Played January 1, 2010.
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL. Attendance: 49,383.
Northwestern's 2009 regular season record: 8-4 overall, 5-3
conference (4th place).
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald.
Co-captains: Mike Kafka, Sherrick McManis, Brendan Smith, Corey Wootton.
NU/Auburn series record (prior to bowl): Had not played.
Auburn: Burns, 1 yard run (Byrum kick)
Auburn: McFadden, 100 yard interception return (Byrum kick)
NU: TD pass from Mike Kafka to Andrew Brewer, 39 yards (Stefan Demos kick)
Auburn: TD pass from Todd to Carr, 46 yards (Byrum kick)
NU: TD pass from Kafka to Brewer, 35 yards (Demos kick)
NU: TD pass from Kafka to Drake Dunsmore, 66 yards (Demos kick)
Auburn: Tate, 5 yard run (Byrum kick)
Auburn: Tate, 7 yard run (Byrum kick)
NU: Kafka, 2 yard run (Demos kick blocked)
NU: TD pass from Kafka to Brewer, 18 yards (pass from Brewer to Brendan Mitchell)
Auburn: Byrum, 21 yard field goal
OT Loss Ends Valiant, Bizarre Comeback
Wildcats added to their legacy of wild, "Cardiac 'Cat" thrillers in the
very first college football game of the new decade.
Unfortunately, they also added to their legacy of bowl game heartbreak,
losing in overtime a strange, jaw-dropping comeback effort that
featured fantastic performances by many of NU's players.
Northwestern, down 14 points twice to favored Auburn-- and several
times facing an apparently imminent three-touchdown deficit-- tore back
into this game with a blistering third quarter performance. But a
wild and bizarre string of plays in overtime ultimately sealed a win
for Auburn and left NU again with a bowl loss.
Mike Kafka, in his second to last game wearing the Northwestern helmet
(he will make an encore in the Shrine Bowl later this month), was a
study in contrast. Kafka suffered through five interceptions
(including two in the endzone and a couple of deflected, fluky picks),
but he also kept his cool and torched Auburn for 532 passing yards, not
only an NU bowl record, but an overall school record as well. He
set other NU bowl records, including his five touchdowns (matching
Peyton Manning's performance against NU in the '97 Citrus Bowl).
Kafka played Northwestern Football as it is defined: blasting through
tough odds and never giving up. Kafka's fourth quarter
performance alone should get him a place among NU's immortal greats.
The game, however, began poorly for the 'Cats. Kafka's second
pass of the game was tipped straight up and intercepted, eventually
leading to a Tiger touchdown. NU's second drive went 17 plays and
chewed nearly eight minutes before Kafka suffered an endzone
interception that Auburn's McFadden goose-stepped 100 yards for the
score. McFadden's unsportsmanlike penalty was one of several that
Auburn suffered during the game, as the Tigers seemed determined to
rout NU and self-destruct simultaneously.
Auburn proved able to do neither. On the next Wildcat drive Kafka
turned on the jets, and his 39-yard pass to Andrew Brewer gave NU their
first score and allowed the 'Cats to join the battle in earnest.
In the second quarter, NU had a chance to cut Auburn's lead further,
but Stefan Demos missed the first of his field goal tries. Demos
had a world-class bad day in Tampa, missing both field goal tries
(including the fourth quarter, last-second try that would have won the
game) as well as an extra point (which NU would recoup, spectacularly,
with a wild two-point conversion on its final touchdown).
Auburn regained its 14-point lead, but failed to extend it
further. Sherrick McManis snagged a pick late in the second
quarter, setting up a strong Wildcat drive that, unfortunately, also
ended with an endzone interception.
Again in the third quarter Auburn appeared set to take an
insurmountable 21-point lead, but Brian Peters performed a heroic
circus catch to intercept at the NU one-yard line, and he kept the
'Cats in the game. Kafka again connected with Brewer for a long
bomb to bring NU back to a one-TD deficit. With the Wildcat defense coming to
the challenge and Nate Williams rampaging through the Tiger backfield,
Auburn relinquished the ball to NU for the potential tying score.
And tie NU did, when at the Wildcat 34-yard line Kafka connected with
Drake Dunsmore. Dunsmore slipped a tackle and then became the Man
Who Would Not Be Denied, tear-assing through the Tiger defense like a
wild man for 66 yards. Dunsmore's Touchdown of Iron Will is my
pick for the NU play of the game, which says a lot: there were enough
eye-popping plays for a lifetime of bowl action.
Midway through the fourth quarter the tide again turned against NU, and
Auburn again took a 14-point lead. NU, however, played a zombie
attack strategy for this bowl: just when you thought it was dead and
buried, it returned to feed and menace. The 'Cats' nine lives and
afterlives cycled through with abandon on their drive midway through
the fourth quarter, when NU converted three
fourth-down attempts to string the drive out and finish with a
courageous Kafka burst into the endzone. On the next Auburn drive
Brad Phillips forced a fumble that set up NU's final touchdown and the
crazy two-point conversion: a reverse to Brewer that he rifled into the
endzone for a touchdown.
With the game-winning kick sailing right of the mark and the final
seconds drained, NU opted to defend to begin overtime and held Auburn
to a field goal. The next ten plays will go down as one of the
craziest series in NU history. A completed pass initially ruled a
fumble, a Wildcat first down, then a Kafka sack that initially was also
ruled a fumble led to Auburn fans celebrating their win. But
Zombie Nation wasn't done yet. NU wasn't dead, and Kafka was
Facing fourth down in NU's OT efforts, Demos attempted to kick a goal
to send the game into a second set, but his kick sailed wide
again. Again Auburn players and fans began to celebrate, and
again NU wasn't yet dead: a roughing the kicker penalty kept the game
going. However, Demos was injured, and NU was without a kicking
option. Facing first and goal, NU was nine yards away from the
historic moment of the twenty-first century: bowl victory. But
three plays stalled, and the Wildcats again had their hopes pinned on a
fourth-down play, only five yards away from the goal.
Coach Fitzgerald decided to put his freshman kicker on the field for a
fake and a modification of the "fastball" fumblerooskie play.
Before ESPN could get its cameras fixed on the action the 'Cats took a
quick snap and gave the ball to Zeke Markshausen. As the line
shifted right, so did Markshausen, rather than remaining still for a
few more seconds. The play was blown, and the Auburn defense
keyed in to the developing play, knocking Markshausen out of bounds
with just 60 inches to go to reach the goal of goals. While the
play was not executed to perfection, the call was a good one, and Coach
Fitzgerald stood by it in his post-game conference. The play was
one twitch away from going down as one of the all-time classics in NU
The ninth life of the 'Cats was snuffed, and Northwestern added another
wild memory to the collage of 61 seasons of the Quest. They did
so in a gritty and gutsy performance, and they did so on the heels of a
fantastic eight-win season. Congratulations and thanks to the
Wildcat seniors, among the most successful in the history of the