SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame made way too many mistakes to beat even a team struggling as much as Northwestern.
It started with a blocked extra point that was returned for a two-point conversion by the Wildcats.
Twice Notre Dame turned the ball over in the second half on plays that started at the 5-yard line. Then there were two missed field goals and defensive blunders.
In the end, a Northwestern team that hadn’t scored 30 points all season pulled out a 43-40 win in overtime over the No. 15 Irish.
“They weren’t errors. They were critical errors,” coach Brian Kelly said.
There was also a decision by Kelly to go for the two-point conversion when the Irish took an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
“At that point, it was a coin toss of one or two, so we decided to go for two,” Kelly said.
Kelly said the chart he has said they should go for one, but the coaching staff felt because Notre Dame has been struggling with field goals to he wanted to try to expand the lead. But he couldn’t say why a 13-point lead was better than a 12-point lead.
“There’s no advantage in retrospect,” he said.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald already knew what it felt like to beat Notre Dame. That’s because he did it as a linebacker in 1995, in a game the Chicago Sun Times described as “The Upset of the Century.”
He thinks he likes this win more.
Northwestern’s Jack Mitchell forced the game into overtime with a 45-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in regulation, then hit a 41-yard field goal for the victory.
Fitzgerald said he hadn’t talked about the 1995 game with his team but said they knew about it because of media reports.
“It should be told. It’s a special part of our tradition and a special part of our history,” he said.
Even the hardiest of Wildcats fans might have given up hope when the Irish took the lead when Will Fuller caught his third touchdown pass with 10:34 left. Northwestern’s next drive stalled at the Notre Dame 26 and a 43-yard attempt from Mitchell was blocked by Mike McGlinchey.
But the Wildcats gave themselves a chance when they drove 73 yards in less than two minutes and quarterback Trevor Siemian scored untouched on a 6-yard run with 4:10 left. Warren Long made a two-point conversion on a run after Notre Dame (7-3) was called for pass interference.
Mitchell then kicked a 45-yard field goal with 19 seconds left. Overtime. Then he nailed a 41-yard field goal for the game-winner after Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza missed from 42 yards.
Ultimately, it might be an even more shocking outcome than the 1995 game. Sure, the Wildcats were 28-point underdogs in that game, but they finished the season 10-2, played in the Rose Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 8. This year’s Wildcats had lost four straight and were floundering offensively.
The Irish defense struggled as it gave up 30 or more points for a fifth straight game, only the second time that’s happened. The other time was in the first five games of 2007, when the Irish finished 3-9 in one of the worst season’s in Notre Dame history.
“So many things happened in that game that it’s hard to put them all in perspective as I’m standing here right now,” Kelly said. “We had the game pretty much in our hands and we turned the ball over.”
Northwestern (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) which had minus 9 yards rushing last week against Michigan, rushed for 263 yards and had 547 yards of total offense, both season highs. Justin Jackson, who led Northwestern with 149 yards and a touchdown, said it was a big win for the seniors.
Everett Golson threw three touchdown passes to Will Fuller and scored on a 61-yard run, but he also threw an interception and has a fumble. He has 19 turnovers in the past seven games. Tarean Folston rushed for 106 yards.