Upset victory over Ohio St. breaks streak

Tania Ganguli

Minutes after Northwestern defeated No. 7 Ohio State 33-27, defensive tackle Luis Castillo fell to his knees exhausted and overjoyed, looked up into the sky and threw his arms into the air.

Out of the stands poured thousands of students onto the field, celebrating the Wildcats’ first victory over the Buckeyes since 1971.

“What are they, No. 7? No. 6? Ohio State, 33 years, Saturday night lights, prime time TV,” Castillo said. “I mean, what else can you say?”

Plenty. It was a game of firsts for the Cats’ players and coaches.

NU coach Randy Walker’s first win over Ohio State and Buckeyes’ coach Jim Tressel’s first loss to the Cats.

Castillo’s first sack of the season on the first play of the game.

Receiver Mark Philmore’s first career touchdown.

Cornerback Jeff Backes’ first career interception.

“I”m going to quote a great Ohio State coach,” Walker said. “Woody Hayes wrote a great book (called) ‘You Win with People.’ In that book he describes and talks about all the heroes that he coached, cause his players were heroes.

“I was thinking about games last night and I thought this game had the chance to be memorable,” Walker said. “I didn’t think about the scores, I thought about the guys, the players, the job they did, and how hard they played and how good I feel for them. The reason you do this (is), I chose to be surrounded by my heroes.”

NU scored first and never trailed. The Cats held a 10-point lead with 10 minutes left to play, and Ohio State fans trickled out of the stadium unwilling to watch their team lose.

Kicker Mike Nugent hit a 29-yard field goal for NU after outside linebacker John Pickens and Nick Roach sacked Ohio State quarterback Justin Zwick seven yards back on a third down. Three plays after the field goal, Bobby Carpenter picked off a pass from NU quarterback Brett Basanez at the Wildcats’ 21 yardline, but NU responded with their own interception. Backes dove in front of Ohio State receiver Bam Childress to turn away the Buckeyes.

“Maybe a couple weeks ago we would have folded, we would have let them get a touchdown and that would be the game,” Castillo said. “But we came out and responded great. Backes made a great play.”

That play was the third time Ohio State had gotten within NU’s 20-yard line and been unable to score a touchdown, they settled for field goals on the other two.

With the Buckeyes still seven points back, Ryan Field’s event management staff gathered in the hallway to discuss how they would handle the students rushing the field — they wouldn’t try to stop the fans, they would just make sure nobody got hurt.

But the Buckeyes weren’t finished yet.

In a hurry to score another touchdown and tie the game, Ohio State sped downfield, garnering four quick and consecutive first downs.

That set up a 21-yard touchdown pass with two minutes remaining from Zwick to receiver Santonio Holmes that sent the scarlet sections of the capacity crowd into a deafening frenzy.

They roared through the end of regulation and into overtime, but were stunned silent when Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent missed a 40-yard field goal. Nugent had not missed a field goal all season, and he missed only three kicks in 19 attempts last season.

Basanez scrambled 21 yards on the next drive to set up the game’s final play: running back Noah Herron’s third touchdown. This time the rest of his team followed Herron into the end zone, jumped on him and a 24-game losing streak to Ohio State snapped.

“It is tough to accept (the loss),” offensive tackle Rob Sims said. “Not so much about the streak, but we lost to a team we didn’t think we could lose to.”

The Cats gained 444 yards to the Buckeyes’ 308. Walker relied on Herron for every rushing carry. The senior had three touchdowns and 125 all-purpose yards. The Buckeyes had not allowed as many points since their 35-21 loss to Michigan last season, and they allowed more yards than the y have all season.

Ohio State had fewer first downs, rushed and passed for fewer yards, converted fewer third downs and allowed four sacks while never sacking quarterback Brett Basanez. Basanez completed 24 passes for 278 yards, threw two touchdowns and two interceptions. It was his third 200-yard passing performance this season.

“It reminded me of two great heavyweights in the 15th round, and we were just trading blows,” Walker said. “Fortunately we got the last one in.”

After leaping into each other’s arms and running around the field, the Cats gathered together and faced a football field full of ecstatic NU fans. One assistant coach emerged from the locker room holding a sign that said “Trust Yourself.”

“I keep saying the big thing is trust, trusting each other,” Basanez said. “We’ve kind of grown each week into that. Last week it was kind of hard to trust each other, but this week the mentality in practice was we just knew we could do it.”

That trust led to confidence and gave the Cats a night to remember.

“Every victory is great,” Backes said. “But this is one I will never forget.”