Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Never back down, never surrender. Northwestern completes comeback in 37-34 overtime win over Minnesota

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Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer
Senior tight end Charlie Mangieri runs across the end zone to give Northwestern the winning touchdown in overtime. The Wildcats defeated Minnesota 37-34 in a thrilling overtime comeback

Fans leaving, the student section basically nonexistent and a trailing deficit with 5 seconds on the game clock, it seemed there was no way Northwestern was coming back and securing a win. 

Well ‘seemed’ never met senior wide receiver A.J. Henning.

Henning’s stellar 11 yard catch in the endzone was a play out of a movie, giving the Wildcats a second chance in this game that wasn’t expected nor projected to happen.

A second chance it was indeed for NU’s (2-2, 1-1 Big Ten) 37-34 overtime win Saturday versus Minnesota for its first home conference game of the season. Coming back from a 21 point deficit, the Wildcats’ careless mistakes and costly turnovers early in the game stood no chance against the squad’s pure grit and hustle.

Even though the game seemed finished by the end of the first half, NU’s determination to stay in the game played a tremendous role in keeping the squad in the game. 

Before kickoff, the festivities at Ryan field were in full swing, welcoming the incoming freshmen class of 2027 with the long-standing Wildcat Dash. The vibes in the stadium were a breath of fresh air in comparison to last season’s campaign. Already accomplishing new heights and a win in the United States, the Wildcats’ needed a win over the Gophers.

Yet, the need for a win does not mean NU can be crowned victorious without action on the field. The Cats came out of the gate hot, with an energy that hasn’t been noticeable in their previous three games of the season. But, NU’s Saturday Night Lights contest started dimming at the expense of costly turnovers and penalties leading to short possessions.

By halftime, the game was not in NU’s favor, trailing by 17 points with slim chances of getting back in the lead by the end of the next two quarters.

Despite the adjustments head coach David Braun’s squad made during the recess, the third quarter resembled a reiteration of the same plays from the first half of the match. The Cats still struggled with third down conversions, going 4-for-13. A whopping 30.8% conversion rate was not going to match against a solid Minnesota defense.

NU didn’t care about the odds. They played with intensity and made a statement that they weren’t leaving Ryan Field without a fight.

Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s win:

Takeaways

  1. ‘Cats clean up offensive mistakes in second half to help win game

Aside from their win over UTEP two weeks ago, NU’s offense has struggled in multiple ways. It looked like this would continue on Saturday after five penalties were called in the first half. 

However, in the second half, NU tidied the miscues up, only picking up two. In comparison points wise, the ‘Cats scored seven points in the first half versus 30 in the second. 259 of graduate student quarterback Ben Bryant’s passing yards came in the second half as well.

“Everyone contributed today,” Bryant said. “There’s a lot of positives to take away from today but there is also study we can improve on and can get better at.”

Coming back from a 21-point deficit to win a game is an offensive statement in itself. And with all-around support from senior running back Cam Porter on the ground, senior wideouts Bryce Kirtz and A.J. Henning running routes and sixth-year tight end Charlie Mangieri’s winning touchdown, they hit on all cylinders.

  1. Defense saves lives, or at least, NU’s life

After the third quarter, the ‘Cats outscored the Golden Gophers 27-6. Of course, this is a testament to the offense’s effectiveness, but also the defene’s stoutness as well. As time went on,  NU’s defensive unit continued to rise to the occasion, shortening Minnesota’s runs and denying most passes. 

Between senior linebacker Bryce Gallagher and senior defensive back Coco Azema leading the charge, Gophers’ quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis experienced trouble moving the offense down the field. The two upperclassmen led the team in tackles with seven and 10, respectively. 

NU embraced the saying, ‘defense wins championships’ fully on Saturday, with a hustle and drive that could be promising for the rest of the season.

  1. ‘Second half team’ rings loud in overtime win

After only seven points in the first half and six penalties, the ‘Cats bounced back with 30 points and two penalties in the second half. 

Following the UTEP game, where NU poured it on the Miners in the second half with 31 of their 38 coming then, Braun emphasized to his group how much of a second half team they are. 

Saturday once again proved this theory to be correct. 

As the contest continued, the ‘Cats’ prowess strengthened on both sides of the ball. A game that seemed to be in Minnesota’s back pocket entering halftime flipped on its head after the break. This skill will be key in games later in the season.

  1. Bryce Kirtz has potential to be the ‘Cats’ star player

Out of Bryant’s 396 passing yards, 215 of those came from connections with senior wide receiver Bryce Kirtz. The Indiana native’s receiving yards were the third-most in program history, alongside his two touchdowns  the Indiana resident stole the spotlight Saturday.

Kirtz’s mesmerizing 80-yard touchdown was one of the highlights from NU’s offensive performance. Additionally, he made impressive catches through coverage and remained unphased by the Gophers’ defense.

“I’m going to leave (my performance) behind me and try to do it again next week,” Kirtz said. “We really just have to keep going and continue to win.”

Kirtz’s career day solidified him as the No. 1 option in the wideout room and  is a promising sign for upcoming conference games.

  1. Students that left at halftime have another chance next weekend

Although the stands at Ryan Field were a sea of purple at kickoff, the purple pride weakened after the first two quarters, where most of the student crowd was gone by the start of the third quarter. 

However, the ‘Cats are back at Ryan Field next weekend to welcome in No. 7 Penn State for a morning matinee. Hopefully, an earlier start time and a big win against Minnesota will ensure that the fans remain seated in their seats for the entire contest.

“(The game tonight) tells the story of the guys that are part of this team,” Braun said. “For the students and the Northwestern community as a whole, what a great rallying moment for all of us to look forward to what this team is going to do moving forward in the story of their own writing.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @sswann301

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