On the penultimate play of what would prove to be one of Northwestern’s most significant victory in the past decade, the Wildcats’ defense needed to make one last stop.
No. 7 C.H. Flowers had cut a 19-point deficit to five and faced fourth and 14 at the Northwestern 15-yard line with seconds left in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Roman Williams — who had led Flowers’ comeback attempt — dropped back to pass, but his throw fell incomplete in the back of the end zone.
The Wildcats prevailed, 19-14, Friday night over a vaunted Flowers program they had not beaten since 2001. Some Northwestern players cried as students swarmed the field to absorb the moment with them.
“Just gotta breathe,” said Bryan Pierre, who is in his 10th season as the Wildcats coach.
His relief was understandable. What transpired over the final 24 minutes of play brought back horrid memories of Northwestern’s meeting with Flowers last season. The Wildcats held a 13-0 lead in that game, but ended up losing, 14-13.
On Friday, Northwestern held a 19-0 lead entering halftime thanks in large part to a stingy defensive effort. The Wildcats forced turnovers on Flowers’s first two offensive possessions of the second half, but then the momentum shifted. Williams threw touchdown passes on consecutive series to cut into the Wildcats’ lead.
With his team battling considerable nerves, Pierre opted for the practical route and started handing the ball to senior running back Darius Victor on nearly every play. Victor had been difficult to bring down all night — he finished with 222 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries — and his runs effectively ate up game clock in the fourth quarter.
“My blocking opened up some holes, and I just hit ’em,” said Victor, who also turned in a quality effort on defense at middle linebacker. “It was a pretty good night. Got scary at the end, though, but we held on.”
Flowers got one final chance and drove deep into Northwestern territory, but the Wildcats defense stood firm as it had most of the night.
“We were just trying to take ’em out,” said senior John Johnson III, who caught a touchdown pass and tallied an interception on defense. “They’ve been in the playoffs the last however many years, and we wanted to take them out so we could make it to the playoffs. . . . We knew we could beat ’em. I think we can go farther than ever.”