On a day when a trio of tackles were honored as legends, it was a receiver that made the biggest play. Roy Roundtree has become a big play legend in his own right while donning Desmond Howard’s legends jersey and has now been on the receiving end of two of the most improbable comebacks in Michigan history.
When Michigan got the ball back at its own 38 with 18 seconds remaining, J.T. Floyd told the offense that the defense did its part and now it was up to them. Devin Gardner launched the ball downfield and Roundtree tipped it in the air and caught it from his knees at the Northwestern 9-yard line with eight seconds left. Brendan Gibbons hit the 26-yard field goal to tie the game at 31.
In overtime, Michigan got the ball first and went right back to Roundtree. A 17-yard reception put the ball inside the 10 and after a pair of Fitz Toussaint runs to the Northwestern one, Gardner faked the handoff and rolled to the right for the touchdown. After the game, Gardner credited Al Borges with the call.
“That was a play call by Coach Borges; it was a great call,” Gardner said. “When I saw how tight they were, I was like ‘this is the best call possible’ and I basically walked into the end zone.”
Northwestern took over needing a touchdown to force a second overtime, but on 4th-and-2, Kenny Demens hit Tyris Jones at the line of scrimmage to seal the deal.
The game was a lot closer than many expected, with both teams fighting to keep their respective Big Ten title hopes alive. Northwestern struck first with a 10-play, 78-yard touchdown drive after forcing Michigan to punt away its first possession. But Michigan matched the Wildcats with a 10-play, 78-yard drive of its own, capped off by a Gardner 8-yard touchdown run. On the run, Gardner appeared to have nowhere to go around the 5-yard line, but pump-faked the defender which gave him just enough space to dive for the pylon.
Michigan appeared to be ready to score again on its next possession as Toussaint broke a 50-yard run inside the NW 10-yard line. But a hit from behind popped the ball loose and Northwestern recovered at its own three.
The Wildcats moved the ball to the 49, but Jibreel Black sacked Colter and knocked the ball loose. Michigan recovered at the Northwestern 37.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Michigan struck again, this time a 10-play, 37-yard drive punctuated by a Thomas Rawls 1-yard touchdown run. Gardner kept the drive alive with a 17-yard run on 3rd-and-11.
The teams traded punts and Northwestern got the ball back with 1:53 remaining in the first half. Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian came in and guided the Wildcats to a game-tying touchdown that covered 56 yards in six plays. The teams entered halftime deadlocked at 14.
In the second half, Northwestern did just what it did on its first possession of the game: march the ball right down the field for a score. The Wildcats went 75 yards on 10 plays as Kain Colter found Dan Vitale for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Michigan went three-and-out and NW was on the move again. On 3rd-and-goal from the eight, Craig Roh came up with a big sack to force the Wildcats to kick a 34-yard field goal and take a 24-14 lead.
Michigan answered right back with a four-play, 78-yard drive that was aided by a pass interference call on Northwestern on 3rd-and-17. Right after that, Gardner found Jeremy Gallon for a 42-yard play and then dumped the ball off to Toussaint who romped 28 yards into the end zone.
After forcing a NW punt, Michigan went 91 yards on 11 plays to regain the lead. On 3rd-and-6 from the Northwestern eight, Gardner hit Devin Funchess in the end zone. Michigan led 28-24 with 8:45 to play.
But Northwestern wasn’t finished. The Wildcats mounted an eight-play, 66-yard drive to take the lead back. Colter had to come out of the game with an injury and Siemian came in and completed passes of 21 yards and 15 yards. The Wildcats were also helped out by a 15-yards roughing the passer penalty on Brennen Beyer, taking away what would have been 3rd-and-11.
Dennis Norfleet returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to the Michigan 42, but Gardner was intercepted on the first play. With 3:37 remaining, Northwestern forced Michigan to use its time outs and set up 4th-and-1 from theMichigan 41. Colter was stopped by James Ross just short of the 40, but the measurement awarded the Wildcats a first down and it appeared all of Michigan’s hopes were dashed. NW kept running the ball to work the clock and Michigan forced the punt with 25 seconds remaining, setting up the end-of-game drama that unfolded.
Michigan kept its hopes of winning the Legends division alive while dashing Northwestern’s. For the Wildcats, it was a familiar refrain: blowing late-game leads as they have done so often this year.
Michigan hosts Iowa next week in what will be Denard Robinson’s final game in the Big House. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to play. Brady Hoke said he’s still day-to-day. But as Denard has been on the sideline, the legend of Devin Gardner continues to grow. However, Gardner dismissed any notion of replacing Denard in Michigan’s lineup.
“This is Denard’s team and it’s always going to be Denard’s team until he’s gone,” Gardner said. “He’s done way too much for two games to change that.”