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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern holds on to beat Utah 14-7, extend bowl winning streak

Eight wins is a strong way to cap off your first year as head coach.

SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl - Utah v Northwestern Photo by Zak Krill/Getty Images

May the streak live on.

Northwestern (8-5, 5-4 Big Ten) outlasted Utah (8-5, 5-3 PAC-12) in an uber low-scoring game from Allegiant Stadium, ending 14-7. Ben Bryant won game MVP honors by throwing for 220 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner following what seemed to be a concussion. Additionally, NU’s defense was outstanding, forcing three takeaways and sacking Bryson Barnes five times.

Utah won the toss and deferred, giving Ben Bryant and Co. the ball to start the game. On the inaugural play, Bryant connected with Henning for a short gain, yet he was sacked on second down. On third down, Bryant was dropped again in the backfield, and NU punted the ball away to the Utes.

After Hunter Renner flipped the field, the ‘Cats continued the sack party when Richie Hagarty walloped Byson Barnes for a seven-yard loss. Two plays later, Anto Saka got home on the twist stunt for a sack, forcing Utah to send it right back to the Wildcats. On the punt, the ‘Cats nearly came away with the block but still induced a shank, giving them possession on Utah’s 45. After both teams possessed the ball, the combined yardage was -26.

Two straight carries to Cam Porter brought up third-and-manageable for the ‘Cats, and Porter took a third straight handoff for eight yards and a new set of downs. At Utah’s 31, the ‘Cats’ offense stalled out. A batted-down pass and a blown-up screen made it third-and-long, and pressure from the Utes made Bryant’s third-down toss to Bryce Kirtz off line. To make matters worse, Jack Olsen’s 51-yard kick pushed wide right, keeping the score even at zero.

After Utah regained possession, two straight handoffs did not gain much ground, and on third down, great coverage from the ‘Cats’ backend bought enough time for Kenny Soares Jr. to bring Barnes down for NU’s third sack of the game. Once again, Utah punted the ball to the Wildcats’ 30.

On the ensuing drive, Bryant hit Cam Johnson on the RPO for a fresh set of downs, and Trey Tyus mowed his way across midfield. After first down went nowhere, Bryant connected with Johnson to make it third-and-manageable, yet, the QB sailed a deep ball to Kirtz to end the drive. On the other end, Renner’s punt was downed inside the 2.

The punt was all for naught, as Ja’Quinden Jackson ripped off a 25-yard run on the first play on the drive. The Utes moved the chains once more on a pair of runs and crossed midfield a few plays later. Inside ‘Cats territory, though, Utah tried to air it out for the first time of the drive, but it backfired when Jaheem Joseph ranged over, high-pointed the football and came away with the interception at the goal line. When the clock struck zero, the teams were still scoreless.

To start the second quarter, NU found itself in a third-and-long, but a screen to Porter got right to the line to gain, although No. 4 took a massive shot. The fresh set of downs would not matter, as NU punted three plays later.

Despite the offensive struggles, Northwestern’s defense continued to ball. Joseph hauled in his second interception on consecutive drives and returned it inside the 10. The ‘Cats moved the ball inside the 1-yard line for third down, but Tyus was brought down short of the goal line. To make it even worse, Bryant went to the air on fourth down, but Utah sniffed it out and the pass fell incomplete in front of Charlie Mangieri, and NU came away empty.

Utah went three-and-out again, setting NU up right around midfield. On the first play of the drive, Himon picked up nine yards, yet the ‘Cats couldn’t get the extra yard after two horrid plays. On the fourth-and-inches, Braun decided to punt. Despite Utah’s poor offensive performance, the Utes picked up a first down on a personal foul penalty by Garnett Hollis Jr., who got lucky he was not ejected. The penalty didn’t matter as the ‘Cats got off the field once again.

On offense, Northwestern was the beneficiary of a facemask penalty, moving into Ute territory. Marshall Lang hauled in a third-down pass right at the sticks and followed it up with a 25-yard pass down the seam. On the next play, Bryant rifled one in to Johnson, who absorbed the contact and held on in the endzone to give NU a 7-0 lead with 80 seconds left in the half. To follow it up, Utah went three-and-out on the ensuing possession. sending the ball back to the ‘Cats with 1:04 left in the half.

With 30 seconds left in the half, Bryant found Kirtz on a deep dig to reach midfield, and the pair hit the same thing with 17 seconds to get into field goal range. The next play, Bryant beat the free rusher to find A.J. Henning to make it an easier kick, but Olsen pushed it wide right once again, keeping the ‘Cats’ lead at 7-0 at the half.

Opening up the second half, Jack Olsen’s kickoff sailed out of bounds, allowing Utah to begin its drive at the 35. Barnes powered ahead for a fresh set of downs, and the Utes reached ‘Cats’ territory a few plays later; however, Carmine Bastone wrapped up Barnes in the backfield for another sack, and the Utes punted for the sixth time in the game. Northwestern would send it right back to Utah after it went three-and-out. On the first play of Utah’s drive, Xander Mueller ripped the ball out of Jaylon Glover’s arms, and Rod Heard fell on it to give NU possession inside Utah territory. Yet, the offense did nothing again and Renner punted the ball inside the 10.

On the Utes' next possession, three straight handoffs moved them out of the shadows of their endzone for a first down. The ball stayed on the ground for three more plays, resulting in another set of downs. However, the ‘Cats’ defense got another stop, and the punt fest continued. After another Northwestern punt, Barnes scrambled for a first down into NU territory, but as the third quarter drew to a close, the ‘Cats still clung to a 7-0 lead.

To open the final frame, Glover ripped off a 19-yard catch-and-run, picking up a first down and reaching the edge of the red zone. A few plays later, Munir McClain hauled in an 18-yard catch to make it first--and--goal for the Utes. Two plays later, Micah Bernard waltzed into the endzone to make it 7-7.

After the score, the ‘Cats reached midfield when Lang juked his way for a first down. A play later, Bryant scrambled out of the pocket but remained down with an injury for a long time. With Brendan Sullivan inactive, Ryan Hilinski replaced Bryant and the drive stalled. On fourth-and-7, Hilinski sailed a ball short of the sticks for a turnover on downs, giving Utah the ball near mid-field. However, the ‘Cats’ defense stood tall on fourth, turning the Utes over on down at midfield.

On the next drive, Bryant returned to the game and floated a 34-yard pass to A.J. Henning, who fully extended to get his arms underneath for the catch, bringing NU into the red zone. On the next play, Bryant hit Kirtz in the corner of the end zone to give Northwestern a 14-7 lead with 6:19 left in the game.

After the touchdown, Utah quickly crossed midfield after strong plays on the ground. However, a sack by Sean McLaughlin set up a third-and-11. The Utes picked up eight on a completion, bringing up a fourth-and-three with two minutes to play. On fourth down, Barnes tried to squeeze a pass into Money Parks, but Hollis Jr. drove on the ball and knocked the ball away, giving NU the ball back with 1:55 left to play. On third down, Bryant scrambled for a first down, ending his college career and Northwestern’s season with a 14-7 victory.