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    Bowl Champions! Northwestern Wins Gator Bowl, 34-20

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Northwestern reached a 10-win season with Tuesday's win in the Gator Bowl.
    Northwestern reached a 10-win season with Tuesday's win in the Gator Bowl.

    Jan. 1, 2013

    Box Score |  Quotes |  Notes |  Photo Gallery 1  |  Photo Gallery 2 

    WATCH: Game Highlights | BTN Game Recap | Trophy Presentation | Postgame Press Conference | Q. Williams Postgame Interview | T. Scott Postgame Interview

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    Event: 2013 Gator Bowl
    Score: 21/17/20 Northwestern 34, Mississippi State 20
    Records: NU (10-3, 5-3 Big Ten), Mississippi State (8-5, 4-4 SEC)
    Next NU Event: Season Complete

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    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Northwestern jumped out to a fast 13-0 lead Tuesday at the 2013 Gator Bowl and rode an NU-bowl-record four interceptions to a 34-20 victory over Mississippi State and a 10-win season.

    NU's 10-3 record marks the first double-digit win season since the 1995 Big Ten Championship team, of which current head coach Pat Fitzgerald was a member. The Gator Bowl win also gives Fitzgerald his 50th as NU's head coach, making him Northwestern's all-time leader in victories by himself.

    The game marked NU's 11th all-time bowl appearance and fifth straight.

    The Wildcats' four interceptions matched the program's previous bowl best set in the 1949 Rose Bowl, which Northwestern won over California. Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell, who was responsible for all four interceptions, had thrown only six picks in the Bulldogs' 12 regular season games this year.

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    With a game-high 10 tackles and a near interception late in the game, Jared Carpenter was named the 2013 Gator Bowl MVP.

    Offensively, quarterback and Florida native Trevor Siemian finished 12-of-20 passing for 120 yards -- including several clutch third-down conversions -- and one rushing touchdown. Among his most popular targets on the day was freshman superback Dan Vitale, who led the 'Cats with seven catches for 82 yards. Sophomore Christian Jones also caught five passes for 39 yards.

    As they have all season, the Wildcats started fast when, on the third play from scrimmage, senior DL Quentin Williams dropped into coverage and intercepted Mississippi State's Tyler Russell. Williams went untouched 24 yards on the return for his first career touchdown and a quick 7-0 Northwestern advantage.

    The Bulldogs regrouped on their next drive and moved inside the Wildcats red zone, but the NU defense answered the bell again when safety Ibraheim Campbell stepped in front of a Russell pass on the sideline for his fourth career interception.

    NU moved the ball on its first offensive drive, marching 69 yards on 15 plays before Big Ten Kicker of the year Jeff Budzien stepped on and coolly hit a 34-yard field goal to put NU in front, 10-0.

    Northwestern forced another three-and-out for the Bulldogs -- a series punctuated when Tyler Scott sniffed out an MSU screen pass to force a loss on third down -- to turn the ball back over to NU. The 'Cats handed the ball to Siemian, who orchestrated a return trip for NU into the red zone. The drive culminated in Budzien's second successful kick of the day, this time a 37-yarder to increase Northwestern's lead to 13-0.

    The frantic pace of the first half continued when the two teams traded interceptions on consecutive plays early in the second quarter. A Colter screen pass was picked and returned 42 yards to NU's 15-yard line, but on the next play, Quentin Williams got his hand on another pass to deflect it and set up a Chi Chi Ariguzo interception, NU's third of the day.

    It proved to be the first of two straight drives in which the Northwestern defense stopped the Bulldogs in the red zone. A 59-yard run by Josh Robinson put the Dogs on the 2-yard line, but penalties and stout tackling by the Wildcats forced a field goal that put MSU on the scoreboard.

    The Bulldogs pulled within three on a tremendous catch in the back of the end zone by Arceto Clark with just 1:06 left before halftime. An interception thrown by the Wildcats on the first series out of the locker room then led to a 47-yard field goal by State's Devon Brown, knotting the score at 13.

    Needing to respond in a big way, Northwestern received a boost from Trevor Siemian on the ensuing series. Facing third-and-10, Siemian scrambled to his left and sidearmed a pass to Rashad Lawrence for 12 yards to move the sticks. The next two plays were a 27-yard completion over the middle to Demetrius Fields and a 34-yarder to Dan Vitale down to the 3-yard line.

    Senior Tyris Jones punched the ball in on the next play to restore a seven-point Wildcats lead.

    Northwestern kept momentum on its side with another drive directed by both Colter and Siemian, as a 31-yard Colter run placed the ball inside the five. Siemian then ran the read-option to perfection on the next play, walking the ball into the end zone to put NU in front by two touchdowns heading to the final period.

    Mississippi State cut the lead to seven with a 14-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth and forced a three-and-out on NU's next possession. With momentum shifting, Nick VanHoose stepped in front of a dying quail of a pass before returning it 39 yards to set up an eventual 3-yard Venric Mark scamper that accounted for the final score.

    On Mississippi State's last gasp drive, both Williams and Scott recorded sacks to set up a Victory Formation that was a long time coming.

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