2013 was one of the most disappointing seasons in Northwestern history. Coming off a 10-3 season the year before and returning most of the same talent, ‘Cats’ fans had high expectations. The team cruised to a 4-0 start, the 16th overall ranking in the AP poll and a 23-13 lead over No. 4 Ohio State with under 20 minutes of gameplay remaining. You all know what happened after that. NU blew the lead, lost seven straight games in total (five of which were one-possession losses) and salvaged only a little dignity in their annual owning of Illinois.
But here we are again, back in the 2013-14 college football season, where the ‘Cats now find themselves up against the Crimson Tide in the last ever BCS National Championship, playing in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. What a time to be playing video games. Saban vs Fitz for the natty, and here we go.
After missing the last eight games with broken ribs, dynamic running back Venric Mark finally returned to lineup as a game-time decision. However, we struggled to get our run game going early as Bama’s Jeoffery Pagan wrecked the o-line.
They forced us into a fourth-and-1 near midfield early, but I decided that we had not come this far to simply roll over and defer to the favorites. Colter converted it on a sneak, but we then faced a fourth-and-11, which we again converted with our trademark deep crossing route to Tony Jones over the middle. The game-opening, 20-play drive eventually resulted in a Colter touchdown pass to Mark to put us up 7-0 early.
In typical, early 2010s Bama fashion, A.J. McCarron handed the ball off to T.J. Yeldon three times in a row rather than attempting any passes to future NFL star Amari Cooper. They gained eight yards in total and gave us the ball right back.
They would soon regret these decisions.
The Colter-Mark read option finally gained some momentum, which baited the Tide secondary into creeping up too far toward the line of scrimmage. I (virtual Mick McCall) called for the perfect counter in a HB screen to Mark, which he took 60 yards. To. The. House. 14-0 NU at the end of one.
As you would expect, Nick Saban was not happy with this.
Bless you, old video game graphics. Bless you.
The Tide seemed to be turning, as they were slowly grinding their way up the field. Then, the most insane thing that I HAVE EVER SEEN HAPPENED. Just watch.
In case you couldn’t tell from that replay, that was an interception returned for a touchdown by Collin Ellis. Yes, a pick. He swatted the ball down, scooped it up before it could hit the ground and ran 50 yards before diving head-first into the end zone to make it a 21-0 game. Never could I have predicted that a player could perform the immaculate reception to themself, but here we are.
Alabama went three-and-out again, we marched down the field again and punched it across the goal line with fullback Doug Diedrick to make it 28-0.
The Tide managed to squeak out a 58-yard field goal as time expired in the half to make it 28-3, but that seemed like it would only be a footnote in this historic stomping. Quite honestly, what felt more important was Damien Proby’s breaking of the school’s single-season sack record with 13.5.
Halftime was very long for those Bama fans that in this re-telling came into the game hoping for a three-peat. Look at this Pasadena crowd smothered in purple.
One side of the crowd is split about half-and-half, while the other is a blanket of purple. That makes it 75 percent Northwestern fans in attendance by my super accurate methods, which would then mean there were approximately 68,166 NU fans present to see the ‘Cats lay the smack down. Wonderful. Can we get verification from the Office of Alumni Relations and Development?
The second half began, and Alabama finally managed to get into the end zone and make it 28-10. Whatever, right?
We again go for it on fourth-and-short on our side of the field but this time can’t convert. We’re still okay, I think?
Bama got into the red zone, but a big sack from Dean Lowry not only slowed their momentum but knocked McCarron out of the game with a broken finger and forced them to settle for a field goal. The Wildcats still lead, 28-13.
It seems like we finally had things back under control as we cruised down the field with Colter runs and passes to either Tony or Christian Jones as we enter the fourth quarter. Seven yards away from pay dirt...Colter (well, me tbh) threw across his body and was intercepted, giving the Tide some life. Oh boy.
They didn’t gash us for any big plays, but we just couldn’t slow them down. They scored another touchdown and converted the two-point conversion to make it 28-21. The good news, though, is they took so much time that only 1:32 remained.
Northwestern recovered the ensuing onside kick, meaning only one first down was needed to drain Saban of his three timeouts and secure the historic victory.
First play: A two-yard run by Mark that sets up second-and-8.
Second play: Mark finds a gaping hole up the middle, but gets caught from behind by a linebacker, limiting him to a seven-yard gain to make it third-and-1. And now, here it is...
A QB sneak for the Heisman-winning Colter. First down. Ballgame. National championship. Glory.
(I have the less-cool version that has no post-game celebrations but is exciting nonetheless!)
It was a long, three-week journey, but it was all worth it for me to not only pummel my friend Mac in this competition but bring home the big one to Evanston.
In the grand scheme of things, this series may seem insignificant, but I won’t forget how I fell in video game love with each of these guys. How fun it was to rush the weak side with Ellis or Proby. How VanHoose always seemed to come up with a clutch interception or pass breakup when we needed it. And of course, how unstoppable it was to run any kind of option play with the now-legendary Kain Colter.
I had a ton of fun with this project, and I hope you all had fun watching these ‘Cats go 14-0 on their way to a national title.