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Watch: Bennett Skowronek dives for “The Catch” that won the West

The play that clinched the Big Ten West will go down in Northwestern lore.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa
Bennett Skowronek celebrates his game-winning Big Ten West clinching touchdown catch
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In the 1981 NFC Championship game, the San Francisco 49ers were down 27-21 with 58 seconds left in the game. They faced a third and 3 and lined up with split backs behind Joe Montana. What happened next is referred to affectionately as “the catch,” a leaping grab by tight end Dwight Clark to score the winning touchdown for the 49ers. For Northwestern fans, that term has a new meaning. Bennett Skowronek’s 32-yard diving touchdown catch that gave the Wildcats the lead — and eventually clinched the Big Ten West — will go down in history.

The set-up

The Northwestern drive began at the Iowa 46, after a short punt and a 14-yard return by Flynn Nagel. On first down, the Wildcats had a one-yard handoff to Isaiah Bowser. This was followed up by an incomplete short pass to JJ Jefferson. On third and 9 with senior running back Chad Hanaoka in the game, Fitz opted to hand the ball off to the 5-foot-6 former video staffer. Hanaoka ran for 13 yards on the draw play, taking the ball to the Iowa 32.

The formation

Northwestern lined up with Isaiah Bowser in the backfield flanking Clayton Thorson, Bennett Skowronek on the far side, Flynn Nagel and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman on the close side. Superback Cameron Green was lined up next to left tackle Blake Hance.

How it happened

Iowa rushed four, yet still got pressure on Thorson. Bowser opted for a low block on redshirt senior Parker Hesse, giving Thorson the time he needed to get the pass off. Skowronek was in man coverage against redshirt junior Michael Ojemudia. The two were step for step down the field until Skowronek got a half-step’s worth of separation, which proved to be all he would need. Near the three yard-line, Skowronek dove, and caught the ball at full-extension.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa
Skowronek lunging for the ball at full extension
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

He then proceeded to anchor the ball against his left side. Somehow, he kept his left hand under the ball, even maintaining it through contact with the ground. The officials signaled for a touchdown, and that was history.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa
Skowronek maintains possession through contact with the ground, keeping his left hand under the ball as he anchored it against his side.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The play was immediately reviewed. After review, the call on the field was confirmed, and the catch was immortalized in Wildcat history.