EVANSTON, Ill. — As the clock wound down, a mad scramble ensued deep in the north end of Ryan Field.
With less than 10 seconds left in regulation, the University of Michigan football team’s field goal unit hurried into formation. Chaos seemed to ensue in front of kicker Brendan Gibbons — in fact, holder Drew Dileo slipped on the wet turf as he ran out to join the play.
Gibbons somehow kept his cool as Dileo fielded the last-second snap, then quickly yet calmly followed through on a 44-yard field goal that forced overtime.
In the third overtime, quarterback Devin Gardner scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to help Michigan to a 27-19 win over Northwestern.
Much to the surprise of just about everyone inside the stadium, Gibbons’ kick revived Michigan’s hopes for its first win in nearly a month and may have restored his team’s wavering confidence.
“People are going to perceive it however they want, which we really don’t care,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “What it means for them is that they played over 60 minutes of Michigan football together, as a team. They were very accountable to each other.”
As Gardner (24-of-43 passing, 226 yards) steered the Wolverines from their own 22-yard line and into Northwestern territory, Gibbons warmed up on the sideline during the final drive of regulation.
“Then, Coach Hoke said, ‘hurry, hurry up, hurry up,’ ” said Gibbons, who went 4-for-4 on field goals. “We ran in and it’s like, ‘where’s Drew?’ He slides in there and [snapper Jareth Glanda] does a nice job with a wet ball. .. It was a little bit of a blur.”
Gibbons added, “you just run out there and do your job.”
The kick went through the uprights as the clock read 0:00, and overtime ensued, capped off by Gardner’s touchdown and 2-point conversion.
“I’m really proud of my teammates, and that’s all I have to say,” said Gardner, whose 11-yard touchdown pass to Jake Butt gave Michigan (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) a 16-9 lead in the first overtime.
The woes continued for Northwestern (4-6, 0-6). Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald could count the number of plays on one hand that have stood between his team and a Big Ten win.
“We've got to stick together,” said Fitzgerald, whose team led 6-3 at halftime. “They have up until this point; why stop now? You haven't seen a team that has stopped fighting. I mean, this team has battled its tail off. We've just ended up again a play short for five out of the last six weeks.
"The game can be summed up in one phrase: missed opportunities.”
Jeff Budzien’s third field goal stretched Northwestern’s lead to 9-3 with 2:35 left in the third quarter, and early in the fourth, Brandon Williams’ punt from the Northwestern 3 wobbled in the air and rolled back to the Wildcats 11. The play appeared to give Michigan a prime opportunity to take its first lead since the first quarter. Instead, Gibbons’ second field goal cut Northwestern’s lead to 9-6 with 11:45 left in the fourth.
While the Wolverines ran for positive yardage for the first time since Oct. 19, they couldn’t close out opportunities to score a touchdown.
The most glaring shortfall came with less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter, when the Wolverines chose to run the ball instead of attempting to kick a game-tying field goal on fourth and 2 from the Northwestern 4.
Swarmed by linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo and cornerback Nick VanHoose, Gardner fell at the 5 and turned the ball over on downs.
“He [Hoke] trusted the team, and I wanted to go for it, too,” Gardner said. “We didn’t get it and the defense responded.”
At the end of regulation, so did the field goal unit.
Michigan and Northwestern traded touchdowns in the first overtime, and Budzien and Gibbons traded field goals in the second overtime. After Gardner’s touchdown and two point conversion, Thomas Gordon intercepted Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian in the end zone on fourth-and-23 to end the game.
“We’re never going to have a breaking point or back down,” UM tackle Taylor Lewan said.
“I don’t care if we’re down 50-something to zero. We’re going to keep fighting, no matter what.”