EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Graham Nicholson kicked a tiebreaking 36-yard field goal with 21 seconds left in regulation, and Miami (Ohio) rallied late to stun Northwestern 17-14 on Saturday.
It was the first win for the RedHawks (2-2) against against a Big Ten team since it beat Northwestern 44-14 in 2003. Miami went 13-1 that year and was ranked No. 10 in the final AP poll with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leading the way.
“It might have been a little more high scoring if Big Ben was there today,” Miami’s Chuck Martin joked after getting his first coaching win over a Big Ten foe. “It’s hard to beat Big Ten schools. To beat a Big Ten team that Coach (Pat) Fitzgerald coaches is pretty cool for me.”
And pretty cool for Miami’s players too.
Nicholson hit the upright on a previous field-goal attempt and had another blocked. His game-winner capped a 13-play, 58-yard drive.
“Like we always say in our locker room, one shot, one kill because nothing in the past matters,” Nicholson said. “Despite the fact that I missed those kicks earlier in the game, I still went out there and made the one that mattered.”
It was Northwestern’s (1-3) third straight loss and second shocking one at home, following a 31-24 setback to Southern Illinois last week.
Miami tied it at 14 with 7:23 left the fourth when quarterback Aveon Smith scored on a keeper. Keyon Mozee set up the touchdown after he broke free for a 66-yard run, reaching the Northwestern 1-yard line before being forced out of bounds.
Mozee led all rushers with 171 yards on 21 carries.
“They did a great job in crunch time when it needed to happen,” Fitzgerald said. “Again, we had inopportune turnovers, the worst times to give up a couple of explosive plays when we had fit things for the most part pretty well.”
Cam Porter barreled into the end zone from the 2-yard line just 1 minute and 11 seconds earlier to put Northwestern ahead 14-7. Porter, who finished with 42 yards on seven carries, twisted into the end zone up the middle to cap a 12-play, 58-yard drive.
Northwestern’s Ryan Hilinski passed for 232 yards and scored the Wildcats first touchdown on a 1-yard run in the first quarter. The junior quarterback entered averaging 320 yards per game through the air.
Smith hit Mac Hippenhammer with a 12-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds left in the first half. Smith, filling in for injured All-MAC quarterback Brett Gabbert, was limited to just 57 yards on 7-of-19 passing. The RedHawks gained 216 of their 273 total yards on the ground.
This one was largely about defense, although Northwestern’s offense sputtered on its own at times. Malik Washington had seven catches for 60 yards.
“No one could move the ball the whole night,” Martin said. “They throw the ball for 300 yards a game and we basically hold them to seven points until midway through the fourth quarter. Both defenses played wonderfully.”
Northwestern running back Evan Hull, who went into the game averaging 217 all-purpose yards per game, was held to 62 rushing yards and 10 yards on receptions.
The team were tied at 7 at the half.
Northwestern had 188 total yards by halftime and had a chance to take charge. But the Wildcats, hurt by turnovers in their first three games were burned again in the second quarter of this one.
Hilinski punched into the end zone on a keeper from inside the 1 with 3:36 left in the first quarter to put Northwestern up 6-0. It capped a 58-yard, 10-play drive keyed by Hilinski’s 23-yard pass to Marshall Lang.
The Wildcats were marching to a second score, but Malik Washington fumbled at the Miami 24 just 1:05 into the second quarter. Smith cobbled together a 14-play, 55-yard drive that ate up 7:19 of the clock before being hindered by two offensive penalties. Nicholson’s 38-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the right upright and Miami stayed off the scoreboard.
The Wildcats weren’t so lucky after Miami’s Caiden Woullard blocked Luke Akers’ punt attempt from the Northwestern 35 with 1:20 left in the half.
Chris Cavalaris recovered and took the ball down to the 8. Two plays later, Smith hit Hippenhammer with a pass and Miami tied it.
Northwestern seemed on the march at the opening of the third quarter, but Jacob Gill couldn’t handle Hilinski’s pass at the 50.
The programs met for the first time since Northwestern’s 16-6 win in 2009.
GIVE HIM A HAND
Miami linebacker Ryan McWood, who entered with 31 tackles, added 11 more. Martin said McWood broke his hand in the third quarter, sprinted off the field and had a cast put on. McWood returned for the fourth quarter and didn’t miss a series, according to his coach.
Miami: The RedHawks won their fourth straight coin toss, but didn’t start quickly this time after scoring on game-opening possessions in their first three games, including touchdowns at Kentucky and against Cincinnati. Like Northwestern, Miami was error-prone in this one, but eventually cashed in and got on the scoreboard after Woullard blocked Akers’ punt. “This is the best you could ask for going into conference (MAC) play,” Nicholson said. “Everything’s looking up. It’s hard to see the season going poorly.”
Northwestern: Turnovers, loose ball handling and a bad bounce or two haunted Northwestern again. In this one, Washington’s fumble changed the momentum of a game that seemed to be headed the Wildcats’ way. “I don’t want to discredit Miami, but we continue to keep beating ourselves,” Fitzgerald said. “Giving up short fields, keeping our defense on field with a blocked punt, turnovers. It’s not rocket science, you’ve got to take care of the ball to win.”
Miami: The RedHawks open MAC play at Buffalo next week.
Northwestern: Visits No. 14 Penn State next week as it returns to Big Ten action.
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