Nov. 21, 2009
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EVANSTON, Ill. -
Northwestern and Wisconsin have made a habit of high-scoring games with dramatic finishes in recent history and Saturday's contest at Ryan Field was no different. The Wildcats led nearly throughout before holding off a late charge by the 17th-ranked Badgers to earn an exciting 33-31 victory on Senior Day.
Jordan Mabin's interception of a Scott Tolzin pass with 33 seconds remaining sealed the victory for NU (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten).
It was the second huge turnover forced late by the Wildcat defense. With Wisconsin (8-3, 5-3) driving for the go-ahead score and facing 3rd and 1 at the Northwestern 46 with just under two minutes remaining, Quentin Davie forced a fumble by John Clay that was recovered by Brian Peters.
The Wildcats were forced to punt, but Stefan Demos was able to pin the Badgers back at their own 20 with only 42 seconds remaining before Mabin picked off Tolzin on the next play to ensure victory for Northwestern.
Quarterback Mike Kafka
, playing in his final home game, had a huge day for NU, completing 26 of 40 passes for 326 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Wildcats marched right down the field on the opening drive of the game as Kafka capped things off by firing a 26-yard scoring strike down the seam to Andrew Brewer. NU would extend its lead to 10-0 later in the quarter as Demos connected on a 45-yard field goal.
However, Wisconsin was able to answer right back with consecutive scoring drives early in the second quarter to take the lead. Clay scored on a two-yard run and following a Northwestern fumble on the ensuing series, Tolzin hooked up with Garrett Graham on a 27-yard touchdown pass to give the Badgers a 14-10 edge with 11:04 to go in the half.
But the remainder of the opening stanza would belong to the Wildcats.
A huge 64-yard kickoff return by Stephen Simmons gave NU a short field as it started the drive at the UW 34 yard line. Brewer and Kafka would connect for a score for the second time as Brewer made a diving 12-yard grab to give the 'Cats the lead back at 17-14.
After the Badgers went three-and-out, Northwestern used a little trickery to extend its advantage. Following completions from Kafka to Demetrius Fields for 14 yards and Jeremy Ebert for 28, Kafka threw a lateral to Zeke Markshausen who found a wide-open Sidney Stewart for a 38-yard touchdown pass with 6:02 left in the first half.
Demos would cap the exciting opening period by hitting a 38-yard field goal with 34 seconds remaining to give Northwestern a 27-14 lead heading into the intermission.
Wisconsin entered the contest ranked 16th in the country in rush offense, averaging 208 yards per game on the ground, but a staunch Wildcat defense limited the visitors to a mere 23 rushing yards on 20 carries over the opening 30 minutes of play.
The Badgers chipped away at the deficit coming out of the break as a Philip Welch hit a 35-yard field goal and David Gilreath returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown to trim NU's advantage to three. Demos continued his stellar day by hitting on field goals from 45 and 34 yards to push Northwestern's lead back up to nine at 33-24 early in the fourth quarter.
But again, Wisconsin answered back, getting within 33-31 with 10:45 to go as Tolzin found Graham in the end zone for the second time, this time from 13 yards.
However, the Northwestern defense stiffened and was able to keep the Badgers off the scoreboard the rest of the way, including forcing the two clutch turnovers in the waning moments.