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Wayback Wednesday: Northwestern uses Hail Mary to defeat Michigan State in 2001

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In which Northwestern and Michigan State combine for 22 points in the final five minutes.

Randy Walker

College kickers giveth and college kickers taketh away.

Northwestern’s Big Ten opener against No. 23 Michigan State in 2001 was an instant classic. While the 2001 season ended with six straight losses, four by less than one score, the win over the Spartans deserves some recognition for its sheer insanity.

The two teams scored 22 points in the final five minutes. First, Charles Rogers scored a punt return touchdown that put Michigan State in the lead, but David Schaefer missed the extra point. But Zak Kustok, the legend, marched Northwestern back down the field to score with 29 seconds left. Game over, right? Nope, Michigan State scored another return touchdown on the kickoff. Then, somehow, Napoleon Harris blocked Schaefer’s extra point. It shouldn’t have mattered. Northwestern had 18 seconds to drive down the field from its own 13.

Then, in a miraculous turn of events, Kustok heaved a Hail Mary that was tipped and caught by Jon Schweighardt. David Wasielewski had missed a 22-yard field goal before the half and a 50-yarder earlier in the game. But, presaging Jack Mitchell, he hit a perfect 47-yard field goal to seal a 27-26 Northwestern victory.

No, I did not make any of this up.

Notes:

  • The game was played 18 days after the September 11 attacks, the first home game for Northwestern since the tragedy. A memorial was held at Ryan Field before the game and a moment of silence was held for Rashidi Wheeler, who had died during practice in August. Sports, as always, was an escape from hell.
  • Northwestern was ranked No. 16 in the AP poll before this game. After taking a share of the Big Ten title in 2000, a decent Michigan State team set up a ranked matchup at Dyche Ryan Field. Despite the death of Wheeler, this team looked nearly as good on paper as the team Randy Walker had coached to the Alamo Bowl in 2000. Star linebacker Napoleon Harris was back. Starting quarterback Zak Kustok was back and better than ever. The pieces for another good season were in place. Michigan State also looked promising. The Spartans were ranked 23rd in the polls and had just won a game at Notre Dame.
  • Michigan State tried its best to screw things up from the beginning. The Spartans took a 7-0 lead off a touchdown from T.J. Duckett, a future Atlanta Falcons backup and NFL Street 2 stalwart. The defense forced two Northwestern punts, but in the first of many special teams errors in this game, Michigan State fumbled the second return which set up a Northwestern response. Schaefer also missed a 46-yard field goal earlier in the first half.
  • The third quarter and fourth quarters were special teams catastrophes. Here’s a summary: MSU fumble on a return, NU missed 22-yard field goal, MSU missed 40-yard field goal, NU punt, MSU missed 34-yard field goal field goal, NU missed 50-yard field goal. Oh yeah, and Michigan State had a missed extra point and a blocked PAT after that. Northwestern also allowed two return touchdowns in the last five minutes.
  • Seriously though, those two return touchdowns are inexplicably bad. How do you give up a kickoff return touchdown after scoring the potential game-winning touchdown? Why? Just, why?
  • WHY DIDN’T NORTHWESTERN SQUIB KICK THE FINAL KICKOFF?! This has never been properly explained.
  • Poor David Schaefer. Last week, we had Abe Lodwick choking in the clutch. It’s not as bad as Schaefer though, as Washington State eventually won the basketball game. David Schaefer almost singlehandedly blew the game for Michigan State when you consider the missed field goals. He actually didn’t take the first extra point in the fourth quarter because he was benched. The replacement missed, setting up Schaefer for redemption. Schaefer kicked and Napoleon Harris blocked. Then, Schaefer’s defense threw him under 25 buses. It is rare for a kicker to have this much impact on one football game.
  • Then again, it’s not like Wasielweski was any better. While he didn’t miss an extra point, that 22-yarder he missed was abysmal and Randy Walker could not have been confident when he sent his kicker out for a 47-yard attempt to salvage the game. Schaefer and Wasielewski both had terrible, no good, very bad days. But in the end, despite being equally crap, one emerged a hero and the other became a laughingstock. While sports are an escape from hell, they can also be incredibly cruel.
  • Is Zak Kustok officially underrated now? I think we should appreciate Zak Kustok a bit more. From the stats I’ve seen, he was one of Northwestern’s best quarterbacks ever, and his results in 2000 certainly backed that up. Sure, his teams were fairly awful for 1999 and 2001, but his peak value was off the charts, at least by Northwestern quarterback standards. He also seems like a good guy. I can excuse some fans for losing track of the Kustok era because of Basanez, Schnur and Persa, but I feel like he should get a tad more respect. He won a Big Ten title, after all. Why don’t they play more Zak Kustok highlights on the video boards at Welsh-Ryan? The current student fanbase has no idea who he is, from my experience. Then again, they don’t know who anyone is, so maybe everyone is underrated.
  • Did you know Zak Kustok’s agent forgot to enter him for the NFL Combine in 2002? Why even become an agent if you’re not going to do the one job you have before the NFL Draft? How does that even happen?
  • I will not be covering the “f**ing Zack Mills Game” on this series, but that was just so stupid. The 2001 team should’ve been soooo much better (by wins and losses). You should read this Lake the Posts article with Kustok and TE David Farman.
  • The 2001 Northwestern football team is really depressing and reminds me of this year’s Northwestern women’s basketball season.
  • Oh, yeah, watch the highlights. These are fun.

Correction: The original version of this piece said the Hail Mary was caught by Kunle Patrick, the best Trinidadian wide receiver Northwestern ever had. The pass was actually caught by Jon Schweighardt. Patrick tipped a crazy Hail Mary pass to Sam Simmons against Minnesota in 2000 though.