The University of Akron defense produced three defensive touchdowns on the way to upsetting Northwestern 39-34 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill., Saturday night to claim the Zips' first win against a Big Ten team since 1894.

Trailing 21-3 at the halftime, the Zips used torrid defense to cut the deficit and eventually take the lead. Safety Alvin Davis Jr. grabbed two interceptions and returned them both for touchdowns, one for 97 yards and the other for 50.

Linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III got into the act after linebacker Josh Ward forced Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson to fumble into the end zone. Gilbert recovered the fumble for a touchdown.

The Zips couldn’t have played any worse on their way to the halftime deficit, having committed 10 penalties for 92 yards and shooting themselves in the foot. They gained 123 yards on offense in the first half while the defense played tough enough to keep things interesting.

In the second half, the offense responded, coming out to first nail a field goal on its first drive of the half to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 21-6.

On their next possession, which included a crucial fourth-and-2 at the Wildcats’ 27-yard line, Zips quarterback Kato Nelson found wide receiver Andre Williams for a 25-yard touchdown.

Just like that, the Zips are a touchdown and 2-point conversion away from tying the game.

The Wildcats appeared as if they were going to answer that score, driving deep into UA territory. Then Davis struck for a 97-yard interception return which began the scoring avalanche. A 2-point conversion failed, making the score 21-19.

Northwestern answered with a score on its next drive to run the score to 28-19 with 1:08 left in the third quarter. Nelson and the Zips offense answered with a drive capped by a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Maverick Wolfley with 24 seconds left in the third to draw the Zips to within two at 28-26. From there the UA defense took over.

George M. Thomas can be reached at Read the Zips blog at Follow him on Twitter at