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.