Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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NU KO: Cats outlast Iowa, 22-17

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The hits were bigger. The crowd was louder. The big plays were more spectacular. This was Big Ten football at its finest.

And when the dust settled, Northwestern was the last team standing.

View photos from the game

In a game described by everyone involved as a heavyweight fight, the Wildcats threw the bigger punches. Delivering the knockout blow with an inspired goal-line stand, NU (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) outlasted Iowa (3-2, 0-1) 22-17 to keep its perfect season alive.

After the game, the Cats were exhausted but triumphant.

“We knew it was going to be a 15-round fight and go down to the wire,” senior wide receiver Rasheed Ward said. “This was pretty big.”

Ward’s understatement came after his improbable circus catch set up the game’s frenetic finish. With the Cats trailing 17-16 early in the fourth quarter, the senior made a leaping, one-handed grab of a desperate lob by quarterback C.J. Bachér and powered forward into a Hawkeye defender, who hit Ward helmet-to-helmet.

The resulting penalty gave NU a first-and-goal at the Iowa 5-yard line, and two plays later Bachér connected with wide receiver Eric Peterman for a three-yard touchdown that gave the Cats the lead for good.

“(Bachér) just lobbed it up there, and I just stuck my hand out and it was right there,” said Ward, who finished with a career-high 10 catches for 94 yards.

As big as Ward’s catch was – Bachér called it the biggest play of the game – even more crucial plays were yet to come. In the game’s final seconds, Iowa mounted a last-ditch drive and had first-and-goal at the NU 8-yard line. Four times, Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi threw for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown. Four times, the Cats were there to knock the ball away.

After defensive tackle John Gill rose up to knock Stanzi’s fourth-down pass to the ground, NU had its biggest victory of the season.

“Football is all about big plays, either making them on your end or finding a way to create them on defense,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I thought our guys made more in the second half.”

It didn’t seem like any amount of big plays could save the Cats after their lackluster effort to start the game. With more than 70,000 rabid fans cheering them on, the Hawkeyes literally ran over the Cats for most of the first half.

A week after holding Ohio to a mere four yards rushing, NU was dominated in the first half by tailback Shonn Greene and the Iowa offensive line. The Hawkeyes rushed for 99 yards in the first quarter alone, with Greene accounting for 96 yards on 10 carries.

On Greene’s last carry of the first quarter, he cruised untouched into the end zone from 23 yards out to give Iowa a 10-0 lead.

“They ran hard in the first half,” safety Brad Phillips said. “There were a few big plays here and there where guys weren’t in the right gaps. That’s how they gashed us.”

Greene’s relentless running forced the Cats to stack the line of scrimmage, and late in the second quarter, the Hawkeyes took advantage. After Stanzi froze the NU safeties with a play-action fake, he threw deep to Andy Brodell, who beat cornerback Jordan Mabin for a 45-yard touchdown to give Iowa a 17-3 lead.

The Cats went three-and-out on the next series, and the Hawkeyes appeared poised to blow the game open. But Brodell fumbled Stefan Demos’ punt, and NU’s Jeravin Matthews fell on the ball at the Iowa 33 to give the Cats new life.

The ball was back in Bachér’s hands, and five plays later it was in the end zone. Ward’s one-yard touchdown catch cut the deficit to 17-10.

NU rode the momentum into the second half. Starting the third quarter with the ball, the offense drove 76 yards in just four plays past a suddenly overmatched Iowa defense.

“Our offensive line played great, our receivers made a lot of big plays,” Bachér said. “(Running back) Tyrell (Sutton) made a lot of big plays.”

Sutton led the Cats with 150 all-purpose yards a week after injuring his left hamstring against Ohio.

Bachér ended the drive with a play-action pass to Peterman for a 16-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 17-16. But kicker Amado Villarreal missed the game-tying extra point.

The score was still 17-16 early in the fourth quarter when the Cats’ defense delivered its most emphatic punch of the day. With the Hawkeyes driving in NU territory, Greene bounced a run outside, where Phillips leveled him with a bone-jarring hit.

Greene dropped the ball as he went to the ground, and defensive end Corbin Bryant recovered the fumble, the Cats’ season-high fifth takeaway of the day.

The senior safety’s big hit set up the final frantic minutes, where both teams seemed to have victory in their grasp. But Phillips always believed in an NU win.

“There was no doubt in our minds,” he said. “We just made the last big play.”

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NU KO: Cats outlast Iowa, 22-17