Northwestern did so many things right in Saturday's 43-40 overtime victory at Notre Dame. The offense moved the ball well. The defense forced timely turnovers. Even the special teams showed up with some nice kick coverage and a 46-yard field goal from Jack Mitchell.
But for a while it seemed like it might not be enough.
Despite Northwestern's best offensive performance of the year (547 total yards), the Fighting Irish looked to be in control until the final minutes.
In the first half, Northwestern's offense was pulling out big plays left and right, overcoming some big drops from wide receiver Tony Jones. Trevor Siemian was playing his best game of the season as he went 15-25 for 149 yards with both a touchdown and interception. Even Matt Alviti got in on the action with the first touchdown run of his career.
But despite Northwestern's successes, Notre Dame continued to stay ahead, going into the intermission up 27-23.
Early in the third quarter, Northwestern's offense looked like it was continuing the momentum it had built in the first half. The Wildcats drove down to the Notre Dame five, only to be be pushed back after two unsuccessful runs and Siemian sack and could only eek out a 31-yard field goal.
With Northwestern now within one, the two teams traded empty possessions before a Justin Jackson fumble gave Notre Dame the opportunity to go ahead 34-26.
Northwestern, again, went on a solid drive but it ultimately came up with another Mitchell field goal. And yet, Notre Dame was unable to take advantage. After a huge 42-yard play from Everett Golson to William Fuller, Notre Dame running back Chris Brown fumbled at the one yard line, giving Northwestern the ball at its own 20 after Jimmy Hall recovered it in the endzone.
So, the Wildcats, down just one score and a two-point conversion took over and after two plays, Siemian made the killer mistake of the day: throwing an interception to Notre Dame's Cole Luke in an attempt to find Mike McHugh, who never appeared to be open on the play.
Quickly, the Irish responded, finishing off a quick, three-play drive with a touchdown from Fuller, his third of the day. After a failed two-point conversion (which made absolutely no mathematical sense), Notre Dame took a 40-29 lead.
Northwestern's next drive ended after a blocked field goal, but the Wildcats regained possession after a poor Irish drive. With the offense continuing to find ways to move the ball down the field, Northwestern was able to punch in a touchdown and convert the two-point conversion to pull within 3 with just about four minutes left in the contest.
It appeared as if Notre Dame would put the game on ice after picking up two first downs, with the second coming on a controversial pass interference call on Hall. But just two plays later, Ibraheim Campbell stripped Notre Dame's running back and Hall recovered, giving the Wildcats the ball on their own 27 with fewer than 90 seconds to play and no timeouts.
Siemian and the offense drove the ball down the field, finding Kyle Prater multiple times on the sideline to move into Notre Dame territory. After stalling on the the Irish 28 yard line, Mitchell hit a nailed a clutch 45-yard field goal from the right hash with just 25 seconds remaining, sending the game to overtime.
On the first drive of overtime, Notre Dame's Kyle Brindza missed a 42-yard field goal, setting up Northwestern with an opportunity to win the game with a score. On the subsequent possession, Mitchell again nailed a clutch kick: a 41-yarder from the left hash to seal the victory.
The Wildcats remain bowl eligible with a matchup against Purdue looming next week.