NU beats Indiana after comeback, 29-28

Danny Daly

Down 28-3 at home against Indiana, Northwestern’s postseason aspirations looked bleak at best. The Wildcats had been outscored by 42 points in their last 50 minutes of play dating back to the second half of the Michigan State loss, and another defeat would have dropped their record to 4-4 with only one winnable game left.

Then the Cardiac Cats used up one of their nine lives. NU scored 26 unanswered points to steal a 29-28 win and complete the biggest comeback in school history.

Everything that could go wrong for NU in that first quarter-and-a-half did go wrong. Coach Pat Fitzgerald chose to defer, and his defense promptly gave up a 70-yard touchdown run around the right end on the first play from scrimmage. On third-and-four during the ensuing drive, senior wide receiver Zeke Markshausen had a rare drop. And even though the Cats managed to stall the Hoosiers’ offense, the punt was downed at the 1-yard line.

It did not get much better after that. Indiana punched it in on each of its next two possessions, with a sneak by quarterback Ben Chappell and short burst from redshirt freshman running back Darius Willis. When NU finally got on the board, cutting the deficit to 21-3 on a 28-yard field goal by kicker Stefan Demos, Indiana senior Ray Fisher ran the kickoff back 93 yards to give his team a 25-point lead, its biggest since the second game of last season.

But the Hoosiers would not score again. Kafka ran in the Cats’ first touchdown from a yard out, and Markshausen made an acrobatic catch in the back corner of the end zone seven seconds before halftime to make it a two-score game.

The momentum carried over into the second half. Redshirt freshman cornerback Ricky Weina’s blocked punt was recovered by Indiana for a safety, giving the Cats two points and possession. NU also made two crucial fourth-down stops – one of which was on fourth-and-goal from the goal line, and the other on the fringe of field goal range. The Cats drove 98 yards to get within two points, capped off by a touchdown pass to senior wideout Andrew Brewer that spanned half the field.

Demos kicked the 19-yard game-winner from the left hash mark, a difficult angle for the left-footed kicker. When Indiana kicker Nick Freeland’s 59-yard attempt fell short as time expired, NU’s comeback victory was sealed.

Click here to read the liveblog of the game at Cats’ Corner.