Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald relives Hail Mary vs. Nebraska

Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald relives Hail Mary vs. Nebraska
November 5, 2013, 10:15 am
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Vinnie Duber

Big Ten play has seen nothing but losses for the Northwestern Wildcats.

And while that in itself is shocking, none of those defeats were more shocking than Saturday's against Nebraksa, which ended on a 49-yard Hail Mary pass from Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp.

Everything about the play was a surprise, from the fact it was thrown by a third-string quarterback to the fact it was caught by a freshman wideout. Its improbability was enhanced because several plays earlier, a catch-and-run from running back Ameer Abdullah converted a first down on a 4th-and-15.

For Nebraksa and likely most impartial observers, the result was jaw-dropping excitement. But for Northwestern and its faithful, especially in this season, it was another sinking feeling, another thought of "here we go again."

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Now, with several days to think it over, what was supposed to happen?

Obviously from Northwestern's point of view, it wasn't supposed to be caught, as a gathering of Northwestern defenders was in position to do something to knock down the ball before Westerkamp caught the deflection. Traveon Henry seemed to be the player who made the now-infamous tip back that landed in the hands of Westerkamp, a Lombard native, but coach Pat Fitzgerald refused to call out any specific performances in his analysis of the play Monday.

"I'm not going to mention specific guys," Fitzgerald said at his weekly press conference. "We've just got to do a better job coaching the guys in that situation. There should be a guy in the front and a guy in the back and two guys going up to knock the ball down. Didn't execute it very well. ... We didn't execute it, so it's on us as coaches. That play doesn't happen if we get off the field on fourth down, we missed three tackles, things of that nature."

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For some fans, the play might have brought up bad memories of another last-second heave, the one Devin Gardner threw in last season's Northwestern loss at Michigan. Holding a 31-28 lead in that contest in Ann Arbor, Northwestern had to kill just 18 seconds, but Gardner launched a 53-yard bomb to a single-covered Roy Roundtree, who tipped it up to himself and hauled it in at the 9-yard line. That allowed Gardner to spike the ball and the Wolverines to kick a game-tying field goal that sent the game to overtime, where Michigan went on to win.

But even though he witnessed that just a year ago, Fitzgerald said he's never seen anything like what happened Saturday in Lincoln.

"As you watch those type of plays unfold, I don't know how many we've been a part of since I've been here, in 14 years, but that's the first one that I think we've lost like that," Fitzgerald said. "We had the play last year in Ann Arbor, that was just a fluke deal. It's tough, it's a tough deal. Without bad luck, we wouldn't have any luck. That's just the way that it is."