by: Noah Fromson
Evanston, Ill.— In a game lacking offensive execution, the Michigan Wolverines beat Northwestern by a final score of 10-9 after the Wildcats failed to complete a game-winning two point conversion with three seconds left in the game.
The first quarter started slowly as both struggling squads’ drives stalled near midfield. Michigan’s rush defense, second in the Big Ten in opponent yards per carry coming into the game, stuffed Justin Jackson on 4th and 2 with just under seven minutes left in the first quarter to halt Northwestern after two big third down conversions.
The game was scoreless after one quarter, but a careless interception from Trevor Siemian with 1:30 to go in the first quarter gave Michigan an opportunity in NU territory. But the Wolverines got greedy on 4th and 1 at the NU 16, and Chi Chi Ariguzo stopped Michigan running back De’Veon Smith short to end the drive two minutes into the second quarter.
Matthew Harris picked off Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner with 90 seconds remaining in the half, but Siemian gave it right back on a tipped-pass interception by defensive lineman Matthew Godin at the NU 35 yard-line. Michigan attempted a 41-yard field goal with 15 ticks to go, but Nick VanHoose leaped in to block Matt Wile’s kick, and the half ended in a scoreless tie.
Michigan’s offensive woes continued as Northwestern recovered a fumble on a shotgun snap to Gardner that ricocheted off a receiver in motion at the MICH 27. But Jack Mitchell’s missed 36-yard field goal extinguished the Cats’ momentum.
Both teams’ opening drives in the third quarter were duds, but with just over seven minutes left in the quarter, Tony Jones muffed a punt return that Michigan recovered at the NU 21. After an 18 yard pass from Gardner to Funchess, Michigan struck first as De’Veon Smith took it to the house from three yards out to give Michigan at 7-0 lead with 6:49 left in the quarter.
“I forgot to lock my elbows and it was a very costly mistake,” Tony Jones said. “Those plays can change the outcome of the game…[and] I have got to be better. I take full responsibility for the play.”
Northwestern gave it right back on a quick three-and-out, but Michigan couldn’t capitalize. With around five minutes left in the quarter, Gardner fired a bullet that was nabbed by Ibraheim Campbell and returned for 79 yards to the MICH 11. In the game’s fashion, a sack and intentional grounding call dropped NU back to the MICH 43, and they punted for the seventh time. Michigan led by seven at the end of the third quarter.
Michigan’s Delonte Hollowell made an athletic catch to down another punt at the NU 1 yard-line at the beginning of the final quarter. But Siemian began the drive 4/4 for 47 yards and led the Cats 95 yards, but NU could only come up with a field goal to make the score 7-3 with 7:26 left in the game.
After a 16-yard pass from Gardner to to tight end Jake Butt and a few big runs by Smith at the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Michigan hit a 37 yard field goal to make the lead 10-3 with 3:10 remaining in the game.
NU started its final drive at its own 26 yard-line, and Siemian drove the offense to the MICH 28. Michigan’s Raymon Taylor committed a pass interference penalty that gave NU first and goal with 45 seconds remaining, and Siemian hit Tony Jones for a touchdown with three seconds left on the clock.
In a risky two-point conversion attempt, Siemian tripped over his own feet, and Northwestern’s hopes of a last second victory ended in sadness.
When asked about his decision to go for two at the end of the game, head coach Pat Fitzgerald said he made the decision with six minutes remaining in the game.
“As poorly as we played last week, I thought the guys prepared well, but at the end we just ended up three yards short,” Fitzgerald said.