Wildcat Magic was in the South Bend air, and the Golden Domers looked a little bit unpolished. Northwestern pulled a rabbit out of its hat and capitalized on Notre Dame’s late miscues to beat the No. 18 Irish 43-40 in overtime. It was nothing short of fun, jovial lunacy. There’s no other way to put it.; the ‘Cats had no business walking out of South Bend victorious on Saturday. But the they defied logic and most likely physics in some way to somehow keep their postseason hopes alive. The win propels them to 4-6 while dropping the Irish to 7-3.
At the beginning of the game, it seemed like Notre Dame would run away with it just like the Las Vegas-based oracle predicted. Senior quarterback Everett Golson ran 61 yards for a score on the fourth play from scrimmage, giving the Irish a 7-0 lead in just 44 seconds. Northwestern responded with a quick drive of its own, finished off by a running two-yard push from redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Alviti to tie things up at seven with 11:28 left in the first quarter.
An NU fumble that was returned for a touchdown put Notre Dame up 13-6. But cornerback Nick VanHoose blocked the PAT attempt and took it all the way to the VanHouse for a defensive PAT, worth two points. Weird football had officially arrived in the home of Touchdown Jesus.
Notre Dame extended its lead to 20-9, but the ‘Cats quickly countered to bring NU within four at 20-16.
In the second quarter, Golson was hit mid-throw, allowing redshirt freshman linebacker Anthony Walker to intercept his pass and return it all the way to Notre Dame’s three-yard line. Freshman Justin Jackson wasted little time, taking it in on the first play and giving the ‘Cats a 23-20 lead with 9:12 left in the half.
But the Fighting Irish continued the back-and-forth pattern, as Golson found sophomore wide receiver Will Fuller in the front corner of the end zone to put them up 27-23 with 5:27 left in the first half.
In the third quarter, sophomore kicker Jack Mitchell came in for his first field goal action of the game and nailed a 31-yarder to pull NU within one at 27-26.
After another Notre Dame touchdown, Northwestern bounced back in the fourth quarter with a 46-yarder from Mitchell, a career long, to make the score 34-29 with 14:18 to go. But the Irish punched back after another interception from Siemian set them up on the NU 13, capitalizing on the Golson-Fuller connection from 11 yards out.
Inexplicably, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly elected to try a two-point conversion. Golson escaped a broken pocket, but couldn’t find daylight in the end zone, and his pass fell incomplete to keep the score at 40-29. That decision proved to be pivotal, but after a Mitchell 38-yard field goal attempt was blocked with 8:43 to go, it seemed like it would be inconsequential.
But the Wildcats said “we do believe in fairies” and rode the symbolic pixie dust into Notre Dame territory after forcing a punt. Siemian rumbled into the end zone from six yards out with 4:10 left in the game to cut the Notre Dame lead to 40-35. This was the first time the ‘Cats had broken the 30 point barrier all season. Coach Pat Fitzgerald (this time) wisely decided to go for two after the score. The attempt was a failed double reverse pass from Tony Jones, but the ‘Cats were bailed out by a pass interference call in the end zone which moved them three yards closer. Taking advantage of the penalty, sophomore runningback Warren Long barreled in to make it 40-37.
Despite the late resurgence, it seemed like Notre Dame had things in the bag as the clock wound down. With less than two minutes to go, the Irish were just icing away the game, converting two first downs and forcing Northwestern to use its final timeout with 1:36 to go.
But then lunacy happened. Senior runningback Cam McDaniel coughed up the ball after taking a hit from senior safety Ibraheim Campbell. NU senior linebacker Jimmy Hall recovered it at his own 28 to give the ‘Cats a shot to tie or win with 1:28 to go.
Siemian didn’t seem to care much about the ‘Cats’ recent history of failure. He completed five passes in a row for 50 yards before the drive stalled, setting Mitchell up for a 45-yarder, barely within his range. Kelly called timeout to ice him, and Mitchell missed left on a practice attempt. But when it mattered, he split the uprights to send the game to overtime with the score tied at 40.
Northwestern won the overtime coin toss, and elected to play defense first. After forcing an Irish three and out from the NU 25, Brindza came on to kick a 42 yarder, which he missed wide left. The crowd was stunned. All the Wildcats needed to do to win was kick a field goal. The offense couldn’t muster much for Mitchell, gaining only a yard over three plays, but he rose to the occasion.
Mitchell’s kick was just long enough to sail through the uprights, and silence the vast majority of the stadium, as the ‘Cats came out on top. The players rushed onto the field in celebration, and the surprisingly large number of NU fans in attendance roared from the far corner of the stadium.
Is Northwestern a better team than Notre Dame? Probably not. But on this magical day, the ‘Cats were able to execute when it mattered, and the Irish were not. This was not a clean football game by any means, and NU could go out next week and lose to Purdue, but that shouldn’t take anything away from the joy of shocking the college football world that anybody connected to Northwestern is feeling right now. This is still by no means a successful season, but at the end of the day, we have this game to remember as something that was pure fun. And sometimes, outside the binary of wins and losses, that’s all that really matters.
Trevor Siemian What can I say? He played maybe his best game at Northwestern. Sure he threw two picks and struggled at times in the second half, but the man passed for 284 yards today, and made some clutch throws down the stretch. For all the flak he’s taken this season (especially from me, sorry Trev), it was great to see him flex on those h8rs and win a huge game for his school.
Jack Mitchell Another ‘Cat who came up big today. He accounted for 15 points, and his only missed field goal out of five attempts was blocked. And that’s not to mention the clutch kicks from almost out of his range to keep the Wildcats alive, and win for them shortly afterwards. He had the game of his young career.
I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of on a psychedelic high, and for once, I’m totally okay with forgetting the negatives and just celebrating the huge win. So, no duds. Every Wildcat is a winner today.