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Football: Northwestern falls short to Ohio State in prime time

Junior+quarterback+Trevor+Siemian+surveys+the+field.+Northwestern%27s+offense+stalled+in+the+red+zone%2C+costing+the+team+a+40-30+loss+to+Ohio+State+on+Saturday.+
Junior quarterback Trevor Siemian surveys the field. Northwestern's offense stalled in the red zone, costing the team a 40-30 loss to Ohio State on Saturday.

Junior quarterback Trevor Siemian surveys the field. Northwestern's offense stalled in the red zone, costing the team a 40-30 loss to Ohio State on Saturday.

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior quarterback Trevor Siemian surveys the field. Northwestern's offense stalled in the red zone, costing the team a 40-30 loss to Ohio State on Saturday.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

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ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast from Evanston went off like a dream Saturday morning. Then, Northwestern matched Ohio State blow for blow for more than three quarters Saturday night. A delirious student section at Ryan Field, packed beyond capacity, was ready to explode onto the field.

But a succession of close calls and misfortunes left the Cats a few points behind with seconds to play, and when the Buckeyes jumped on an errant NU lateral to end the game with a touchdown, the campus moaned in disappointment.

The No. 15 Cats lost to the No. 4 Buckeyes 40-30 in a nationally televised thriller that lived up to its immense buildup in every way but NU’s end result. The game featured six lead changes, the last of which — a rushing touchdown from OSU’s Carlos Hyde with 3 minutes and 48 seconds to play — condemned the Cats to a heartbreaking loss.

“We played a darn good football team tonight,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “For most of the game, able to go toe to toe. We just ended up a few plays short.”

After Hyde’s score, NU pushed the ball into OSU territory, but the Cats were stopped just short of a first down on third and fourth down.

On fourth and short, senior quarterback Kain Colter gathered a bobbled snap and lunged forward to approach the first-down marker. The officials spotted the ball just short of the measuring sticks and upheld the play upon review. Though the Cats regained the ball minutes later, the last-ditch lateral play ended with the Buckeyes in the end zone. Afterward, Fitzgerald expressed annoyance with the fourth-down call.

“I thought they spotted it where he initially fumbled the ball,” he said. “It just seems like anytime there’s that big scrum, you’re going to hear, ‘The call stands.’ I don’t like that call. I hate ‘the call stands.’ It usually means ‘there’s something there, but we can’t see it.'”

At several points throughout the night, the Cats appeared in control. NU’s offense executed fluidly in the first half, as quarterbacks Colter and junior Trevor Siemian combined to complete 11 of 13 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown. The score came via a nine-yard completion from Siemian to Colter, who on Saturday night lined up as receiver for the first time this season. Colter further showcased his versatility in the second quarter, scrambling two yards into the end zone on a read-option play.

The Buckeyes’ lone pre-halftime touchdown came courtesy of their special teams unit, which pinned the Cats at their own one-yard line on a short punt late in the first quarter, then blocked an NU punt in the end zone and recovered for six points. The Cats entered the break with a 20-13 lead.

After the Cats began the second half with a field goal to take a 10-point lead, OSU’s Hyde, who finished with 168 yards rushing, scored two touchdowns within a few minutes, giving the Buckeyes their first lead since early in the second quarter.

But trailing in the fourth quarter to a top-five team provoked no defeatism in NU.

“I thought our guys battled our tails off and gave us every opportunity to win,” Fitzgerald said. “I truly believe that the fight that’s inside them is something special.”

Immediately after OSU’s second touchdown, Siemian led a scoring drive in which he completed three passes for 85 yards, the last a touchdown 12-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Cameron Dickerson.

But Hyde’s third score and NU’s ensuing failed drives ended the Cats’ upset aspirations.

“We’ve got to make the plays when they present themselves,” Fitzgerald said. “We can’t turn the ball over. We’ve got to score touchdowns instead of field goals in the red zone. We’ve got to tackle better, and, when we are right there, to make the plays, being more aggressive, and then we’ve got to do a terrific job as a coaching staff to give our guys the best opportunity to win.”

But there were positives for the Cats on both sides of the ball. Senior running back Venric Mark returned from injury to accumulate 56 yards on the ground and 50 more through the air, and senior wide receiver Rashad Lawrence reined in eight passes for 149 yards.

The Cats’ defense forced three turnovers from OSU quarterback Braxton Miller, who completed 15 of his 26 pass attempts and averaged four yards on 17 carries.

Senior defensive end Tyler Scott produced numerous big plays for the Cats, including a forced fumble and fumble recovery on a first-quarter takedown of Miller.

“He made some big plays here and there,” Scott said of Miller. “He coughed it up a couple times, which led to our turnovers. We just needed a couple more plays down the stretch, on him and on Hyde, and it would have been a different outcome.”

Nevertheless, Fitzgerald was far from despondent after his team’s close loss, calling it a “momentary lapse.” Colter said he was proud of what the team accomplished.

“You lose some, you win some,” the quarterback said. “I know every guy that stepped on the field put everything he had on the field, left nothing out there. So, we’re going to walk out of here feeling good. Of course you’re going to look back and wish you had different plays, but that’s football.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @AlexPutt02

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