Wisconsin can’t catch up to Cats’ trick play

Tania Ganguli and Tania Ganguli

A few hours before the Yankees had to deal with Josh Beckett’s fastballs in Game 6 of the World Series, No. 20 Wisconsin had to face a Northwestern “fastball” on the football field.

The Wildcats beat Wisconsin by more than a touchdown Saturday, so they didn’t technically need the touchdown set up by “fastball,” the fake field goal in the third quarter.

But for a team that is usually the victim of big plays, this one was priceless.

“I knew it was going to work, they had no clue,” linebacker Pat Durr said. “It was a huge play for us, got momentum back on our side, got the fans back on our side. We just took it from there and got the victory.”

Another defensive player, Loren Howard, saw something else on the Wisconsin sideline.

“I remember looking over at the sideline in the third quarter and they were lifeless,” Howard said. “From that point on I knew they’d almost given up. The coach, no expression on his face. Players, no expression. They just stood there like a dead log or something.”

A third-down fumble and recovery by quarterback Brett Basanez led to a fourth-and-six on Wisconsin’s 23. NU set up for a field goal.

Holder Eric Batis took the snap and placed the ball between running back Noah Herron’s legs. Herron — who said he was chosen because he had long arms to reach back for the ball — crouched and cradled the ball behind a wall of offensive linemen. He waited for a few seconds, then burst right 20 yards to the 3-yard line, setting up a Jason Wright touchdown two plays later.

“We do it real fast, and boom it’s gone,” coach Randy Walker said. “You’re kind of going, ‘I saw a bunch of guys run that way, and all of a sudden the ball is going the other way.’ It’s real tough on defenses.”

Wright said the play was “so key” and had “perfect timing,” but he only wished he could have run it. Last year it was his job until he and Herron stood back-to-back one day to see who had longer arms. Herron did, and he got the job.

The “fastball” caught Walker’s eye about 10 years ago when he saw film of Ball State running a similar version. He put it into his playbook and has attempted it about every two years.

In 2001 against Purdue it led to a touchdown, but NU didn’t win that game. The Cats tried it in 1999, but the holder dropped the ball and couldn’t recover. Batis dropped it on Saturday, but picked up the ball in time to save the play.

The last time Walker used “fastball” against a ranked opponent was 1997 when he coached Miami (Ohio) to a win over then-No. 14 Virginia Tech. It created a 32-yard touchdown and gave Miami a 14-10 lead they never relinquished.

But Walker knows that play won’t be useful for a while now.

“It’s out the window now,” he said. “You just dust it off every two years.”