2010 Outback
Bowl Page


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.

Opponent: Auburn. 

NU/Auburn series record (prior to bowl): Had not played.

Team 1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q OT Final
Northwestern 7 0 14 14 0 35
Auburn 14 7 0 14 3 38


First quarter

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)

Second quarter
Auburn: TD pass from Todd to Carr, 46 yards (Byrum kick)

Third quarter
NU: TD pass from Kafka to Brewer, 35 yards (Demos kick)
NU: TD pass from Kafka to Drake Dunsmore, 66 yards (Demos kick)

Fourth quarter
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

AP Photos.

OT Loss Ends Valiant, Bizarre Comeback

The 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 ruled down.

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 history.

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 program.

Additional Outback photos