ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Pat Fitzgerald struggled to describe his team's latest meltdown. Northwestern is no stranger to heartbreak, but what it experienced in a 38-31 overtime loss to Michigan won't be easy to forget.
"It stunk," was how Fitzgerald summarized the loss.
A Tony Jones touchdown from quarterback Trevor Siemian hoisted Northwestern to a three-point lead with four minutes remaining. After a Demetrius Dugar interception, it appeared the Wildcats were ready to run out the clock. But a stalled drive offered Michigan a prayer.
Devin Gardner, Michigan's backup quarterback, looked down the field, reached his right arm back, and threw the football as far as he could. Receiver Roy Roundtree had a one-on-one matchup with cornerback Daniel Jones. As the ball made its descent, Jones timed his jump early while Roundtree hauled in a heroic 53-yard reception.
It was a game-changer.
“It was just a good play by [Roundtree],” linebacker Damien Proby said. “Nothing we can do. We ask our guys on defense from the get-go to make a play on the ball, that’s what [Jones] did. It was a lucky bounce, there was nothing else we could do to stop it.”
Jones, filling in for injured starter Nick VanHoose, was in position to defend the pass, but his poorly-timed jump proved to be costly.
“You got a young man back there, it’s one play, [Jones] gave everything he had to knock the ball down,” said Fitzgerald in defense was his cornerback. “[Roundtree] made a great play. Yeah, I’d like to see the ball hit the ground. That would be terrific. But he gave everything he’s got. Obviously we make that play, it’s a different outcome.”
A field goal from Brendan Gibbons knotted the score at 31 as a thrilling game was headed to overtime.
The Wolverines were led by Gardner, a converted receiver forced into action at quarterback for injured starter Denard Robinson. He led his team to victory in overtime.
Gardner converted on third down during the first series in overtime, then scored the go-ahead touchdown to give his team the lead. It was all up to Northwestern: it needed one more play.
It was all up to quarterback Kain Colter, with the Wildcats needed an answer. However, with the game on the line, Colter was stuffed just shy of the first-down marker on fourth down. Michigan players were jubilated while Northwestern fell just shy once again.
"We came up one play short, which is very disappointing," Fitzgerald said. "I thought we had our opportunities out there. You've got to give credit to Michigan. They did a terrific job."
Northwestern's offense was paced by a balanced attack, with both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian serving a key role. Running back Venrivc Mark rushed for 104 yards -- his seventh occasion breaking the century mark this season.
Siemian was nearly the hero for Northwestern. He led the offense to a go-ahead touchdown drive at the end of the first half, connecting with superback Dan Vitale for a 23-yard strike. His connection with Jones was meant to be the memorable game-winner. That didn't happen.
“I mean, it sucked,” Siemian said of the loss. “It’s not what we want by any means."
It once appeared as if the Wildcats were destined for a special season. Three late-game letdowns changed that, with each proving to sting more and more.
Northwestern must bury another gut-wrenching loss. Once again, it won't be easy.