Sidebar: Fitz fires up ‘Heater’ in final moment

Danny Daly

TAMPA, Fla.-Northwestern’s last play in the 2010 Outback Bowl had all the elements of a storybook ending.

The play, called “Heater,” was a favorite of late coach Randy Walker, and the seniors were the last class to play for him. It proved the Wildcats were going for the win, a message coach Pat Fitzgerald stressed repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the bowl. And senior wide receiver Zeke Markshausen, one of the best feel-good stories this season, was in position to score the winning touchdown.

Everything went according to plan, except for the result: Markshausen was forced out of bounds a few feet short of the goal line. That allowed Auburn to squeak out a 38-35 victory at Raymond James Stadium, finally putting NU away after squandering many other chances.

“Northwestern kept coming back and fighting back, and everything we did there was an answer for,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “We had the football game basically under control with a win. All we had to do was hold onto the football, and we turned the ball over, which is absolutely uncharacteristic.”

The Tigers fumbled twice in the final three minutes, helping the Cats rally from a two-touchdown deficit to knot the score at 35. Auburn players committed personal foul penalties on two crucial fourth downs-a roughing the passer in the final minute of regulation and a roughing the kicker on NU’s missed field goal attempt in overtime-that extended the game and gave the underdogs new life. The referees also overturned a fumble by NU quarterback Mike Kafka after further review.

NU was getting all the breaks, while Auburn was worn down with a depleted secondary. Facing fourth-and-goal on the 5-yard line, the Cats needed only one more play to go their way.

“There was no doubt in my mind we were going to win that game,” senior defensive end Corey Wootton said. “When we were driving on that last play, I thought we were going to have it.”

Junior starting kicker Stefan Demos was injured on the earlier field goal attempt, which left redshirt freshman Steve Flaherty, who has never tried a field goal in a game, as NU’s next-best option. So Fitzgerald opted to go for a touchdown rather than a game-tying field goal.

Flaherty lined up a few yards behind the center in drop-kick formation, with Markshausen behind the left guard and sophomore backup quarterback Dan Persa on the right. Persa received the direct snap and, in the process of faking like he was running left, placed the ball between the legs of Markshausen, who was running in front of him. Normally the holder on field goals, Markshausen continued sprinting around the right tackle with Wootton as the lead blocker.

Though the Cats hadn’t run the play in a game this year, they were prepared to execute it.”We had worked on it a pretty good amount in these past couple of weeks,” Wootton said. “We were going to put it out in the perfect situation, and it definitely was the perfect situation. … We were confident in what we were going to do.”

The play seemed appropriate considering the Cats used trickery to win its only other bowl game, the 1949 Rose Bowl. Not only that, but a pass from senior wideout Andrew Brewer to senior superback Brendan Mitchell gave the Cats the game-tying two-point conversion with just more than a minute left.

In the end, despite NU’s strokes of good fortune, it wasn’t to be. And the Cats are right where they started the day, trying to break a bowl skid of 60-plus years.

“(Auburn) made a good play,” Kafka said. “It was there, we were one guy away, one yard away. There’s really nothing else we can say. It’s a shame that we didn’t get it, but they’ll be ready next year.”

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