2013 Gator
Bowl Page


Played January 1, 2013

EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL
Attendance: 48,612

Northwestern's 2012 regular season record: 9-3 overall, 5-3 conference.  Third place, Legends Division; fifth place, Big Ten

Coach: Pat Fitzgerald.

Captains: Brian Mulroe, Brian Arnfelt, David Nwabuisi, Kain Colter

Opponent: Mississippi State

NU/MSU series record (prior to bowl): Had not met

  1 2 3 4 F
NU 10 3 14
MS 0 10 3  7  20


NU: Quentin Williams 29-yard int. return (Jeff Budzien kick), Q1 14:13 NU 7, MS 0
NU: Budzien 34-yard FG, Q1 4:49
NU 10, MS 0
NU: Budzien 37-yard FG, Q2 14:48
NU 13, MS 0
MS: D. Bell 27-yard FG, Q2 4:48
NU 13, MS 3
MS: T. Russell 18-yard pass to A. Clark (Bell kick), Q2 1:06
NU 13, MS 10
MS: Bell 47-yard FG, Q3 10:37
NU 13, MS 13
NU: Tyris Jones 3-yard run (Budzien kick), Q3 9:25
NU 20, MS 13
NU: Trevor Siemian 4-yard run (Budzien kick), Q3 0:26
NU 27, MS 13
MS: Russell 14-yard pass to M. Johnson (Bell kick), Q4 11:42
NU 27, MS 20
NU: Venric Mark 3-yard run (Budzien kick), Q4 8:10
NU 34, MS 20

The very last brick in the rebuilding of Northwestern Football, a project begun 20 years ago, has finally been set in place.  Until January 1, 2013, Wildcat fans could rattle off a list of accomplishments by their team and their school, each with a nice purple check mark by it:
  • Renewed commitment by the school in its football program?  Checked in the late 1980s.
  • A coach that could begin the rebuilding process?  Checked in December 1991.
  • True rebuilding begun?  Checked in 1992.
  • Losing streaks vs. Notre Dame, Michigan, and Iowa eliminated?  Checked in 1995.
  • Big Ten title?  Checked in 1995.
  • Consistent program?  Checked, beginning in 2003.
  • Losing streak to Ohio State eliminated?  Checked in 2004.
  • Bowl success?
...No check mark after that last one, and its absence began to gnaw at the program, taking more of the media's attention, diverting focus from what the program had accomplished.  It went from an annoyance to a streak, a joke, a journalist's crutch, and finally a stuffed monkey-- a totem of futility carried by a team that was racking up more wins and accomplishments than any other group of Wildcats before them.  But few outside of the NU community cared much for those accomplishments: there was that monkey to discuss, and it's an easy story, after all.

By the afternoon of January 1, that lazy story was blown apart, as was the monkey: its shredded remains littered the Northwestern locker room at EverBank Field.  Northwestern completed its rebuilding mission, beating SEC-foe Mississippi State 34 to 20 in the 68th Gator Bowl.  The win was among the most emotional moments for Wildcat fans in recent memory, ranking alongside the invitation to the 1996 Rose Bowl for pure overwhelming joy.

That joy began almost immediately during the Gator Bowl game itself.  Within the first minute of play, Quentin Williams picked off Tyler Russell's third pass, racing it straight back for a pick six, a Northwestern lead, and a place in Wildcat history.  Williams' interception was the first of four for NU against the Bulldogs, tying a Northwestern bowl record-- the 'Cats also notched four picks against Cal in their Rose Bowl victory.

Mississippi State, dizzy from the quick Wildcat strike, attempted to even the score with a drive mixing rush and pass work.  The rushing succeeded against NU: MSU gained two first downs on the ground.  However, Russell's passing was... mixed.  A first down pass to Chris Smith put MSU at midfield.  However, as the Bulldogs neared the Wildcat red zone, Russell rifled off his second pick, this time to Ibraheim Campbell.

With the second Wildcat interception, NU's offense finally took the field.  Kain Colter combined clever scrambling with a couple of great short-gain passes to Dan Vitale and an 11-yard strike to Christian Jones to bring the ball to midfield.  A 24-yard pass to Vitale sent NU to the red zone, but the drive stalled.  Jeff Budzien's 34-yard field goal put NU up by ten, and sent the purple-clad into a frenzy.  Budzein's performance was as expected; slightly more surprising was the game plan focus on Vitale, who was simply outstanding.

The Wildcat defense slammed shut MSU's third possession, and NU sought to add to its double-digit lead.  Already NU was on somewhat rarely trodden ground: in their previous ten bowl games, the 'Cats enjoyed a double-digit lead in only two of them, the 2003 Motor City Bowl and the 2005 Sun Bowl.  The Wildcats' drive would also stall in the MSU red zone, but not before All-American Venric Mark broke loose for a 22-yard scamper into Bulldog territory.  With Budzein's second and final field goal, NU sported a 13-point lead, and MSU fans began to worry.

NU fans quickly joined them.  The second quarter was a sloppy mess, with the teams swapping interceptions within an 11-second span.  NU recovered from its pick when Chi Chi Ariguzo became the third Wildcat to catch a Russell pass.  However, MSU would go on to tack on a field goal and a touchdown before halftime, and NU took a tender three-point lead into the locker room.

The third quarter began just as gloomily as the second quarter had ended.  Colter threw an interception, and MSU made the 'Cats pay by drilling a 47-yard field goal to tie the game.  It was difficult not to wonder: would the streak continue?  Was NU going to add another disappointing page to this threadworn story? 

Not if Trevor Siemian could help it.  Siemian spelled Colter for the next drive and strung together three straight first-down passes-- to Rashad Lawrence, Demetrius Fields, and Vitale-- to set up Tyris Jones's touchdown.  The lead was seven.  Could it hold?

Siemian's hot hand briefly gave out when he threw an interception.  However, the Northwestern defense--particularly the often-maligned secondary-- saved the game, stoning the Bulldogs in their last two drives of the third quarter.  NU's final drive of the quarter was one for the books.  Mark and Vitale each picked up first downs before Siemian scrambled for a first down in Bulldog territory.  Not to be outdone, Colter went wild for 31 yards, taking the ball to the MSU 4-yard line.  From there Siemian put on his second Colter imitation, taking the ball and pounding into the end zone.  The 'Cats were up by two touchdowns, and Wildcat fans everywhere dared to think that this, maybe, might the the game for which they had hoped so impatiently. 

The following drive by MSU appeared to stall, but a Northwestern penalty put the Bulldogs into the NU red zone, and they responded, coming back to within seven.  A Northwestern punt put MSU in place to tie the game.  On third down Russell launched a bullet that went up for grabs.  The grabber turned out to be Nick VanHoose, and he tore ass to the MSU 10-yard line.  However, a Bulldog sideline interference call put the ball on the MSU 5.  Strangely, it was the second straight game in which NU benefited from an opponent's sideline interference.  On third down, with Wildcat Nation holding its breath, Mark punched in for the last score of the game.  MSU would have two more chances to answer, but the sterling defensive performance of Jared Carpenter, Tyler Scott, Williams, and so many others, locked down Northwestern's end zone and locked up Northwestern's Gator Bowl victory.

And what a victory.  This was a victory of the offense, of Colter, Siemian, Mark, Vitale and the rest, innovative and determined; this was a victory of special teams, of Mark and the incredible Budzien; this was a victory of defense, relentless, always improving; this was a victory of coaching, Fitzgerald celebrating his 50th win at Northwestern University, as no one else ever has, in a venue fitting the occasion, and doing so with one of the most underrated coaching staffs in the nation.

This was, finally, a victory of doing things the right way, the Wildcat way.  It was what's important now, and the team that provided this victory are a group of players whom Northwestern alumni and fans everywhere will always regard fondly, with deserved pride.

The mission is complete.  "What now?" -- is a silly question.  The mission was the rebuilding of the program.  Well, consider it officially rebuilt.  The new mission is to take that rebuilt program to places only dreamed before. 

Now comes the fun part.  Now, let's sit back, savor the moment, and realize that there has never,-- not in 137 years of Northwestern football-- never been a better moment to be a fan of the Wildcats. 

Online Video of NU's Gator Bowl Victory

Wildcat fan and video master NUHighlights posted this fantastic reel, with WGN audio synched.  Password: BowlWin

Care to watch the whole bowl?  Look no further than this YouTube video of the entire 2013 Gator Bowl:

The Iconic Images of the 2013 Gator Bowl

[NUSports Photo]

Quentin Williams completes Mississippi State's opening drive.  [AP Photo]

Kain Colter fights for more yards.  [USA Today Photo]

Tyler Scott sacks MSU's Russell.  [AP Photo]

Trevor Siemian directs the offense.  [USA Today Photo]

Vitale!  [USA Today Photo]

How appropriate: a Gatorade bath at the Gator Bow!  Fitz gets win #50 and
the fourth Gatorade bath in NU history*.  [USA Today Photo]

The force is strong with this 1. [USA Today Photo]

The trophy.  [AP Photo]

Coach Fitz and Gator Bowl MVP Jared Carpenter address fans. [NUSports Photo]

NU's bowl monkey lies in ruins.  [NUSports Photo]


Readers asked for the return of the page that HTP initially posted when NU won the Gator Bowl.  Here it is, along with the wallpaper that posted:

*** The HTP Party Page!
*** The headline wallpaper...

*The others: Walker, 2000 vs. Illinois (Big Ten title); Fitz, 2008 vs. Illinois (win #9, last Sweet Sioux game); Fitz, 2012 vs. Illinois (win #9, tied Pappy for most wins at NU).