ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Northwestern was seconds away from winning consecutive games at Michigan Stadium for the first time since the 1934 and 1936 seasons.
The Wildcats failed to take advantage of the historic opportunity.
Cornerback Daniel Jones couldn’t knock down Devin Gardner’s 53-yard heave to Roy Roundtree that set up Brendan Gibbons’ 26-yard field goal with 2 seconds left that forced overtime.
Gardner then ran for a 1-yard touchdown — easily scoring on a bootleg to the outside — in overtime and his teammates on defense responded with a stop to give the Wolverines a wild 38-31 win over Northwestern on Saturday.
“We can hang our heads, but I think we are a pretty good football team,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We just needed to make one more play.”
It looked like Northwestern (6-4, 4-2 Big Ten) had done enough to beat the Wolverines (7-3, 5-1) and earn a win that would’ve improved its postseason positioning.
Trevor Siemian threw a 15-yard pass to Tony Jones with 3:59 left in regulation to give the Wildcats a 31-28 lead and Gardner threw an interception on the next snap.
Northwestern, though, couldn’t pick up enough first downs to run out the clock in regulation and that proved to be costly.
“We don’t want to have to feel like this again,” Wildcats linebacker Damien Proby said.
Gardner, making his second straight start in place of the injured Denard Robinson, was 16 of 29 for 286 yards with touchdown passes to Fitzgerald Toussaint and Devin Funchess. Gardner ran for 47 yards and two scores.
“We had tons of empirical data on Denard,” Fitzgerald said. “And one week of Gardner.”
Kain Colter, who was taken out once by a coach’s decision and another time because he was hurt, was 8 of 14 for 96 yards and a TD. Colter ran 24 times for 82 yards and fumbled, setting up Michigan’s go-ahead score by Thomas Rawls in the second quarter of a game with five lead changes and three ties.
Siemian was 6 of 7 for 87 yards with two TDs, a game-tying 19-yard strike to Cameron Dickerson with 25 seconds left in the first half and a perfectly thrown, go-ahead pass to Jones late in the game.
“You score 31 points, you expect to win,” Fitzgerald said.
Venric Mark had 104 yards rushing and a score for the Wildcats, who had a lot of success with option pitches to the outside only to stop calling that play frequently in the fourth quarter.
“They adjusted,” Fitzgerald explained. “You have to give them credit.”
Northwestern seemed to set itself up for an upset victory at the Big House when it went ahead late in the game, picked off Gardner and converted a fourth-and-1 — by the nose of the football — on Colter’s dive with 3:07 left on a play that stood after review.
But the Wildcats needed one more first down to run out the clock and couldn’t earn another one against a suddenly stingy defense.
In overtime, on a fourth-and-2 from the Michigan 17, linebacker Kenny Demens stopped Tyris Jones on a run up the middle to allow the Wolverines to celebrate a thrilling victory and to hand Northwestern a deflating defeat.
“It stinks,” Fitzgerald said. “The guys fought their tails off.”
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