This Northwestern season produced some unforgettable moments. Whether it was the sorrow that depressed us as Northwestern melted down in the second half against Akron, or the rush of pure euphoria that hit us all after the ‘Cats pulled off a miracle win in Iowa, this team’s incredible run to the Big Ten Championship left us with some plays we won’t forget anytime soon.
Here are the ten best Northwestern plays from the past 13 games, ranked.
10. Joe Gaziano’s Forced Fumble at Iowa
While Bennett Skowronek’s touchdown catch will forever go down as the play that sent Northwestern to the Big Ten Championship game for the first time in school history, it was Joe Gaziano’s forced fumble with just over 1:30 left in the game that ultimately sealed the deal for Northwestern. Gaziano miraculously punched the ball away from Iowa’s Ivory Kelly-Martin while getting held and dragged down by a Hawkeye offensive lineman.
9. Jeremy Larkin’s run and stiff arm at Purdue
Jeremy Larkin’s days in a Wildcat uniform feel like ages ago, and it’s hard to believe that he was the Wildcats primary ballcarrier for the first three games of the season. Let’s not forget how good he was in those first three games also. Larkin broke out for 143 yards (46 of which came on this run) and two touchdowns in the first game of the season, leading Northwestern to what would prove to be a crucial victory in the ‘Cats journey to Indianapolis. Crazy to think about what this team could’ve been with a Larkin-Bowser duo in the backfield all season.
8. Drew Luckenbaugh’s game-winning kick vs Nebraska
Was there a more “feel-good” moment all season than when Drew Luckenbaugh’s overtime kick split the uprights to complete Northwestern’s improbable come-from-behind win over Nebraska? After the walk-on kicker brutally shanked a 42-yarder in the second half, he stepped up when Northwestern needed him most and drilled a 37-yard attempt to give NU the win. What a homecoming it was at Ryan Field.
7. JJ Jefferson’s over-the-shoulder catch at Michigan State
Still trying to figure out how JJ Jefferson caught this pass.
JJ Jefferson goes full extension for the TD! pic.twitter.com/mJZz9VeN67— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 6, 2018
6. Flynn Nagel’s 61-yard touchdown vs Nebraska
After falling behind 28-14 in the fourth quarter against winless Nebraska, NU turned to its senior QB-WR connection in Thorson and Nagel to ignite the comeback. On this play, Nagel made the catch despite being held and caused two Cornhusker defenders to slam into each other as he danced his way in for his second touchdown of the day. Nagel finished that game with a career-high 220 yards.
5. Earnest Brown’s scoop and score vs Nebraska
This game was just wild. Northwestern’s only defensive touchdown of the season was a big one. With the game tied at 7-7 and the first half winding down, Mike Hankwitz dialed up the blitz on 3rd & 10 against Nebraska’s true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez. The Husker O-line failed to pick it up, Trae Williams delivered the blow that knocked the ball loose and Brown waltzed into the end zone to give NU the lead for the first time all day.
4. Cam Ruiz’s blocked punt vs Notre Dame
After a dismal start to the second half had the Wildcats trailing by 17 early in the fourth quarter, another miracle upset against Notre Dame seemed completely out of question. However, Clayton Thorson connected with Riley Lees for a huge 3rd down touchdown to pull NU within 10. Then, following a quick three and out, Cam Ruiz pulled this piece of magic out of nowhere, leading to another Northwestern touchdown to cut the deficit to just three.
#NotreDame previously had 3 special teams gaffes tonight (missed FG, kickoff out of bounds, illegal formation on a kickoff). But none were as costly as this blocked punt by #Northwestern. pic.twitter.com/ZaAPRpbGkg— Carter Karels (@CarterKarels) November 4, 2018
For a second, it looked like Northwestern might mount an improbable comeback, but Ian Book had other plans. Groan.
3. Clayton Thorson’s touchdown run vs Wisconsin
Any Thorson rushing touchdown that’s not a QB sneak is an instant highlight, but this one was particularly special. On a crucial 3rd and goal, Northwestern’s senior leader stepped up in the pocket to avoid a sack before showing off a Justin Jackson-esque juke on a Badger linebacker to dive in and extend the ball for the Northwestern touchdown.
Let’s not forget this man had torn his ACL ten months earlier.
2. Bennett Skowronek’s diving TD catch at Iowa
How is this not the top play?
1. John Moten to the house vs Ohio State
- Nate Hall’s one-handed interception at Purdue
- Bowser’ TD run at Iowa
- Bowser’s truckstick vs Wisconsin
- Thorson’s touchdown run vs Ohio State
- Michigan State’s secondary forgetting Kyric McGowan existed
- Gaziano eating Artur Sitkowski at Rutger