Football: Counting down Northwestern’s top 10 plays of the year

Bobby Pillote, Gameday Editor

There are plenty of plays that define a season, especially for a 10-2 team that had a knack for finding itself in close games. From plays that dazzled to sequences that decided games, here are Northwestern’s 10 best from 2015.

10. Clayton Thorson’s touchdown run against Stanford
For a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first collegiate start, it doesn’t get much better than scoring the only touchdown of the game to upset a ranked opponent. That’s exactly what Thorson did on this play, flashing impressive speed and the scrambling ability that was crucial to his success the rest of the season.

9. Godwin Igwebuike’s strip and fumble recovery at Duke
The sophomore safety has a proven nose for the ball, having posted a three interception performance against Wisconsin in 2014, and showed that turnover-inducing ability here. Igwebuike negates a long run from Duke’s Shaun Wilson, sprinting across the field to rip the ball out of Wilson’s arm and falling on his own forced fumble.

8. Deonte Gibson’s sack at Wisconsin
It took several excellent defensive plays and/or questionable calls to get to this play, but the senior defensive end put the game on ice with this takedown of Badgers quarterback Joel Stave. The signal caller was forced to leave the game, and Wisconsin couldn’t convert the long goal-to-go situation on the following play, handing NU the win.

7. Solomon Vault’s kickoff return touchdown at Duke
Special teams touchdowns are always exciting, and this sprint from the sophomore running back was no exception. The Wildcats needed every point they could get in a tight road battle, and Vault delivered.

6. Kyle Queiro’s interception against Stanford
It’s no surprise that NU’s stellar defense had a multitude of decisive plays. The sophomore safety flashes impressive athleticism on this pick of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan and also has the awareness to slide down and let the offense run out the clock, cutting off any chance of a comeback for the Cardinal.

5. Solomon Vault’s kickoff return touchdown against Penn State
Once again, the Cats needed some special teams play to eke out a close win and Vault delivered. This one takes the cake over his Duke return because of how Vault handles a low kick and then completely sprints past everyone on his way to the end zone.

4. Mike McHugh’s hurdle against Purdue
This play is great, like all hurdles are, but it’s also especially hilarious because of how much effort the junior wideout exerts to pickup an extra two yards.

3. Dan Vitale’s touchdown at Illinois
The senior superback displays impressive concentration here, staying with the ball as he bobbles it and turning upfield for the game-tying score. The dive earns Vitale a few style points.

2. Nick VanHoose’s pick-six at Nebraska
NU needed points on a day its offense was once again sputtering, and the senior cornerback came up huge with this interception return for a touchdown. That VanHoose also makes two offensive linemen look silly for trying to chase him down is icing on the cake.

1. Christian Salem’s “Hold of the Century” against Penn State
No, this isn’t a joke. On a day that junior kicker Jack Mitchell missed two field goals, junior holder Christian Salem no doubt played a big role in keeping Mitchell focused. He also handled a very poor snap to set up a game-winning boot and give NU a surprising comeback victory. As a bonus, this highlight also shows junior receiver Austin Carr’s catch on a drive leading up to the field goal.

Honorable Mention: Solomon Vault’s (non-)touchdown catch against Minnesota
This play was overturned after review, which is why it didn’t make the cut. But it was questionably still a catch and regardless looks incredibly impressive.

For a full look back at the 2015 season, visit The Daily’s Gameday page.

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Twitter: @BobbyPillote