EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — All David Braun knew was just how good this felt. Whether everything else going on at Northwestern made it a little extra cathartic, well, he wasn't sure.
Ben Bryant threw for a touchdown and ran for one, and the Wildcats used a huge second half to beat UTEP 38-7 Saturday afternoon for its first win since a hazing and abuse scandal rocked the athletic department.
Northwestern (1-1) scored all but seven of its points in the second half in stopping a 12-game losing streak and giving interim coach Braun his first victory. The win was the Wildcats' first since last year’s opener against Nebraska in Ireland — and their first on this side of the Atlantic since beating Rutgers at Ryan Field in October 2021.
“What we need is just continued support and we need one another,” Braun said. “But by gosh, does it feel good to see those guys have big smiles on their faces and celebrate like they are. I’m so stinking happy for our players.”
They got their coach to join in the locker room celebration, jumping up and down as they chanted and the music blared.
The Wildcats had lost 18 of 19. But with a sparse crowd watching, they buried UTEP (1-2) in the second half after struggling through the first two quarters.
Bryant threw an 18-yard touchdown to Thomas Gordon on the opening drive of the third. He scored from the 1 just over two minutes later, after Xander Mueller returned an interception 28 yards to the 3.
Joseph Himon II turned a third-down screen from Ryan Hilinski into an 85-yard touchdown to make it 28-7 with just under three minutes left in the third, and just like that, the Wildcats were on their way.
With everything else going on, Northwestern sure needed this.
The school is facing more than a dozen lawsuits across multiple sports with allegations including sexual abuse of players by teammates, as well as racist comments by coaches and race-based assaults. Longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired in July and replaced at least for now by Braun, who was hired last winter as defensive coordinator. Braun, who spent the past four years at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, took over with no college head coaching experience.
“We don't know what the long term looks like,” Braun said. “That's indicative of the title I'm carrying right now. And that's OK. At the end of the day, regardless of how this plays out in the long term, my wife and I and this group is gonna look back and say you know what, we're proud of the way we did it. We stewarded the program. We navigated it through a really difficult time and set it up to have success.”
Bryant didn’t exactly light it up after struggling in the opener at Rutgers. The Cincinnati transfer completed 11 of 17 passes for 116 yards before leaving with an unspecified injury.
Cam Porter ran for 90.
Backup quarterback Jack Lausch scored on a 6-yard run on Northwestern’s first possession after UTEP drove for a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. He also broke off a 46-yard run on a keeper in the fourth quarter, leading to a 4-yard TD for A.J. Henning that made it 35-7.
Mueller had a sack, Blake Gallagher added an interception, and the Wildcats stopped an eight-game losing streak at Ryan Field.
“We know who we are,” Mueller said. “We know our character, try to block out the outside noise and focus on the task at hand, which is winning games. Sticking together is a huge part of that.”
DIFFERENT SPOT, FAMILIAR RESULT
UTEP found itself in a rare spot as a favorite to beat a Power Five team for the first time in 56 years. But the result was a familiar one for the Miners.
Gavin Hardison threw for 192 yards and a touchdown and was intercepted twice.
Deion Hankins ran for 27 after going for a career-high 174 yards in last week’s win over Incarnate Word. And the Miners remained winless over Power Five teams since beating Mississippi in the 1967 Sun Bowl. They’re 0-37 against them since 1998.
UTEP: The Miners went from leading the nation in rushing with 485 yards coming into the game to managing just 104 in this one. They went 70 yards for a touchdown on the game's opening drive, only to stall after that.
Northwestern: The Wildcats got their run game going with 184 yards, a huge improvement after Rutgers held them to just 12.
UTEP: The Miners visit Arizona on Sept. 16, the first time they’ve had back-to-back games against Power Five teams since losses at Arkansas and at Texas Tech to start the 2015 season.
Northwestern: The Wildcats will try to make it two in a row when they visit No. 21 Duke on Sept. 16.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll