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Northwestern-Michigan State final score: Wildcats upset Michigan State 39-31 in Triple OT

The Wildcats found a way to win a wild game against the 16th-ranked Spartans.

Michigan State v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Northwestern’s second straight overtime contest ended after three overtimes thanks to a Nate Hall interception, causing students to flood Ryan field. The Wildcats came back from an early 10-0 deficit to take the lead on a Justin Jackson touchdown, but Michigan State responded with a 12 play, 88 yard drive to force overtime. After both teams scored touchdowns in each of the first two overtimes, Flynn Nagel’s 22-yard score in the third extra period turned out to be the winner as Brian Lewerke made his only real mistake on a record-setting day.

Clayton Thorson finished 33 for 48 for 356 yards and 3 total touchdowns. Nagel and Cameron Green combined for 14 catches for 163 yards, 2 touchdowns and one 2-point conversion.

Linebacker Paddy Fisher had 17 tackles to lead Northwestern’s defense, which started strong but was destroyed through the air in the fourth quarter and beyond.

The first half, seemingly years ago, featured plenty of offense, especially through the air, as Northwestern’s offensive line and Thorson turned in perhaps their best half of the season.

The Spartans opened the game by driving right down on the field, going 92 yards on 7 plays and taking just 2 minutes, 25 seconds to do it. Cody White beat Montre Hartage for a 60 yard gain to get the ball inside the 10 before finishing off the drive with a 7 yard touchdown catch.

On their ensuing drive, Northwestern moved the ball well thanks to quick completions to Nagel and Green, but Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman fumbled after taking the Wildcats inside the 30, and Michigan State took over at their own 28.

They picked up right where they left off, immediately driving inside of the Northwestern 30. But Paddy Fisher’s second consecutive forced fumble resulted in a Brett Walsh recovery at the Northwestern 7.

The Wildcats took the ball out near midfield, but the drive stalled and they were forced to punt. A Joe Gaziano sack near midfield forced Michigan State to return the favor, but they downed the ball at the one. The Wildcats quickly punted it back, but once again the Northwestern defense came up with a stop, this time keeping Lewerke short of the line on a keeper. Michigan State’s redshirt freshman kicker Matt Coghlin converted on the good field position, nailing a 47 yard field goal to put the Spartans up 10-0.

Northwestern responded by steadily moving the ball down the field. After key plays by Riley Lees and Justin Jackson, who reminded fans of the Iowa game by breaking three tackles to convert a 3rd and 10, Thorson found Garrett Dickerson to take the ball down to the 3 yard line. After Jackson was held out of the end zone by inches on 3rd and goal, Thorson snuck it in on 4th down for his career high-tying 5th rushing score of the season.

After a near-interception by Godwin Igwebuike on 3rd and 10 slowed the ensuing Michigan State drive, Northwestern’s offense took over at their 26 with 1:49 left and two timeouts. Thorson methodically drove the Wildcats down the field, finding Jackson, Dickerson and Skowrownek en route to the Spartans’ 18 yard line. Charlie Kuhbander converted with a 35 yard field goal, taking Northwestern to the break tied 10-10.

Northwestern was only partially able to carry over their offensive momentum from the first half, with the Wildcats being forced to punt in Spartan territory after drops from Skowrownek and Fessler. Niswander was able to pin Michigan State at their own 7, but thanks primarily to Darrell Stewart Jr., the Spartans drove all the way down inside Northwestern’s 30 despite Lewerke overthrowing receivers on two potential touchdowns, including this near-miss:

But after an underthrow on third down and a false start by Michigan State’s kicking unit, Matt Coghlin doinked what would have been a career-long 51 yard field goal off the right upright.

Northwestern’s offense was unable to take advantage of their good fortune, with a quick three and out after Garrett Dickerson was stopped a yard short on third down. But once again, the Wildcats nipped a promising Michigan State drive in the bud, as Paddy Fisher stopped LJ Scott for no gain before Fred Wyatt came up with a huge stop on third and 2, keeping Lewerke short of the sticks on yet another QB keeper.

The ensuing Northwestern possession was ended prematurely once again, as Michigan State recorded their first sack of Thorson and got off the field on third down.

After near-disaster thanks to a muffed punt, Michigan State, familiarly, was stuffed on both second and third and short, giving Northwestern the ball back at their 42. Thorson immediately found Cameron Green for 25 on a catch-and-run. Then, on a crucial 3rd and 7, Thorson evaded a free blitzed and scrambled for a first down. Finally, thanks to this bit of inspired play-calling, the Wildcats took their first lead of the game with 10:49 to go:

Michigan State’s attempted follow-up was seemingly derailed by an offensive pass interference on third and 3, but on third and 18, Lewerke scrambled around for what seemed like hours before finding White again, for 45 yards this time. He immediately went back to White for 18 before finding Felton Davis III for a conversion on 3rd and 10. But Samdup Miller drew a holding penalty and Northwestern’s defense finally held, forcing a 32 yard Coghlin field goal attempt. Amazingly, the redshirt freshman once again clanked it off of the right upright.

Macan Wilson and Justin Jackson picked up first downs after Northwestern took over, but the drive stalled around midfield and the Wildcats punted it back to the Spartans, who started at their own 13 with 3:27 left and 1 timeout.

Brian Lewerke quickly dink-and-dunked his way inside Northwestern’s 40, where Northwestern slowed him, forcing a 4th and 4 at the 30. But Lewerke scrambled for a first down, and one play later he found Davis III for a highlight-reel game-tying touchdown, capping off a 12 play, 88 yard touchdown drive and sending the game to overtime.

Northwestern started the overtime session with the ball, and Thorson immediately found Flynn Nagel, who fought hard for the first down. Then a beautiful play design left Cameron Green wide open in the end zone and Thorson cashed in, giving the Wildcats a 24-17 lead. But on second and goal of Michigan State’s drive, Lewerke once again found Davis III to retie the game at 24 and send it to a second overtime.

Lewerke took just two plays to find Cody White for his fourth touchdown of the night, immediately retaking the lead. After another Cameron Green grab, this one for 18 yards, Justin Jackson got in from three yards out to send the game to a third overtime. Both touchdown-scorers in the second overtime set school records: Lewerke with 445 yards passing and Jackson with 38 total touchdowns (tied Damian Anderson among non-quarterbacks).

The action didn’t slow down in the third overtime. Flynn Nagel scampered in from 22 yards out on a 3rd and 7 crossing route. Cameron Green then continued his huge day by snagging a fastball from Thorson to successfully convert the necessary 2 point conversion.

Then the defense finally made the play it had been waiting for. Gaziano stripped the ball from Lewerke, who somehow managed to pick it up and heave it towards the end zone, where Nate Hall came down with the jump ball and a huge Northwestern win.