EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Tyrell Sutton ran for 110 yards and Northwestern closed its season with a 27-16 victory over Illinois on Saturday to avoid finishing last in the Big Ten.
Sutton finished with 1,000 yards after rushing for 1,474 as a freshman last season. He carried 34 times and scored on a 2-yard run early in the third quarter that extended the lead to 24-16.
C.J. Bacher completed 22 of 30 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown, with Shaun Herbert catching four for 77 yards. Northwestern (4-8, 2-6) dominated time of possession, 39:03 to 20:57, and held Illinois to 279 yards -- 84 in the second half.
Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall broke off an 86-yard touchdown run in the second quarter -- the fourth-longest rush in school history -- and finished with 113 yards on five attempts. But it wasn't enough to prevent the Illini from finishing in a tie for last place with Michigan State.
Isiah Williams was just 4-of-18 with 65 yards for Illinois (2-10, 1-6), which lost its seventh straight and fell to 4-19 in two years under coach Ron Zook.
One week after committing five turnovers in a 54-10 loss to No. 1 Ohio State, Northwestern led 17-16 at the half thanks to two penalty-aided touchdowns and an overturned interception that led to a 36-yard field goal by Joel Howells in the closing seconds.
Northwestern gambled on the kickoff to start the second half, and it worked.
The Wildcats recovered an onside kick at the Illinois 42, and Sutton scored from the 2 to make it 24-16. In between, he kept the drive alive with a 6-yard reception on fourth down that put the ball on the 30, and Bacher and Shaun Herbert connected for 28 yards.
Illinois drove from its 11 to the Northwestern 16 early in the fourth quarter, but stalled. On second-and-one at the 15, Williams lateraled to E.B. Halsey, who threw to Jacob Willis in the end zone, but a leaping Marquice Cole deflected it with one hand. And an open Chris James dropped a pass in the flat on fourth down that would have kept the drive going.
Those plays summed up Illinois' afternoon, one filled with drops, penalties and mistakes that bordered on comical. Like when Alan Ball ran into Halsey, who was signaling for a fair catch on a punt later in the fourth.
Howells added a 22-yard field goal that made 27-16 with 2:17 left.