TAMPA, Fla. – Pat Fitzgerald reached into Northwestern’s bag of tricks one more time, hoping to pull out the perfect play to give his team a dramatic victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl.
“I’ve had it in my back pocket for four years, and people tell me I’m too conservative. So I said, ‘What the heck. We’re here to win, so let’s go,’ ” Fitzgerald said after a version of the old fumblerooskie failed in overtime, leaving the Wildcats with a 38-35 loss Friday.
“And I’d do it again,” the 35-year-old coach said. “Next time I’d score, though, and we’d celebrate.”
Wes Byrum kicked a 21-yard field goal in overtime, and Auburn (8-5) overcame several mistakes, including a costly pair of penalties, that gave Northwestern chances for its first bowl victory in 61 years.
On the game’s final play, the Wildcats sent backup kicker Steve Flaherty onto the field seemingly to try to force a second overtime.
But with regular kicker Stefan Demos on the sideline after being injured earlier in the overtime, Fitzgerald had no intention of trying to tie the score.
“I just kind of felt like the stars were aligned there when we lost Stef,” Fitzgerald said, adding the “modern-day fumblerooskie” was one of coach Randy Walker’s favorite plays at Northwestern.
Walker died of an apparent heart attack in 2006, and Fitzgerald was promoted
“We played for the win,” Fitzgerald said. “Unfortunately, we ended up a little bit short.”
Receiver Zeke Markshausen took a handoff between the legs from holder Dan Persa and circled right end to try to win it. Auburn’s Neiko Thorpe stopped him after a 3-yard gain to the 2.
“Circumstances were very unusual, but we found a way to win it,” said Auburn coach Gene Chizik.
“When I saw where everyone was lined up I knew something was up,” Thorpe said. “It was just so quick and I was afraid I was the only person who saw it. But on the replay you could see there were a lot of people pursuing the play.”
The Tigers intercepted Mike Kafka five times – twice in the end zone – and Walter McFadden returned one of the picks 100 yards for a touchdown to help Auburn to an early 14-0 lead.
Kafka threw for a career-best 532 yards and four TDs. He rallied Northwestern from a two-touchdown deficit in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats wasted a chance to win it at the end of regulation.
“Everybody got their money’s worth today,” Marshausen said. “It was a blast to play in.”
Auburn finished its first season under Chizik with the second-most wins by a first-year coach in school history. Only Terry Bowden, who went 11-0 in 1993, produced more wins in his initial season on the job.
Ben Tate ran for 108 yards and two TDs for Auburn, which led 35-21 before Northwestern stormed back with a pair of touchdowns and a 2-point conversion to force overtime. Tate’s fourth-quarter fumble and a late face mask penalty against the Tigers’ Nick Fairley helped the Wildcats’ cause.
Demos missed a 44-yard field goal with no time left in regulation that would have won it.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.