EVANSTON, Ill. -- Dan Dierking scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 7-yard run and redshirt quarterback Rob Henry rushed for 132 yards in his first career start as Purdue rallied to beat Northwestern 20-17 on Saturday night.
Purdue (3-2, 1-0) opened Big Ten play with a victory despite Henry's struggles in the passing game. He was 6-of-18 for 47 yards.
Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) had a chance to match its best start in 48 years, but was doomed by poor special teams.
Purdue trailed 17-13 in the fourth quarter when Boilermakers defensive tackle Kawann Short blocked Stefan Demos' 41-yard field-goal attempt. Purdue then drove 68 yards for the go-ahead touchdown on a 7-yard run by Dierking, who went in untouched on a fourth-and-1 play with 3:54 left in the game.
Demos also missed a 45-yard attempt with 1:01 to play.
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa was 30-of-41 with 305 yards. On the drive before Demos' final miss, the Wildcats' Jacob Schmidt ran 22 yards to the Purdue 4-yard line, but the play was negated by a holding penalty.
Henry was the Boilermakers' No. 3 quarterback when preseason practice began. Caleb TerBush was declared academically ineligible before the season started and Robert Marve suffered a left knee injury in Purdue's 31-20 loss to Toledo two weeks ago.
The score was 10-10 at halftime. Schmidt caught a screen pass for 17 yards to set up Persa's 5-yard TD run to give the Wildcats a 17-10 lead. The drive was kept alive when Purdue's Charlton Williams was called for holding on a play when Max Charlot intercepted Persa's pass in the end zone.
On Northwestern's third possession, Persa found Jeremy Ebert across the middle for a 38-yard reception to highlight a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Schmidt finished off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Henry answered on the last play of the first quarter when he broke off a 67-yard run through the middle of the Northwestern defense. He was caught from behind at the 9-yard line, but later scored on a 1-yard run.
Later in the second quarter, Northwestern punt returner Hunter Bates fumbled and Albert Evans recovered, setting up Wiggs' 36-yard field goal to give Purdue a 10-7 lead.
On fourth-and-4 at the Purdue 40, Persa eluded Short and flipped a pass to Sidney Stewart for a 16-yard gain, which led to Demos' 46-yard field goal with 41 seconds remaining in the half.
Northwestern last started a season 6-0 in 1962, when Ara Parseghian was the Wildcats' coach.
Nike Men's Purdue Boilermakers Black/Old Gold Team Issue Performance PoloShop
ESPN Big Ten reporter Brian Bennett discusses why the SEC is upset about Michigan's spring break trip and what the NCAA might do about it.
Stanford and Notre Dame split their last two meetings in dramatic contests, and their 2016 matchup will be highly anticipated.
A lawsuit alleges that the University of Tennessee has violated Title IX policies and created a "hostile sexual environment" through indifference toward sexual assaults by student-athletes.
Ian O'Connor, senior writer at ESPN.com, joins The Paul Finebaum Show to discuss Roger Goodell's response to safety concerns in the NFL.
Stanford defensive line coach Randy Hart is retiring after 46 years as a college coach.
The SEC doesn't want Michigan to hold part of its spring practice at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.