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Football: Jack Mitchell’s day goes from bad to good with game-winning field goal

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Football: Jack Mitchell’s day goes from bad to good with game-winning field goal

Junior kicker Jack Mitchell attempts a game-winning 35-yard field goal. The kick was good, giving Northwestern a 23-21 win.

Junior kicker Jack Mitchell attempts a game-winning 35-yard field goal. The kick was good, giving Northwestern a 23-21 win.

Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior kicker Jack Mitchell attempts a game-winning 35-yard field goal. The kick was good, giving Northwestern a 23-21 win.

Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer

Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior kicker Jack Mitchell attempts a game-winning 35-yard field goal. The kick was good, giving Northwestern a 23-21 win.

Alex Putterman, Web Editor

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With nine seconds to play in Saturday’s game, Jack Mitchell was having a rough day. The junior kicker had missed a field goal in the first quarter, an extra point in the second and another field goal in the third.

But as the game wound down and it became apparent Mitchell might be needed again, numerous teammates, along with coach Pat Fitzgerald, approached him with reassurance.

“Fitz was telling me the whole game, ‘Stay up, you’re going to be coming up big for us at the end of the game,’” Mitchell said. “I just tried to stay as focused and calm as possible.”

Sure enough, with only a few ticks left on the clock and the Wildcats down 1 point, Fitzgerald summoned Mitchell for a 35-yard kick. And sure enough, Mitchell nailed the field goal to deliver No. 21 Northwestern a 23-21 win over Penn State.

As the Cats crossed into Penn State territory on the game’s final drive, offensive coordinator Mick McCall began calling mostly run plays, essentially forgoing a chance at a game-winning touchdown to take his chances with Mitchell’s foot.

After the game, Fitzgerald said NU decided to kick the field goal if they got to at least the 33-yard line.

“We had the wind at our back,” Fitzgerald said. “A little bit of weather.com checking.”

Despite Mitchell’s earlier misses, Fitzgerald said he didn’t doubt the kicker’s ability to convert the game-winner.

“I had full confidence he was going to make that kick,” the coach said. “When a guy misses a few, you don’t lose confidence in him. You keep talking to him about being fundamentally sound.”

Saturday wasn’t Mitchell’s first turn as a hero. The junior drilled game-tying and game-winning field goals against Notre Dame last season in a 43-40 victory in South Bend, Indiana. Mitchell called that game “good practice” for Saturday’s opportunity.

“With that under my belt, this was not as big of a moment,” he said.

Mitchell said that during NU’s final drive, Fitzgerald asked him where on the field he wanted to kick from, the left hash-mark or the center of the field, to which he replied that he would prefer the ball as close to the middle as possible.

After a series of Justin Jackson runs advanced NU to the Penn State 18-yard line, Mitchell got the ball right where he wanted it. He was prepared.

“I knew it was going to come down to me the whole time,” Mitchell said. “It was a close game — Big Ten games are always close — so you’ve just got to expect that.”

When the game-winning kick sailed through the uprights, those three earlier misses were forgotten, and Mitchell’s rough day became a very good one.

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

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