Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa made his first start in six games Saturday at No. 24 Illinois, and was able to quiet a loud Homecoming crowd in Champaign with a three-yard touchdown toss to receiver Jeremy Ebert late in the second quarter. Persa's pass to Ebert put the Wildcats ahead 14-7 with 2:08 to play in the first half. An Illinois 49-yard field goal by kicker Derek Dimke cut NU's lead to 14-10 at the half.
The pass was a glimpse of the 2010 edition of Persa, who routinely connected with Ebert before Persa ruptured his right Achilles Nov. 13, 2010 against Iowa at Ryan Field.
Persa showed some rust early on when the Wildcats went three-and-out on their first two drives. Persa was sacked once and also had to contend with a couple of low snaps from freshman center Brandon Vitabile.
But Persa regrouped and connected with superback Drake Dunsmore on a six-yard pass early in the second quarter. Persa engineered a 12 play, 69-yard drive that took 4:57 off the clock and tied the score at seven.
Tailbacks Treyvon Green and Mike Trumpy have been handling much of the load in the backfield during the first half, trying to help limit Persa's carries as much as possible. Persa had said during training camp that he wanted the backs to carry the ball more, especially coming off such a catastrophic injury.