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NU’s football team is 8-3 on the season, with Illinois up next on Saturday.

After an impressive Homecoming victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes, they gave away a win over Michigan but rebounded against Michigan State at East Lansing, 23-20, last weekend.

The Iowa game was the 6th of 7 home games this season for the Wildcats and the second time attendance topped 44,000. With one game remaining, the Saturday after Thanksgiving against in-state rivals Illinois, attendance has already topped 217,000. Last year, just over 200,000 visited Ryan Field for that season’s six home games.

Attendance is averaging more than 36,200 per game this year, easily besting last year’s 33,442 average and 2010’s 35,528 average (because one “home” game was at Wrigley Field in 2010, the ’Cats only played 5 games at Ryan Field in 2010).

Every ticket sold adds “athletic contest tax” to the City’s revenue stream. According to the City’s budget, Evanston expected $70,000 in direct revenue from ticket taxes, an increase over the $643,000 collected in 2011. Based on attendance numbers thus far, Evanston can expect to exceed budgeted amounts.

Athletic events also bring increased economic activity to downtown Evanston, as fans often visit local restaurants before and after the football game. This impact is difficult to quantify directly, but real.

As for the Iowa game, Northwestern continued to run the ball extremely well, a hallmark of their offense this season. Quarterback Kain Colter led the team with 171 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. But running back Venric Mark was not far behind with 162 yards including a 72 yard burst when the ‘Cats were pinned on their own one yard line.

The passing game accounted for only 84 yards, with 47 of them coming on a Colter bomb to wideout Christian Jones.

The ‘Cats carried a lead into the fourth quarter, but nervous fans held their breath as Iowa scored to close within 11 at 28-17. Fans recalled fourth quarter collapses in Penn State and a week earlier against Nebraska at Ryan Field. In both those contests the ‘Cats led by double figures in the 4th quarter only to lose as the defense could not stop their opponent and the offense could not get the critical first down needed to milk the final minutes off the clock.

Homecoming proved to be different, however. Perhaps it was the alumni in the stands, including members of the reunion classes who at the end of the third quarter announced a gift of over $15,000,000 to the University. Or perhaps it was the band alumni (the “NUMB Alums”) that joined the band on the field at halftime. Whatever the cause, Northwestern’s defense was able to hold Iowa out of the end zone, and when Colter dashed for his 39 yards on third and 5 with under two minutes to play, the outcome was decided.

The ’Cats reclaimed their fourth-quarter woes against Michigan but gritted through a tense win against the Spartans.

They close out the regular season at home, hoping to move to 9-3 and a significant post-season bowl game. Then one mountain remains – winning in a bowl for the first time.