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November 16, 2013
Michigan breaks Northwestern's heart - again
Last year, it was the offense that ignited the Wolverines against the Wildcats, and Saturday, they rode their physical defense.
The approach may have been different, but the result was the same: for the second-straight year, the Wolverines found a wild way to force overtime with a last-second field goal and topple Northwestern after regulation had ended.
In a field-goal fueled game, down 9-6 with the clock running out - on the game and this season - Michigan found a way to win Saturday, pulling out a 27-19 triple-overtime victory.
After two consecutive insane endings against the same opponent, the only question left to ask is, which pivotal play was more inexplicable?
Last year, down 31-28 with the clock quickly dwindling toward 00:00, quarterback Devin Gardner stepped up in the pocket and threw a prayer deep downfield. Wide receiver Roy Roundtree located the pass after a Wildcat defensive back had tipped in the air, catching it as he was falling down for a game-changing 53-yard grab.
The play set up the game-tying 26-yard field goal from Brendan Gibbons, and the Wolverines closed out the game in overtime, 38-31.
This year, Gardner, now a redshirt junior, was sacked for a 13-yard loss as the Wolverines desperately tried to stage a comeback, down 9-6 with the clock winding down.
On third and 23, Gardner found fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon for a 16-yard gain - but he was taken down inbounds.
Gibbons, now a fifth-year senior, and the rest of the kicking team sprinted onto the field, with senior wide receiver Drew Dileo literally baseball-sliding into his spot as a holder.
With one second left on the clock, the Wolverines snapped the ball - and Gibbons' 44-yard attempt went straight through the uprights.
"I didn't even see it but I hear it was pretty sweet," Gardner said. "Guys were saying, 'Did you see Dileo?' And I was like, 'Dileo's the holder, what are you talking about?' So I can't wait to see it but I was trying to run off the field."
"I wasn't nervous at all," fifth-year senior left tackler Taylor Lewan added. "Not even a little bit. I was more worried about running off the field to get the field goal off. Brendan has done a great job all year, and I'm proud of him. He's had a great career here, he'll continue to have more like that."
Lewan's quotes were eerily similar to the Wolverines' postgame reaction to last year's whirlwind win over the Wildcats.
When asked if he thought Michigan was out of it with just seconds to play against Northwestern last year, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said, "No. Because of those kids. No way."
Hoke once again saw that level of fight and passion.
"People are going to perceive it however they want, which we really don't care," Hoke said after Saturday's win. "I know what it means for them is they played over 60 minuets of Michigan football together as a team. That's what the goal's been and always will be. I thought they were very accountable to each other. That's one thing we talk about a lot. How they played, how they finished, they did that."
Despite a quadruple-overtime 43-40 loss at Penn State earlier this season, the Wolverines have been traditionally excellent in overtime situations.
Since overtime was adopted in 1996, Michigan has gone to extra time 11 times, posting a 9-2 record, including a 5-2 mark away from The Big House. Under Hoke, the team is 3-1 in overtime games.
But the Wolverines weren't thinking about the record books Saturday. They weren't even thinking about last year's Northwestern game and how closely it played out. They were just happy to get the win.
"I'm really proud of my teammates," Gardner said. "That all I can say. It's a team win. You talk about sticking together, and no better game than a game like that to show we are sticking together. It's all about us."