By Kevin Sweeney
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but I don’t think Pat Fitzgerald and his Northwestern Wildcats football team will mind.
After being shut out in first half, the Wildcats found a way to win and outlasted Iowa 17-10 in an overtime thriller Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field. With the win, Northwestern moves to 4-3 on the season and 2-2 in Big Ten play.
Northwestern came out of the gates sluggish offensively, but were able to remain in the game thanks to their defense’s ability to bend but not break. Despite being out-gained 238-107 in the first half, the Wildcats trailed by just 7 at the break. The only blemish came late in the half after a blown coverage by the Northwestern secondary led to a 61-yard completion from Nate Stanley to Matt VandeBerg, eventually leading to a 7-yard touchdown catch by TE Noah Fant with 40 seconds to play in the opening half.
Momentum shifted back to Northwestern early in the 3rd quarter. The key play was a 21-yard scramble on 3rd and 15 from the Iowa 49 by Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson. With nothing there down the field, Thorson dodged the pressure and found a hole, picking up the first down and energizing the Wildcats crowd. Four plays later, redshirt freshman running back Jeremy Larkin punched it in from 6 yards out to tie the score. Later, the Wildcats took the lead on a 30-yard field goal.
In the closing stages of the second half, Iowa drove down the field and had set up a 4th and 1 at the 26. The Hawkeye offense remained on the field, but a false start forced a field goal try. Miguel Recinos drained a career-long 48 yard field goal to tie the game with 1:30 to play in the game, sending the game to overtime.
Northwestern opened overtime with the ball and immediately struck first. On 3rd and 9, Thorson found senior running back Justin Jackson. Jackson dodged several defenders in the open field, getting all the way down to the 1-yard-line. Thorson eventually snuck it in to give the Wildcats the lead. Iowa’s attempted to respond, but their drive immediately stalled. Stanley found a wide-open Fant on the game’s final play, but the Fant couldn’t bring it down, and the Wildcats sprinted onto the field to celebrate a huge victory.
Thorson completed 21 of his 36 passes for 192 yards, and Jackson ran for 93 yards on 25 carries and caught 5 passes for 38 yards. Punter Hunter Niswander unleashed an 80-yard punt in the 3rd quarter, the longest punt by a Northwestern player since 1995.
Iowa, which was playing without star linebacker Josey Jewell, falls to 4-3 on the season and 1-3 in the Big Ten. Northwestern limited star running back Akrum Wadley to 3.5 yards per carry, collecting 94 yards on 26 carries.
Next week, the ‘Cats will try to extend their winning streak as they host Michigan State.