Football: Northwestern falls to 0-6 in conference play after triple overtime loss

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Football: Northwestern falls to 0-6 in conference play after triple overtime loss

Michigan's Brendan Gibbons kicks a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. Northwestern fell 27-19 in triple overtime Saturday, its sixth straight loss of the season.

Michigan's Brendan Gibbons kicks a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. Northwestern fell 27-19 in triple overtime Saturday, its sixth straight loss of the season.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Michigan's Brendan Gibbons kicks a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. Northwestern fell 27-19 in triple overtime Saturday, its sixth straight loss of the season.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Michigan's Brendan Gibbons kicks a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. Northwestern fell 27-19 in triple overtime Saturday, its sixth straight loss of the season.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

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Two weeks ago, Northwestern led by 3 points with less than five seconds to go before being blindsided by an unbelievable play from its opponent. Against Michigan, the form was different, but the formula the same.

The Wildcats (4-6, 0-6 Big Ten) lost their sixth straight game Saturday, falling to the Wolverines (7-3, 3-3) 27-19 in triple overtime at Ryan Field.

NU appeared to have the game won when Michigan completed a pass to the middle of the field with 10 seconds to play in regulation: The Cats led 9-6. But Michigan kicker Brendon Gibbons hustled onto the field and, with barely any time to set his feet, nailed a 44-yard game-tying field goal.

“We were talking in the locker room that somebody did something because we don’t have very good karma,” junior quarterback Trevor Siemian said.

After both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime period and field goals in the second, Michigan won in the third session with a touchdown followed by an interception.

Both teams entered the game having struggled offensively in recent weeks, and the two collided to produce a punt-heavy, action-light slog for almost all of regulation. The teams traded field goals to open the game, then punted on six of their next seven possessions before an NU field goal gave the Cats a 6-3 halftime lead.

The second half opened with four more punts and very little indication of an offensive pulse from either team. Late in the third quarter, NU finally put together a productive drive, using Siemian completions of 26 and 17 yards, as well a 15-yard penalty, to enter field goal range. Senior Jeff Budzien nailed his third kick of the evening, extending the Cats’ lead to 9-3. Michigan responded with another punt, but this one pinned NU at its own one-yard line.

Three plays later, the Cats punted from the three, and the result was disastrous. Kicking into the wind, punter Brandon Williams shanked a floater that bounced at the NU 15-yard line, then caromed backward to the 10.

Despite the field position, Michigan came away with only a field goal, cutting the deficit to three. Two possessions later, after failing a fourth down conversion deep in Cats territory, the Wolverines regained the ball with 2 minutes and 18 seconds to play. Michigan converted two fourth-down conversions and benefited from an NU dropped interception and pass interference penalty. A sack pulled the Wolverines from field goal range, setting up the fateful 16-yard completion and ensuing miracle field goal.

“It happened pretty fast,” Budzien said. “It was pretty impressive that they kicked it, and it was a great kick that they made. It was a huge play on their part.”

After the teams tied in both of the first two overtime periods, Gardner rushed in the go-ahead touchdown in triple overtime, as well as the mandatory two-point conversion. The Cats lost yardage on their response drive, and the game ended when Michigan picked off a Siemian Hail Mary in the end zone.

It was NU’s second consecutive devastating loss, two weeks after the team fell to Nebraska on a last-second desperation heave.

“It’s tough,” Siemian said. “We just have to keep working, keep fighting.  Worry about the things that are in your control.”

Siemian played most of NU’s snaps at quarterback, completing 16 of 25 passes for 137 yards. Fellow quarterback Kain Colter led the team in rushing, gaining 78 yards on 19 carries. But the NU running backs were generally ineffective, and the passing game was limited to short gains.

NU’s defense dropped several interceptions throughout the evening. However, the unit also deflected many Devin Gardner passes and limited the mobile quarterback on the ground. The Cats sacked Gardner four times and were credited with 14 tackles for loss. For the second game in a row, the defense’s inability to stop its opponents on fourth down late in the game sealed the Cats’ fate.

“We just haven’t made any plays,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “That’s the bottom line. We were there to make a couple of them. It looked like we had a (missed assignment) on one of (the fourth downs), the second one, and the one earlier we just didn’t make a play.”

NU needs to win its final two games just to gain bowl eligibility, after entering the season with expectations of a high profile bowl appearance.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Budzien said. “It’s shocking. It’s depressing. If you told me we were 4-6 at this point in the year I would’ve laughed at you. It’s not over yet, but we’ve got to start making plays.”

Email: asputt@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @AlexPutt02

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