Football: Wildcats’ fourth-quarter comeback attempt thwarted by Notre Dame


David Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

A Notre Dame tackler wraps up receiver Charlie Fessler. The Wildcats’ fourth-quarter comeback came up short against the Fighting Irish.

Cole Paxton, Gameday Editor


All of a sudden, Northwestern had returned from the dead. A long touchdown drive turned a 17-point deficit into a 10-point margin. A blocked punt led to a short scoring drive a moment later, and Notre Dame’s lead was cut to a measly 3 points.

Then, the No. 4 Fighting Irish (9-0) rolled four minutes off the clock, driving the length of the field and reestablishing their two-possession lead. The drive fizzled the Wildcats’ (5-4, 5-1 Big Ten) fourth-quarter comeback, and helped Notre Dame secure a 31-21 victory at Ryan Field on Saturday night.

“We felt like we had to get it to a one-score game in the fourth quarter to give ourselves a chance to win. We got it there, and then they went on a great drive to win the game,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We had every opportunity to (win), but we didn’t make those plays that we needed to make down the stretch in a hard-fought battle.”

The visitors went 89 yards on 10 plays to put the game away, aided by a pair of third down conversions that blocked NU’s opportunity to give its offense the ball back. When quarterback Ian Book tiptoed 23 yards up the Fighting Irish sideline into the end zone, just 2:45 remained.

Book’s touchdown was only important because of the Cats’ resilient fourth quarter effort. Thorson had thrown for only 76 yards with 13:05 to play, but led a 70-yard touchdown drive in less than two minutes, and the touchdown after Ruiz’s blocked punt had the NU bench upbeat.

“It was great on the sideline. We felt we were right back in the game,” Thorson said. “With our offense, and our two-minute offense, we never felt like we were out of the game. We felt confident.”

But that mood quickly changed.

“They got a big score, and they came up with a stop,” Thorson quickly added, “and that was it.”

When NU did get the ball back, trailing by 10 with 2:45 to play, it went meekly. Thorson was sacked on the second play of the drive, and his fourth-down pass two plays later came up short, handing the Fighting Irish the ball back with barely a minute to play.

It was a far cry from the Cats’ late-game offense in recent games. NU stormed the length of the field in less than two minutes against Nebraska to send that game to overtime, and put together an efficient fourth quarter drive to secure the go-ahead score at Rutgers.

But on Saturday, the Cats’ strong play early in the fourth quarter gave way to a weaker effort late in the period. With it, NU was unable to secure a landmark win on a long-awaited night.

“Late in the game, you can look back at things you wish would’ve gone differently,” senior guard Tommy Doles said. “When we have the momentum, we want to be able to keep playing.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @ckpaxton