Steve Schnur, a late first-quarter replacement, passed for two touchdowns and Dennis Lundy ran for three as Northwestern tied No. 24 Stanford, 41-41, leaving the Cardinal without a season-opening victory in the last eight years.
Steve Stenstrom, who ran for two touchdowns and passed for one, marched Stanford into scoring position in the final seconds, but Eric Abrams missed a 23-yard field-goal attempt with three seconds to play.
Abrams, a left-footed kicker, said he would have preferred kicking from the left hashmark instead of the right.
“Before I kicked the ball I knew there was a problem. I didn’t do a good job of adjusting,” he said.
Stanford Coach Bill Walsh was unforgiving. “We missed poorly on the kick,” he said. “There was no excuse for that.”
Northwestern (0-1-1), scoring the most points since a 41-14 victory over Wake Forest in 1991, took advantage of three fumble recoveries, two by nose guard Bill Koziel, for three scores and a 31-27 halftime lead.
Northwestern could have had a bigger lead. Stanford’s Mike Michell was credited with a seven-yard touchdown run by the game officials even though television replays showed the ball was fumbled away at the two.
A touchdown wasn’t signaled on the play, which ended with Northwestern recovering in the end zone for an apparent touchback. It was only after the officials conferred among themselves that Martin was given a touchdown to give Stanford a 13-10 lead.
In the third quarter, Sam Valenzisi kicked a 47-yard field goal, the longest of his career, to give Northwestern a 34-27 lead. But Stanford came right back with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Stenstrom to Justin Armour to tie the score at 34-34.
Schnur, who replaced ineffective starting quarterback Tim Hughes, connected with Michael Senters on a five-yard pass to put the Wildcats ahead, 41-34, in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. But on the next series, Stenstrom scored his second touchdown on a one-yard run.