NU loses 38-35 in Outback overtime thriller

Robbie Levin

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Riding a six game bowl losing streak, with an especially painful overtime loss to Missouri still lingering from last year, Northwestern came into the Outback Bowl playing to win. That was coach Pat Fitzgerald’s mentality on the last play of the game, when the Wildcats decided to go for a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal. But Auburn cornerback Neiko Thorpe had other ideas. Thorpe stopped senior wide receiver Zeke Markshausen two yards short of the endzone, and the Tigers came away with a 38-35 victory.The final period capped off a wild game in which senior quarterback Mike Kafka was 47-for-78 for 532 yards, both NU and Outback Bowl records. Kafka set another Outback Bowl record with five interceptions. Of those five, two came in the Cats’ endzone.Down 21-7 at halftime, NU tied the contest with two touchdowns in the third quarter-a 35-yard strike to senior wide receiver Andrew Brewer and a 66-yard catch and run by sophomore superback Drake Dunsmore.But the game wasn’t tied for long. Auburn jumped out to another two-touchdown advantage halfway through the fourth quarter. With its back against the wall, NU scored two touchdowns in the final three-and-a-half minutes to push the game into overtime. First, senior quarterback Mike Kafka scored on a two-yard keeper with three minutes and 20 seconds left. Three plays later senior safety Brad Phillips rammed into Auburn running back Ben Tate, forcing a fumble at the NU 30. The Cats drove 69 yards in 82 seconds, and Kafka capped off the drive with an 18-yard rocket to junior wide receiver Sidney Stewart for a score.Auburn return man Demond Washington fumbled the next kickoff, and NU’s offense set up junior kicker Stefan Demos for the game winning 44-yard-field goal. Demos, who had already missed one field goal in the game, shanked the ball wide right.In overtime the Cats won the toss and chose to go on defense first. They held Auburn to a field goal, but after a wild series of events-including the reversal of a game-ending fumble and a roughing the kicker call on Demos’ third missed field goal of the day-NU went with a trick play on fourth-and-goal.On the day, 18 Outback Bowl records were broken and ten were tied. Kafka alone shattered records for most yards, completions, interceptions thrown, plays and attempts. NU’s offense set records for most yards of offense, first downs by penalty and kickoff returns.