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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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Agarwal: With its back against the wall, NU’s fourth quarter resilience showed its ability to compete in 2023

Seeger Gray/The Daily Northwestern
A.J. Henning celebrates with his teammates after a big play. NU’s comeback victory over Minnesota showed its ability to fight back, regardless of the situation and circumstances.

Everything looked bleak for Northwestern (2-2, 1-1 Big Ten) entering the locker room at halftime in its Saturday bout with Minnesota (2-2, 1-1 Big Ten).

Trailing 24-7 and surrendering 137 rushing yards to running back Darius Taylor, the ‘Cats’ hopes of keeping the contest competitive seemed slim. The offense’s only significant play of the first half was senior wide receiver Bryce Kirtz’s 80-yard reception.

Additionally, the once-crowded student section quickly dwindled, leaving only a few rows of the NU student faithfuls in the second half.

“We challenged the group at halftime to stay the course,” interim head coach David Braun said. “We talked this afternoon that it was going to be a four quarter game, and we’re going to show up with that energy and that edge for four quarters.”

But after the break, the ‘Cats looked more poised than ever on both sides of the ball. To open the second half, NU restricted the Golden Gophers to a five-play drive, setting up a field-goal to make it a two possession game.

However, Taylor upped Minnesota’s lead back to 21, following a 43-yard rushing touchdown with just over two minutes left in the third quarter.

Taylor’s big play looked like the final nail in the coffin. More students headed toward the exits, and Ryan Field was stone cold silent, while Minnesota fans could be heard across the stadium.

But then the fourth quarter came, and graduate student quarterback Ben Bryant made sure not to succumb to the pressure and his defense’s inability to keep the game tightly contested.

“We believed today,” Bryant said. “We’ve been down in every game we’ve played this year. We flipped the switch all throughout the game. It was really cool to see that from our guys today because we really needed that. I’m happy we kept that mentality all game and ended up victorious.”

With a little less than 10 minutes to go, the ‘Cats climbed back into the contest, scoring two touchdowns on back-to-back drives and cutting the deficit to seven. Defensively, NU forced three straight Minnesota punts in the fourth quarter, with no drive surpassing five total plays on offense.

The offense’s nonchalance about the situation rapidly translated to the defense.

Senior defensive back Coco Azema shared the defense’s determined mindset when entering the locker room at halftime, which contributed to its ability to be successful in crucial moments.

“(From) what this team has been through this season, we knew there would be a lot of ups and downs,” Azema said. “We knew if we wanted to go where we wanted this season, we were going to have to fight adversity like this. Going into the locker room, no one was talking. Everyone was staring down and ready to go.”

The ‘Cats’ momentum only grew from there, shutting out Minnesota in the fourth quarter and crossing the pylon with two seconds remaining in regulation. The comeback was almost complete.

Senior wideout A.J. Henning knew it was NU’s game to lose.

“A.J. Henning grabbed me and told me, ‘Coach, we’re going to win this game,’” Braun said about the game-tying play. “You couldn’t have completed a better representation of what this program is about.”

And Henning was right. It only took one play for the ‘Cats to complete the insurmountable comeback with Bryant’s 25-yard touchdown pass to graduate student tight end Charlie Mangieri.

The major comeback showed that this team can’t be counted out, no matter the situation. They have been tested both on and off the field, yet continued to prove skeptics wrong by not buckling under pressure.

With national championship-contender Penn State (4-0, 2-0 Big Ten) coming to town next week, the odds won’t be stacked in their favor once again.

But this school needs a football team that blurs the outside noise and perseveres through its on-field struggles. Although the Nittany Lions will be a tough opponent, the ‘Cats brought one of the better days to Evanston on Saturday.

“For the first time since I’ve been here, if you looked in their eyes and their body language, they weren’t flinching,” Braun said. “Duking it out for all four quarters is a reflection of the character of this team. There was belief that they expected victory tonight, and they achieved it.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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