EVANSTON—A gory injury couldn’t knock Nate Hall out of the game or stop him from coming up with Northwestern’s biggest interception of the season.Hall picked off Brian Lewerke in the end zone on the game’s final play – even though he had 30 stitches in his left hand – after Clayton Thorson threw a 22-yard touchdown to Flynn Nagel in the third overtime to lead the Wildcats to a 39-31 victory over No. 16 Michigan State on Saturday.NU had a third down at the 22 when Thorson hit Nagel on a crossing pattern for the go-ahead TD. Cameron Green caught the two-point conversion to make it an eight-point game, and two big plays by the defense on one snap preserved the victory .Lineman Joe Gaziano stripped Lewerke as he dropped back on second down at the 25. Hall heard the crowd roar and figured there was a sack, but he stayed locked in coverage.Lewerke picked up the loose ball and fired toward the goal line. Hall reached up and came down with a pass intended for Matt Sokol , setting off a wild celebration with the sideline emptying and fans pouring out of the stands.
”We’re taught to stay in coverage,” Hall said. ”That’s exactly what I did.”
That Hall finished the game was quite an achievement. He missed most of the second quarter after his middle and index fingers got bent so far back they broke the skin.His interception set off a wild celebration, with the sideline emptying and fans pouring out of the stands.
”We’ve always kind of had the same mentality,” Nagel said. ”We’ve known that we can be a good team. We are a good team. I think we’re not just starting to prove that.”
The win was the third straight for the Wildcats (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) and their second in overtime in as many weeks. Michigan State (6-2, 4-1) came up short after winning four in a row.Thorson threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson had 41 yards rushing and 51 receiving. But the star running back threw for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter on his first career pass.Nagel added 87 yards receiving, and Cameron Green had 76 yards and a TD catch.
”We kept playing,” Thorson said. ”So proud of our guys. These are the games that – just think back to playing NCAA Football and going to triple-overtime with my brothers – this is something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Lewerke threw for 445 yards and four touchdowns. But he was second guessing his decision on the game’s final play.
”I should have thrown it away, but I saw Sokol running on the right side and it looked like he had a couple of steps on a guy,” he said. ”It just takes a little bit bigger of an arm to make that throw and obviously I probably shouldn’t have thrown it in that situation.”
Cody White had 165 yards receiving and two TDs. But instead of heading into next week’s home game against No. 2 Penn State unbeaten with a perfect conference record, the Spartans came up short facing a resurgent team.After Michigan State deferred to start the first OT, Thorson threw a 14-yard touchdown to Green.Lewerke then hit Felton Davis with a 6-yarder to tie it and gave the Spartans a 31-24 lead with an 11-yarder to White. But Jackson tied it again with a 3-yard run for his 38th career touchdown, tying Damien Anderson’s program record.
”They’re seeing the return on the investment, that the work (they’re) putting in, (they’re) getting the reward,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Jackson also gave Northwestern a 17-10 lead early in the fourth. He took a handoff from Thorson and threw a wobbly 12-yard touchdown to Bennett Skowronek in the back of the end zone.Michigan State’s Matt Coghlin hit the right upright attempting a 32-yard field goal with about six minutes left in regulation. But the Spartans got another chance.Lewerke scrambled for 5 yards on a fourth-and-4 from the 30 and threw a 13-yard touchdown to Felton Davis III in the left corner of the end zone to tie it with 25 seconds left in regulation.The Spartans could have really made things interesting in the Big Ten with back-to-back games against No. 2 Penn State and No. 6 Ohio State coming up.The Wildcats squeezed out another tight win and once again seem to be hitting their stride after a slow start, just as they did last year.NU visits Nebraska on Nov. 4.