Football: Northwestern defeats Notre Dame in overtime with game-winning field goal


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern players celebrate with sophomore kicker Jack Mitchell after Mitchell hit a 41-yard field goal in overtime to beat No. 18 Notre Dame 43-40. It was Mitchell’s third field goal of more than 40 yards on the day.

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor


SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Once the kick left his foot, Jack Mitchell had no doubt.

“I looked up and I knew it was in right away,” the sophomore kicker said after the game, “so I started running away.”

Mitchell’s 41-yard field goal in overtime gave Northwestern (4-6) a shocking, season-redeeming 43-40 victory Saturday over No. 18 Notre Dame (7-3) in South Bend, Indiana.

The win snapped a four-game Wildcats losing streak and renewed the team’s hopes of reaching a bowl game. More than that, it provided a struggling program a shot of excitement and accomplishment.

“This is a great team win,” said senior receiver Kyle Prater, who caught 10 passes including a touchdown on the evening. “Nobody gave us a shot, but we kept saying we were going to shock the world, and we did that.”

Maligned senior quarterback Trevor Siemian orchestrated several key drives in the fourth quarter and finished 30-of-48 with 284 yards passing in what he called the craziest game of his life.

The win required heroics from a cast of NU players, including Siemian, but no one came through more than the Cats’ kicker.

Minutes before his game-winning field goal, Mitchell had sent the game to overtime with a 40-yard kick with 19 seconds left in regulation.

That score resulted from a series of Notre Dame blunders, beginning when coach Brian Kelly opted to go for two up 40-29 early in the fourth. Everett Golson’s pass was batted down in the back of the end zone, giving NU the ball down only a touchdown, two-point conversion and field goal.

The Cats drove 73 yards in nine plays to score a touchdown, then scored on their own two-point conversion only after a Notre Dame penalty gave them a second chance.

On the ensuing drive, the Fighting Irish picked up a first down on a pass interference penalty, appearing to seal the game. But running back Cam McDaniel fumbled, returning the ball to the Cats with just enough time to advance to field-goal range.

Mitchell did the rest.

As the sophomore prepared for the tying kick at the end of regulation, Notre Dame called timeout in an attempt to ice him. NU snapped the ball anyway, and Mitchell pushed the practice kick wide left.

During the break, the kicker stood alone on the sideline, thinking, he said, of “nothing.”

“Just stay as calm as possible,” he said of his approach. “Stay away from everyone.”

In overtime, NU stopped Notre Dame on three straight plays, forcing the Fighting Irish into a long field-goal attempt. After that kick missed, the Cats ran three times to set up Mitchell’s game-winner.

NU trailed through most of the evening but always stayed within striking distance. The Cats were behind 27-23 at halftime after a wacky first 30 minutes that included several ghastly NU drops, a blocked extra point returned for 2 points and three turnovers between the two teams.

The Cats kicked two field goals in the third quarter, but the Fighting Irish scored touchdowns in both the third and fourth, setting the stage for NU’s 11-point comeback.

The victory evoked the last time NU and Notre Dame met, in 1995, when the Wildcats upset the heavily favored Fighting Irish to open their season.

Back then, NU coach Pat Fitzgerald wore number 51 and played linebacker.

“It’s much more enjoyable today,” Fitzgerald said Saturday. “Our backs are against the wall. This is a playoff win.”

The Cats outgained the Fighting Irish 547-498 overall thanks to Siemian’s timely passing and a prolific running game that produced 263 yards.

Freshman Justin Jackson carried 23 times for 149 yards and a touchdown, and senior Treyvon Green added 67 yards on 10 carries. Even Siemian got in on the ground game, gaining 32 yards with his legs. Redshirt freshman Matt Alviti scored a first-quarter touchdown from 2 yards out on an quarterback keeper.

NU’s success in the run game was largely attributable to the team’s offensive line, which opened up holes for its running backs and also protected the quarterback better than it has in weeks.

All those performances proved prelude to the triumphant overtime kick. When it fell through the uprights, teammates swarmed Mitchell, then broke off to exchange hugs and celebrate with the NU fans in the opposite end zone.

Prater said the experience felt like slow motion.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s one of those moments you dream of.”

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Twitter: @AlexPutt02