Continuing where we left off earlier this week, InsideNU has compiled a watch list of the best Northwestern football games by decade (that we could find video of). Some of these have entire game footage while others are limited to approximately five-minute recaps. We recognize the incomplete nature of this list as we were unable to find online footage of some of the most important games. However, please feel free to comment games that you feel worthy of being on the list.
Next up, we have the greatest moments of the 2000s.
Northwestern at Wisconsin, 2000
After a miserable 1999 season, a more experienced Wildcat squad entered Camp Randall upset-minded. Running back Damien Anderson’s game winning double-OT touchdown run ended an 11-game win streak for the Badgers. Wisconsin took a 34-31 lead toward the end of regulation, but a final-minute drive from quarterback Zak Kustok and a 46-yard field goal from Tim Long extended the game.
Watch highlights here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhmcBQEqYXo
Northwestern at Minnesota, 2000
Two words: Hail. Mary. While the 2000 season was full of impressive upsets, the nature of this game is unmatched. Down 35-14, the Wildcats began to play more freely by taking risks on fourth down (ones that would pay off). Five fourth down conversions, including four that resulted in a touchdown, were the hallmark of the game for the Wildcats. Whether it was luck or fate, Coach Randy Walker’s decision to call “Victory Right” — the Wildcats Hail Mary play — resulted in a 46-yard Kustok tipped pass caught by Sam Simmons to win the game and finish the massive comeback.
Watch a (very abridged version) here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5s1ip-ul7E4
Michigan vs. Northwestern, 2000
Already bowl eligible, the 6-2 Wildcats entered this game hosting the 12th-ranked Michigan Wolverines. The week after escaping Minnesota by the skin of their teeth, the Wolverine offense exposed the NU defense to go up 28-10. The tides then shifted purple with a Northwestern touchdown followed by an onside kick recovery, which left the Wildcats down 28-23 at halftime. Anderson and Kustok formed a deadly duo, combining for over 500 yards. Then, the Northwestern took a 46-45 lead heading into the most chaotic final two minutes of Northwestern football of my lifetime.
Michigan scored again to take the lead, and the Wildcats began driving before a dropped pass by Damien Anderson at the goal line saw NU’s chances begin to fade. Michigan’s talented running back Anthony Thomas broke through the line but dropped the ball for the Wildcats to grab. A Kustok touchdown pass gave the Wildcats the lead before a botched Michigan field goal attempt ended the game.
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw66ZZqzf7w
Michigan State vs. Northwestern, 2001
Much credit to former Inside NU Editor-In-Chief Tristan Jung who wrote more about this game than I ever could. This instant-classic involves another successful Northwestern Hail Mary and a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ9pmBKgKhY
Ohio State vs. Northwestern, 2004
While they goalposts were unable to be laked post-game, the win was massive nonetheless. Beating the seventh-ranked Buckeyes snapped their 24-game win streak in the series and was the ‘Cats’ first home win over Ohio State since 1958. As the Buckeyes attempted a late fourth-quarter comeback, Jeff Backes intercepted Justin Zwick. On their final chance in regulation, the Buckeyes drove 69 plays in 90 seconds, which ended in a 21-yard touchdown pass to force overtime. Somehow, Groza Award-winning kicker Mike Nugent missed a 40-yard field goal wide right in overtime, which gave the Wildcats a chance to win. A one-yard Noah Herron run was the clincher.
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwqU9OZ_3S0&t=82s
Northwestern vs. Iowa, 2005
Down 24-7 at half, the Wildcats looked left for dead. A Tyrell Sutton touchdown with 2:10 remaining cut the Hawkeye lead to six. The Wildcats then attempted an onside kick, which was recovered by Reggie McPherson. Brett Basanez threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Ross Lane with 42 seconds left, and Northwestern held on. Basanez threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns in this impressive Wildcat win.
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjH5yKmm3y8
Northwestern at Iowa, 2008
After finishing 6-6 in 2007 and missing out on a bowl game, the Wildcats opened the 2008 season prepared for revenge. Northwestern entered Kinnick Stadium off a 4-0 start to the season, hoping to maintain their early-season momentum into conference play. After quickly going down 10-0, Northwestern responded with a field goal. A Ricki Stanzi 45-yard touchdown pass extended the Hawkeye lead to 14 with 2:11 left in the first half. Then, a one-yard CJ Bacher touchdown throw with 13 seconds left in the first half left the Wildcat deficit at seven. Two more Bacher touchdown passes (both to Eric Peterman) gave the Wildcats a 22-17 lead. The Northwestern defense came up clutch, stopping an Iowa drive on four straight pass attempts at the Northwestern eight yard line with 4:16 remaining.
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXzkTe5pZwg
Northwestern at Iowa, 2009
The Wildcats entered Kinnick Stadium once again upset-minded. The 9-0 Iowa Hawkeyes had national championship hopes to which Northwestern dealt a fatal blow. Iowa quickly went up 10-0 in the first quarter, as Wildcat fans thought that the game might get ugly. Four minutes into the second quarter, a Corey Wootton strip-sack (which would knock Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi out of the rest of the game) was picked up in the end zone by Marshall Thomas for a touchdown. Dan Persa threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Drake Dunsmore for a touchdown before halftime, and the Wildcats would not give the lead back. In the fourth quarter, a 47-yard Stefan Demos field goal put Northwestern up seven, and the upset of the eighth-ranked Hawkeyes was complete.
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiV917zOX20
Wisconsin vs. Northwestern, 2009
The Wildcats threw the first punch against the 16th-ranked Badgers. After the ‘Cats took an early 10-0 lead, Iowa fought back with two consecutive touchdowns. However, NU scored two more touchdowns and a field goal to take a 13-point lead at the half. While Northwestern was up nine late in the game, Wisconsin closed the gap with another touchdown. Like any quality Big Ten football game, the next five possessions included four punts and a fumble before Jordan Mabin iced the game with an interception at the 33-second mark.
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uv18Ct8_JRE