EVANSTON, Ill -- - Backup quarterback Brendan Sullivan had three total touchdowns in his first start of the season to lead Northwestern to a 23-20 win over Howard on Saturday.
Sullivan filled in for starter Ben Bryant and was the difference maker for Northwestern (3-3). He finished with two passing touchdowns and one score on the ground.
"I'm going to prepare every week like I'm the starter," Sullivan said. "That's the job of the backup: to prepare like you're the starter and then nothing changes. Ben did a really great job of being a really good teammate on the sidelines. He was my No. 1 supporter so give credit to him."
Northwestern didn't waste much time getting on the board. After moving the ball into the Bison's territory on the opening drive, Sullivan faked a handoff and ran down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown to make it 7-0. An intentional grounding penalty on the Bison increased its lead to 9-0.
Howard (2-3) threatened to score with 5:56 left in the first half but failed to convert on fourth-and-2 on the Northwestern 20-yard line. It proved to be the turning point as Sullivan led the offense down the field and threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson II with 26 seconds left in the half.
Sullivan found Johnson for Northwestern's final touchdown with 2:36 in the third to make it 23-7. He finished with 131 yards through the air. Cam Porter rushed for 78 yards while Anthony Tyus added 44.
Howard's offense struggled in the first half before it scored 20 second-half points. Ja'Shawn Scroggins and Jarret Hunter each had 1-yard touchdowns while Eden James added a 64-yard score on the ground. However, two failed fourth-down conversion attempts deep in Northwestern's territory did them in.
"This just shows the resilience of this football team," Howard coach Larry Scott said. "We pride ourselves on that but we just ran out of time. We had to overcome some mistakes there that we have to clean up. Just understanding football games like that are hard to overcome and will come back to bite you."
Wildcats interim coach David Braun said after the game his team needs to do better at closing out games but was happy with the end result.
"I told the guys that the second you start taking winning for granted, you have bigger issues," Braun said. "You celebrate wins. There's so much hard work that goes into this around the year. We're going to hold our heads high."
Quinton Williams finished with 169 passing yards and completed 18 of 30 of his passes. James led Howard with 177 rushing yards.
Bryant did not play against Howard after he sustained an upper body injury during the team's loss to Penn State last weekend. Braun previously said he "anticipated" the graduate transfer would be under center on Saturday but did not commit to Bryant being on the field versus the Bison.
Northwestern: Sullivan showed he is capable of running the Wildcats' system while the team waits for Bryant to return from injury.
Howard: The Bison will be on the road next Saturday when they face Harvard.
Northwestern: The Wildcats won't return to action until Oct. 21 when they face Nebraska on the road in a Big Ten battle.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll