Football: Northwestern beats Wisconsin thanks to defense, overturned touchdowns


Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern linebacker Nate Hall contests a Wisconsin pass late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game. The Wildcats stopped the Badgers short of the end zone to preserve the 13-7 victory.

Bobby Pillote, Gameday Editor


MADISON, Wis. — Once again, the game came down to the final seconds for Northwestern.

The No. 20 Wildcats (9-2, 5-2 Big Ten) weathered a wild one to beat the No. 25 Wisconsin Badgers (8-3, 5-2) 13-7. NU survived two would-be touchdowns that were overturned on replay in the final minute of the game before forcing an incompletion on the Badgers’ final pass attempt. The improbable victory was the Cats’ first win in Madison since 2000.

“One heck of a defensive battle,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We found a way to make one more stop.”

Wisconsin’s first potential score in the final seconds, a 22-yard pass to tight end Troy Fumagalli, was called back after the replay crew determined Fumagalli’s knee was down at the one yard line. Quarterback Joel Stave found receiver Jazz Peavy on the very next play for what looked like the go-ahead touchdown, but after review the pass was ruled incomplete. Stave was sacked and forced out of the game on the following play, and backup quarterback Bart Houston threw incomplete on the Badgers’ last gasp.

But despite the last-second drama, it was not a game for the offensively-minded, with the two teams trading a total of 15 punts. NU’s defense, however, ultimately held the upper hand.

The defensive effort was spurred by the play of the line, which made a living in the Wisconsin backfield and recorded 11 tackles for loss. Senior defensive end Deonte Gibson led the way with three sacks and four total tackles for loss, including the sack on Wisconsin’s final drive, while senior Dean Lowry and junior Ifeadi Odenigbo each added half a sack apiece.

“(Stave) is a great quarterback and they’re a great team, and we were able to limit them,” sophomore linebacker Anthony Walker said. “He made some plays, but we were able to make one more down the stretch.”

A flustered Stave finished 20-for-34 for 229 yards and tossed two interceptions, the first to senior cornerback Nick VanHoose and the second to Walker. The Badgers committed a total of five turnovers, fumbling three times in addition to the two picks to routinely stunt their offense and set the Cats up with good field position.

The Badgers also weren’t able to get anything moving on the ground, finishing the game with -26 rushing yards. Star running back Corey Clement, limited most of the year with a sports hernia, carried just 10 times.

In addition to NU’s defensive play and Wisconsin’s turnovers, the outcome of the game also pivoted on a bizarre punt return in the third quarter. As the kick was bouncing toward him, Badgers punt returner Alex Erickson crossed his arms back and forth to signal his teammates to stay away from the ball. He then proceeded to field the punt, break through several tackles and sprint all the way to the end zone to give Wisconsin a 13-10 lead.

But the play was called back on a technicality. Erickson, it was ruled, actually called for a fair catch and couldn’t advance the ball. The six points were taken off the scoreboard, and the Badgers failed to score for the rest of the game.

An excellent performance by the defense was necessary given how NU’s offense limped through the contest. Sophomore running back Justin Jackson was the lone positive, tying a career high by carrying 35 times for 139 yards and the Cats’ lone touchdown.

“I feel fine right now,” Jackson said of the heavy workload, “but we’ll see in the next three or four days. You have to do what you have to do to win.”

Junior kicker Jack Mitchell was not the hero, missing two of four attempts. Both missed kicks were within 40 yards, with the first going wide right from just 27 yards out.

“He’s just got to look at some things,” Fitzgerald said. “The first one he came up short on the ball and just didn’t follow through. I haven’t seen that before from him.”

Redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson had one of his worst performances of the season, completing 9-of-20 passes for only 60 yards. No Cats receiver had more than two catches.

But critically, Thorson and everyone else on the offense avoided turning the ball over, and the resulting 5-0 turnover margin proved crucial in a tight game. The defense shined for NU, just as it has all season.

“That was pretty cool,” Lowry said. “Camp Randall is a fun place to play. … We got the win, and it’s a tough place to play.”

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