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Northwestern can’t seal deal in overtime loss to Michigan

Daniel Jones (15) can’t stop Roy Roundtree from making 53-yard catch thled game-tying field goal. | AP

Daniel Jones (15) can’t stop Roy Roundtree from making a 53-yard catch that led to the game-tying field goal. | AP

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Updated: December 12, 2012 6:48AM



ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Northwestern appeared to have solved a problem that has vexed the Wildcats throughout coach Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure.

Doomed by fourth-quarter collapses in prominent games — most recently against Penn State and Nebraska — Northwestern finally seemed to grasp the game of inches and seconds Saturday in front of 112,510 fans at Michigan Stadium.

Clinging to a three-point lead, the Wildcats converted on fourth-and-one by a distance measured most accurately in millimeters, taking precious time off the clock. They gave the ball back to Michigan with 18 seconds left at the Wolverines’ 38-yard line.

But the Cardiac Cats know ­drama.

A desperation heave from Michigan backup quarterback Devin Gardner was tipped by Wildcats cornerback Daniel Jones, who jumped prematurely, tipping the ball up instead of down. Wolverines receiver Roy Roundtree — from his knees — hauled in the 53-yard pass to set up a game-tying 26-yard field goal.

In overtime, Gardner scored on a one-yard run, and seldom-used running back Tyris Jones — in for an injured Venric Mark — was stuffed on fourth-and-two, handing Michigan a 38-31 victory.

The loss eliminates Northwestern (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) from the race for the Legends Division title and a spot in the Big Ten championship game.

“It sucks,” middle linebacker ­Damien Proby said. “I mean, it’s not what we want by any means.”

Said Fitzgerald: “I thought our guys fought valiantly, and we just ended up one play short.”

The game-clinching play has escaped the Wildcats. It could have come midway through the third quarter when running back Mike Trumpy took a last-second pitch on an option from Kain Colter on third-and-eight, sprinted for the first down and slipped at the end of a 20-yard gain. It could have been a 30-yard touchdown, but Northwestern settled for a field goal.

It could have come on the next series when backup cornerback Demetrius Dugar — filling in for starter Nick VanHoose — was flagged for pass interference on third-and-17 from Michigan’s 15-yard line. The Wolverines (7-3, 5-1) scored a touchdown three plays later.

It could have been a near safety early in the fourth quarter when Gardner somehow flipped a pass in the general direction of a teammate as he fell to the ground in the end zone.

Ten plays and 91 yards later, the Wolverines scored another touchdown.

Or it could have been one more first down, one more pass broken up by Jones or maybe Brandon Williams punting the ball out of bounds, as instructed, instead of allowing Jeremy Gallon to return the ball 23 yards.

But those plays weren’t made, and the Wildcats, who already are bowl-eligible, now prepare for a road game against Michigan State before closing out the regular season at home against Illinois.

“It is just a tough way to lose,” quarterback Trevor Siemian said. “I thought up until 18 seconds left in the game that we were going to win it.

“There is not much you can do about it [being] just a bounce away from winning the ballgame.”



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