Football: Led by Alviti, seniors shine bright in Music City Bowl win


Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Matt Alviti brings the ball down. The senior quarterback had 54 rushing yards after being pressed into duty in the Music City Bowl.

Cole Paxton, Managing Editor


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Matt Alviti stayed at Northwestern for five years to get a pair of degrees. But he also stayed because of the relationship he had with his “brothers” in the Wildcats’ senior class.

And on Friday, he finally had an opportunity to lead them.

After junior quarterback Clayton Thorson injured his leg on a trick play in the second quarter, Alviti piloted No. 21 NU (10-3, 7-2 Big Ten) to victory over Kentucky (7-6, 4-4 SEC), making him one of a handful of seniors — both frequent standouts and surprising playmakers — who had strong performances to secure the Cats’ 24-23 win in the Music City Bowl.

“For (Alviti) to go out as a bowl champion, as our quarterback, in the toughest circumstances, having one of his brothers go down, what a storybook ending,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

Running back Justin Jackson had arguably the biggest impact, closing his career with a 157-yard, two-touchdown performance on 32 rushes that carried NU’s offense in Thorson’s absence.

Alviti, meanwhile, was far less impressive statistically — he completed just 4-of-11 passes for 50 yards and no touchdowns — but nonetheless led the offense for nearly three quarters and had 54 rushing yards on nine carries. The Cats had zero turnovers and never fell behind after Alviti entered the game.

It was a dreamlike conclusion for Alviti, a highly-touted recruit who lost multiple quarterback competitions and had virtually no significant playing time over his career — he never started a game — but remained in Evanston nonetheless.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Alviti said. “It’s been a long five years. It’s all worth it thanks to guys like this. ”

Senior safety Kyle Queiro also made a significant impact, intercepting a Stephen Johnson pass midway through the fourth quarter, and tiptoeing his way 26 yards along the sideline to give the Cats a 24-14 lead. The pilfer continued a string of significant plays for Queiro, who had four of his eight career interceptions in his last five games and closed his time in purple with arguably the biggest swipe.

“I got one-on-one with the tight end, and I was fortunate to anticipate where he was running,” Queiro said. “I just tiptoed down the sideline and was kind of overwhelmed by emotions after that. I had a feeling that that was going to happen, and it did.”

A pair of Queiro’s partners in the defensive backfield then stood tall in the game’s most significant moment. Senior Marcus McShepard, who at one point endured a shift to wide receiver, and star senior safety Godwin Igwebuike each got fingertips on Johnson’s 2-point conversion pass with 37 seconds left, knocking it to the ground to keep NU in front and secure the victory.

A handful of other seniors also made their marks: Linebacker Warren Long — who came to Evanston as a running back — was “all over the field,” Fitzgerald said; fellow linebacker Brett Walsh anchored a unit that played without one starter and lost another mid-game; and superback Garrett Dickerson addressed the team after Thorson went down.

Fitzgerald, who praised his entire team after the game, had two particular words for the senior class: “special and ridiculous.”

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