For Northwestern, it wasn't about revenge, but it was still sweet. There was no trash-talking, piling it on, or storming the field. It was just pure, clean humiliation of a nemesis. The Land of Lincoln Trophy will stay in Evanston following a 50-14 drubbing of Illinois.
The in-state rivalry game was no contest. Northwestern took care of business against the lesser Fighting Illini. In the fourth quarter, the only concern for Pat Fitzgerald was attempting to get every one of his players in the game.
"That's a good problem to have," he said with a smile.
In Champaign last season, following an Illinois comeback victory, "Sweet Home, Chicago" taunted their opponent from the Memorial Stadium loudspeakers. A raucous celebration ensued after the final whistle.
This time around, the game was long in hand. Northwestern's 33-unanswered points did the talking. Junior quarterback Kain Colter stepped in with 10 seniors for victory formation, ticking the clock to zeroes.
The song played to celebrate was "Go U Northwestern" as the Land of Lincoln Trophy was hoisted in the air. It was exultant, not mocking.
"We just wanted to focus on us," said Colter, who handed the heavy trophy to his offensive linemen. "Our values and our character in this program, that's what we follow on. What other teams do, we don't really focus on that."
Northwestern last grasped the Land of Lincoln Trophy in 2009. The two games which followed offer painful memories for the Wildcats. They flushed those and retained the hardware.
"I think that trophy belongs in our trophy case and should stay there for a while," said tailback Venric Mark, who rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Illinois started with the fire to battle its rival. Donovonn Young capped an 11-play drive with a 15-yard touchdown run. The Fighting Illini appeared poised for an upset. That didn't last long.
First, Jeff Budzien connected with a 44-yard field goal. Seconds later, senior linebacker David Nwabuisi returned an interception to the two-yard line, nearly running into Illinois coach Tim Beckman. Kain Colter scampered in for a touchdown, handing NU the lead and momentum.
The Wildcats took command toward the conclusion of the second half, first with a Venric Mark touchdown run, then later a Jeff Budzien field goal. Still, Fitzgerald expressed his frustration in the locker room during the halftime break.
"We felt like that was the worst half of football we've played in a month," said Fitzgerald. "The only thing we can do about it was get it fixed."
Northwestern did everything right in the second half. An 11-play drive was capped by senior tailback Tyris Jones scoring on a 15-yard touchdown catch, extending the lead.
The dagger was drilled in when Kain Colter's final pass of the day fell in the hands of former offensive tackle Paul Jorgensen, left all alone in the open field. The beatdown was on.
"The only disappointment I had in the running backs was the way Bo Cisek put the ball on the ground," joked Fitzgerald.
It was a workmanlike effort for Northwestern, but the forward-focused attitude was put on pause as the program's winningest senior class enjoyed its moment.
"You were able to see a lot of emotion from a lot of guys -- especially in the locker room -- knowing it was going to be the last time playing on that field," said quarterback Kain Colter. "Only we know what we put in a day in and day out throughout the season and in the offseason. That really forms a brotherhood among us."
Northwestern awaits its postseason fate, but has likely secured a berth in a prestigious bowl. The Wildcats' focus turns to killing the symbolic monkey which is now 64 years old.
"The way our guys play for each other is huge," senior defensive end Quentin Williams said. "I think we'll pull it out this year."