Football: Field goal salvages game

Colin Becht

After practice Wednesday, coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked about how senior kicker Stefan Demos needed to improve following his performance in nonconference play.

In those first four games, Demos missed three field goals and two extra points, and had another extra point blocked.

“I think he’s fine,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t know what troubles you’re talking about.”

After he missed another extra point in Northwestern’s 29-28 win at Minnesota, Fitzgerald conceded that his kicker has played better.

But with the Wildcats trailing 28-26 with about two minutes to play, Demos salvaged what would have been a demoralizing loss with a 27-yard field goal.

“The (extra point) miss was unacceptable, I’m glad I got the chance to make up for it,” Demos said.

Demos’ recent struggles gave NU fans good reason to worry, short yardage or not.

“He’s been through a lot,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s been there and done it. This is not his first time going out there making a game-winning field goal. It’s not his first time, unfortunately, having something go bad.”

Demos shanked the ball wide left on his extra point miss, which would have tied the game, but instead left the score at 21-20 early in the third quarter. Had the Cats not come back to win, that missed extra point would have likely taken the brunt of the blame for the loss in the eyes of fans.

“Unfortunately, I just think he pulled his head up there a little bit and pushed that one,” Fitzgerald said. “If a guard misses a block, nobody asks me about it in a postgame press conference. That’s what he signs up to do as a kicker. He’s got to do his job 100 percent of the time, and he knows that.”

Still, Fitzgerald said he wasn’t worried that Demos was rattled by the miss after watching him on the ensuing kickoff. That kickoff left Minnesota to start its next drive at its own 12-yard line.

“Typically, the hallmark for me if Stef isn’t in the right place mentally is if he comes back with a less-than-stellar performance on a kickoff after something that doesn’t go well,” Fitzgerald said.

So when the Cats’ drive stalled at the Minnesota 5-yard line late in the game, Fitzgerald had little to say to Demos, who had the game resting on his shoulders.

“I just told him to go do what he does, just trust himself,” he said. “That’s why he’s a guy that should be an All-Big Ten level kicker.”

Last year, Demos was named to the All-Big Ten second team and he was named a candidate for the Lou Groza Award before this season.

Demos’ teammates said they had nothing to worry about from their kicker, even though he has shown that sub-30-yard field goals aren’t guarantees. In his last 27-yard attempt before Saturday, his kick was blocked in the fourth quarter against Vanderbilt.

“We knew he was going to make it,” quarterback Dan Persa said. “Each play is its own entity, and we don’t talk about the past, just worry about the play.”

When Demos’ kick sailed from the left hash mark through the middle of the uprights, he added his third game-winning field goal over the past two seasons. Last year, Demos’ 49-yarder against Eastern Michigan and 19-yarder against Indiana both propelled the Cats to victories.

Although there hasn’t been much evidence of it on the field this season, Fitzgerald said he believes removing Demos from punting duties has aided the kicker’s focus on the kicking game.

“Taking a little off Demos’ plate has been real helpful,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s doing a nice job. Unfortunately we’ve just had a couple of one-rip breakdowns.”

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