Football: Northwestern edges Iowa 17-10 in overtime after back-and-forth finish


Alec Carroll/The Daily Northwestern

Justin Jackson runs with the ball. The senior ran for 93 yards and hauled in five catches against the Hawkeyes.

Ben Pope, Reporter


Two crucial conversions by Northwestern — and two crucial gaffes by Iowa — gave the Wildcats a 17-10 overtime victory in a slugfest-turned-thriller Saturday.

Junior quarterback Clayton Thorson scrambled for 21 yards on a third-and-15 in the third quarter to set up a game-tying touchdown, then senior running back Justin Jackson evaded a series of defenders on a third-and-nine conversion in overtime to help NU punch in what proved to the game-winning score.

On the other side, a false start on fourth-and-inches forced Iowa (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten) to settle for a tying field goal in the final minutes of regulation, then a wide-open drop on fourth down in overtime cost the Hawkeyes the game.

The end result was a victory in the first overtime game at Ryan Field since 2007 and an above-.500 record for the Cats (4-3, 2-2) for the first time since the season’s opening week.

“Great players show up in big-time moments,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We had guys step up.”

Thorson finished 21-of-36 for 192 yards through the air, capped off by his overtime completion to Jackson — who tallied 131 total yards on 30 touches — that allowed the shifty runner to not only pick up the first down but get down to the one-yard line.

“I saw two guys in the open field and was like, ‘Oh, they’ve got no chance (of tackling Jackson),’” Thorson said. “So I knew at that point we were getting the first down. And then he kept making plays and I was like, ‘Holy cow, we’re going to score.’”

Two plays later, Thorson himself found the end zone on a touchdown plunge that put Iowa behind the eight-ball, needing to score a touchdown on its overtime possession just to force a second overtime.

The visitors’ hopes of doing so collapsed when quarterback Nate Stanley’s fourth-and-three pass to tight end Noah Fant bounced off Fant’s chest, hit the turf and sent a large portion of the announced crowd of 40,046 home happy.

Stanley had an otherwise solid outing, passing for 223 yards and recovering from an ugly interception to lead a game-tying drive — which could’ve been game-winning if not for the false start — that culminated in a 48-yard field goal with 1:30 left.

Meanwhile, Iowa running back Akrum Wadley was thoroughly bottled up by a resurgent NU defensive line in the second half and finished with 90 yards.

“We were focused on being able to stop the run and setting the edge and making (Wadley) cut it back up into the heart of our defense,” sophomore defensive end Joe Gaziano said. “We have linebackers … who can make plays when we make him cut it back.”

Both teams had opportunities to end the game in their favor before the fifth frame but squandered them.

Iowa failed to collect any points from two first-quarter drives inside the 30-yard line and led only 7-0 at halftime despite holding a 238-107 yardage advantage at the time.

Later on, after the Cats took the lead on a 30-yard field goal with 8:07 to play, NU’s offense wasted an interception by freshman safety J.R. Pace and a chance to put the game away by going four-and-out. Then, following Iowa’s tying field goal, the Cats elected to go to overtime instead of attempting a winning drive against the wind.

Fitzgerald said that decision, met by boos at the time, originated from his trust in his defense — and Saturday, that trust paid off in a win.

“Fitz definitely, at the end, called our name and (figuratively) said, ‘They’ve been playing well all game and I feel like they can step up,’” Gaziano said. “Making that decision put a lot of confidence in our defense to be able to go out and be able to make that stop.”

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