Miscues, blown opportunities lead to shocking loss to Wildcats
EVANSTON, Ill. — Despite thousands of fans disapproving as their nails dissolved into nothingness, the Spartans did what they’ve done all Big Ten season — take a game down to the wire.
Arguably at this point, it’s almost expected. MSU (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) hit the road against Northwestern (5-3, 3-2) with a perfect Big Ten record, every win coming by just one mere possession. The Spartans have squeezed by on the slimmest of margins all year.
And it was no this different against the Wildcats. Except, of course, the loss. The nail-biting proved meaningless as the Spartans fell to Northwestern in three overtimes.
“Credit Northwestern on the game that they played,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “And also our guys kept playing through it. Sometimes you got to take the other end of the stick too."
As quarterback Brian Lewerke’s final pass was intercepted to clinch the win, it was the last of a slew of missed plays for MSU.
The pick clinched it for the Wildcats, but before the three overtime periods and during regulation, blown opportunities were aplenty as the MSU faithful woefully wondered, "what if?"
There were the fumbles, a constant motif that has dominated the headlines this season. Tailback LJ Scott and wideout Cody White fumbled on back-to-back plays, the latter of which was recovered by Northwestern.
Even on Lewerke’s heave on the final play of the game, the chaos began with a fumble of his own. He scooped it up, yes, but he threw the dagger that went through fans' hearts.
Though the turnovers certainly don’t include the multiple missed deep shots by Lewerke. The quarterback had a beautiful throw to White to begin the game, but fell flat on other occasions.
“I think that’s probably the game right there,” Lewerke said on the errant deep balls. “I think I missed at least two posts. … I obviously need to hit those plays, and if you do, you don’t go to overtime.”
Flipping over to the defense, the normally stout group staggered its way through overtime. Through the trio of extra periods, the Spartans allowed a touchdown on all three of Northwestern’s possessions, including a two-point conversion in triple overtime.
All year, MSU has relied on its defense down the stretch. Look no further than Iowa, Michigan, even Indiana last weekend.
But as the Wildcats dink and dunked, all whilst gashing through the Spartan defense, those goodwill hopes were shattered.
“Execution on our part,” linebacker Joe Bachie said of the defense’s struggles in overtime. “The coaches gave us great calls. But we got to think better, we got to think more clear in those situations. I can go back to it again, all 11 didn’t execute.”
Still, fans would argue 17 points — Northwestern’s point total heading into overtime — should be enough to win in regulation. It’s a fair point as the offense struggled through the middle parts of the game.
There were positives to this game, too. Lewerke's 445 yards passing was the most ever by an MSU quarterback. White, Felton Davis III and Darrell Stewart Jr. all had incredible games aided by the triple overtime.
But still, this was a team they expected to defeat before the season ever started, according to Lewerke.
“I think we left points off the board,” Dantonio said. “We didn’t find the inches.”