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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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Football: Kirtz’s historic night fuels improbable Northwestern comeback victory over Minnesota

Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer
Redshirt senior wide receiver Bryce Kirtz holds the ball in the endzone after scoring his second touchdown against Minnesota. Kirtz caught 10 passes for 215 yards on Saturday.

It takes a certain type of character to tackle adversity head on, and Northwestern interim head coach David Braun and company faced more than their fair share of obstacles against Minnesota, who had won the matchup in their past three meetings.

But that “character” proved potent in one battle-tested wideout. On the night when the class of 2027 and transfers traversed from one end zone to another in an age-old tradition, redshirt senior wide receiver Bryce Kirtz made his own Wildcat Dash into immortality.

The Golden Gophers made the most of early Wildcat woes and held the lion’s share of the first half’s momentum. Minnesota grabbed the contest by the scruff of the neck, and the moment seemed too grand for the hosts.

Needing nothing short of a miracle, NU turned to one of its most veteran offensive players. Kirtz’s star power illuminated the darkest of nights, when most would’ve counted the ‘Cats out of contention.

Complete with three-score deficits, Saturday’s contest formed a familiar challenge for a player that has overcome four knee surgeries over the past four years.

“The young man is confident; he believes in himself and his teammates,” Braun said of Kirtz. “The way he approaches practice, it’s confidence (and) consistency.”

Kirtz’ career-night jump started when NU was down 21-0 late in the second quarter. Lining up on their own 20-yard line, graduate student quarterback Ben Bryant looked Kirtz’s way on a double move the wideout said he practices all the time.

Kirtz made his defender bite on a feigned in-route and created just enough separation to break the play wide open. He hauled in Bryant’s lofted launch behind midfield and outpaced a pack of pursuers en route to his first career collegiate touchdown.

“We knew that their corner was gonna play aggressive, so coach (Mike Bajakian) dialed that up in the press box, and I just had to execute,” Kirtz said.

Despite the receiver’s eye-opening 80-yard score, NU once again stared down the barrel of a 21-point hole as the final quarter loomed. Trailing 31-10, many fans had long since headed to the exits. A once-packed student section scattered into a small segment.

But Kirtz and his teammates never relinquished their hope, Braun said.

“I kept going up and down the sideline, (and) for the first time since I’ve been here, you looked in their eyes — you looked at their body language — they weren’t flinching,” Braun said.

After the ‘Cats clawed back within two scores and notched a crucial defensive stand, the offense trotted back onto the field with just over 10 minutes remaining. If Braun’s group could muster enough momentum, it was now or never.

And in firestorm fashion, NU drove 69 yards on three pass plays prior to finding paydirt — all three were hauled in by Kirtz. Following a pair of right-sideline catches combining for 52 yards, Kirtz carved through the zone coverage and snagged his second touchdown of the night.

“We’re always talking, picking each other’s brains about how we’re gonna execute a certain route,” Bryant said of his relationship with Kirtz. “I’m just so happy for him.”

While his 17-yard grab marked Kirtz’s final tally on a 10-catch, 215 yard and two touchdown day, the pass catcher’s play placed the ‘Cats in prime position for what became their first home Big Ten West victory since 2020.

Kirtz’s monster day through the air marked the fourth most single-game receiving yards in program history — and the potential emergence of a late-blooming receiving star for NU that was years in the making. The Brownsburg, Indiana native appeared in all 12 ‘Cats’ games last season, but never found the end zone or breached the 100-yard mark in any contest.

The lights may have turned off in the minutes following a field storm and another raucous hero’s reception for Braun and his team, but performances like Kirtz’s will remain fresh in the memories of those who bore witness.

“My performance — I’m gonna leave it behind me and try to do it again next week,” Kirtz said. “So we really gotta keep going and continue to win.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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