The Fighting Irish had not played a home game in more than a month before today; the Wildcats had not won across the same stretch. Needless to say, Northwestern and Notre Dame fans alike did not expect such a scene in South Bend.
Both teams scored rapidly; the early highlight being Everett Golson’s 61-yard touch down run 44 seconds into the game. For Northwestern fans, the moment of excitement might have been Matt Alviti’s two-yard touchdown rush.
The Wildcats did have some more bright spots on offense. Siemian established the pass game early on with a pair of receptions to the Dickerson brothers. With the pressure off of the run early in the game, Justin Jackson broke free for a 44-yard rush downfield. Treyvon Green outdid the freshman phenom with his own big run, notching 45 yards on one carry. The two Northwestern backs combined for 221 yards rushing.
There were nearly as many blunders as highlights in this contest. Notre Dame’s special teams bobbled its first two kick off returns and even suffered a blocked PAT, which Nick VanHoose returned for two points. The two teams combined for 10 turn overs, including three interceptions.
Northwestern’s offense had the worst of it, with two picks. The Irish also sacked Siemian twice for a loss of 17 yards . Siemian’s passes were REPEATEDLY tipped, picked, and dropped. In fact, Tony Jones had three different passes—two with great separation and one in the end zone—that all should have been touchdowns in the first half.
Siemian found a few receivers along the way, including Cameron Dickerson for a 60-yard pass. The play stands as the longest by the Wildcats all year, replacing Dickerson’s 54-yard catch against Cal in August. This Wildcat reception also marks the largest single-play-gain by a Notre Dame opponent this season. Kyle Prater also had a big game with 81 yards on 10 catches, one for a touch down.
Notre Dame’s William Fuller made some great plays, including a 42-yard reception; he grabbed 3 touch down passes along the way.
The run game seemed just as impressive. The two squads combined for 302 yards and 4 rushing touch downs in the first half alone. The Wildcats ran for 52 more yards than the Irish, seemingly making the difference in the game.
Late in the game, Northwestern continued to contend with the Irish, although Notre Dame extended its lead to as many as 11 points. The Wildcats battled back in the fourth quarter, going on a 14-6 run to force an overtime.
A strong defensive stand and wide field goal from Notre Dame set the stage for a Jack Mitchell miracle.
Mitchell had already drilled three of four kicks throughout the game, two of them from more than 40 yards out.
With an opportunity to seize victory, Mitchell came out for the kick and Brian Kelly promptly iced him, taking a time out.
“I knew I had to rush and just get a swing in,” explained Mitchell, adding “I felt comfortable after that.”
Coach Pat Fitzgerald called it “probably our most consistent kicking performance of the year,” saying that it “was obviously the difference going down the stretch.”
It goes without saying, Mitchell knocked through the dagger from 41 yards to give Northwestern the win 43-40.
Northwestern came into today’s contest as a true underdog. Few expected the Wildcats to put up a strong fight with the Irish, but they held their own.
This is surely a tough loss for Notre Dame to swallow, considering the game was literally in their hands as time wound down, until a fumble. As Coach Brian Kelly explained, there were multiple mistakes that cost his team the game.
“We’re not making small errors, we’re making critical errors and on defense giving them 15 yards to hold on to drives and then, heck, one key third down we had ten guys on the field,” he said. “We had ten guys. We have a guy that’s a veteran that didn’t know he was supposed to be on the field. That’s unacceptable.”
These surprises and lucky breaks just seem to be the theme of Pat Fitzgerald’s squad: there is no rhyme or reason to the Northwestern Wildcats.
And with the “W” at Notre Dame, as Fitz reminded everyone, Northwestern could have a 13th game pop onto the schedule.
“We’ve advanced to another week to keep this team alive for post-season play.”