Dream Comes True Again at Northwestern
Beyond the purple haze there looms more magic: Ohio State loses to Michigan, Florida State tops Florida, Tennessee folds, and Nebraska is unable to bail out enough players to field a team.
Northwestern wins the national championship, Charlton Heston plays the made-for-TV movie role of Coach Gary Barnett and youngsters everywhere dream of going to college for a good education and also the chance to be just like Darnell Autry.
Is there anything more unbelievable than this: Northwestern has now defeated Notre Dame, Michigan and Penn State in the same year. That has never happened here before in the same decade, but Saturday at Dyche Stadium the sixth-ranked Wildcats nailed the trifecta with a 21-10 victory over Joe Paterno and his 12th-ranked Nittany Lions before 49,256.
“You stand on the sideline and you think back to games when you played out there and there were 15,000 people at the game,” Northwestern quarterback Steve Schnur said. “And then you look up and there are 40,000 purple fans going crazy, and it’s just an awesome thing.”
The Wildcats, 8-1 and 6-0 in the Big Ten, upset Notre Dame and Michigan on the road, but on this day their swelling faithful enjoyed the biggest victory in Northwestern history at home since defeating the Irish, 35-6, in 1962.
The party has been a long time in coming, and after Schnur knelt down to run out the clock and secure the victory, the fans stormed the field and began climbing the goal posts. A chant of “Rose Bowl, Rose Bowl” had already been raised, and while Ohio State must lose for Northwestern to go to Pasadena, it’s the first time since 1948 that those words had any significant meaning around here.
“People just don’t seem to want to admit they’re a good team, but I’m telling you they are good,” Paterno said. “They don’t have a lot of glamour athletes and like some of the good teams I had over the years, they don’t do anything fancy or win big. They just win. They don’t look spectacular doing it, but they’re my kind of football team.”
The Wildcats, while short on household names, feature a sophomore running back in Autry who should get Heisman Trophy attention. For the 10th consecutive game, game Autry topped the 100-yard mark, and in rushing for 147 yards in 36 carries with three touchdowns, he did so against the nation’s 13th-best rushing defense.
“I’m sure they were gearing up to stop the run,” Autry said, “but if the offensive line is doing their job then I don’t think it matters.”
Northwestern won the coin toss and broke from college tradition, and instead of deferring to the second half, they opted to take the football. It had all been planned before the game.
“It was partly psychological and it was partly done because we wanted one more offensive possession if we could get it,” Barnett said. “We wanted our offense on the field.”
The Northwestern offense is Autry left and Autry right. Autry, who ran for 171 yards against Penn State last year in his first collegiate start, gave Northwestern a 14-0 lead with touchdown runs of two and 10 yards before closing the scoring with a one-yard dive in the fourth quarter.
“The final drive was just good stuff,” Autry said. “Obviously no one is giving us respect for having good athletes, but if you look at that last scoring drive you saw how focused we are as a team.”
Penn State (6-3, 3-3), which made a pitch for momentum with a touchdown in the closing seconds of the half, limited the Wildcats to three offensive plays in the third quarter. The game began to tilt in favor of the Lions, but after closing to 14-10 on Brett Conway’s 24-yard field goal, Penn State self-destructed.
“We had our opportunities,” Paterno said, “But that’s the best defense we have played this season.”
The Lions controlled the ball for 8:17 but failed to score when Conway’s 27-yard field-goal attempt was ruled wide right. Penn State argued the call, but Northwestern took the ball and Barnett called a team meeting.
“We needed to take the heat off our defense,” Barnett said. “We needed a patented 80-yard march, and that’s what I told the offense.”
Patented? Northwestern has a patent on 80-yard marches? The Mildcats?
The Mildcats no more. Northwestern went 80 yards in nine plays, helped in part by wide receiver Dave Beazley’s 25-yard run off a reverse on first and 19, to score on Autry’s one-yard run and put Penn State away.
“People talk about Northwestern being this and that, but that’s the past,” said Wildcat linebacker Pat Fitzgerald, who had a team-high 20 tackles. “We don’t know anything about the past; this is our time.”
It began with Notre Dame the first week of September, and as Barnett said after the game, it continued the first week of October with a victory over Michigan and now the glow of victory once again in this first week of November.
Barnett was asked about the first week of January.
“Something has been mentioned to the team,” Barnett said, but as for the rest of the nation, Barnett added, “We’ll probably still be underdogs next week against Iowa.”