mentality that I want to get better at something,” Hull said. “Every day I write down what I want to improve on that day… A lot of that shows up in the game.”

His connection with Hilinski benefited from extra reps after practice and hanging out together off the court. Hilinski said they’ve been spending more time together recently doing things like grabbing pizza and playing video games. This time off the pitch has helped them tackle difficult situations on the pitch together, he said.

“If it’s a big moment, it helps us narrow it down,” Hilinski said. “It makes us realize, ‘Hey, we’re playing a game. We’ve done this before.

There’s no doubt that Hull met the moment on Saturday – making history in the process.

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Twitter: @charvarnes11

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