In perhaps the biggest game in recent memory, the #16-ranked Northwestern Wildcats led perennial Big Ten football power and #6-ranked Ohio State in the fourth quarter only to fall behind late, ultimately losing by a 40-30 score. The game was only part of the story, though, as national sports figures and tens of thousands of fans descended upon Evanston, filling restaurants and hotels all weekend long.
National sports icon ESPN aired its seminal college football show, “College Gameday,” from Northwestern’s campus near the lake. The Network selected the game, pitting the Big Ten’s two top-ranked teams against each other, as its college football Game of the Week – a prime-time clash that kicked off at 7 p.m. “Gameday” broadcasts between 8 and 11 a.m.
An electric atmosphere charged up and down Central Street – quite literally – as the game approached. A band of violent thunderstorms blew through the region around 5 p.m., dropping significant rain while lightning forced the evacuation of the stadium. The public was advised to seek immediate shelter.
The storm, however, passed in time for the game, and despite forecasts showing another band of severe weather, did not return. The weather ultimately had little or no impact on the game itself.
Northwestern selected the Ohio State game as its homecoming, filling a tent north of the stadium with visiting alumni. In years past, games featuring teams such as Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, and to an extent Iowa, Illinois, Penn State and Nebraska, sold out with regularity, as fans of those teams travel. Northwestern has been building a following at home, however, and there was more purple in the stands than red and grey this year.
There were still plenty of Ohio State faithful on hand, though. They did not leave disappointed.
Northwestern led 23-20 at the end of the third quarter. In keeping with tradition, the fourth quarter is introduced by a public figure on the Jumbotron in the stadium. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel did the honors for this game, and received a salvo of boos from the crowd. It was a bad omen.
Trevor Siemian made his one big mistake of the day throwing an interception that resulted in Ohio State scoring to take the lead. The touchdown came on a controversial run initially ruled down at the one but changed after replay – Ohio State would have faced a fourth and inches.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Semien made up for his interception with perhaps his best throw of the day, a thread-the-needle laser between two defenders to Rashad Lawrence that went for 67 yards. Another Siemian pass, on third and long, put the ‘Cats back up 30-27 with just over nine minutes left in the game.
Northwestern’s defense appeared tired on the next possession as Ohio State cruised down the field for a go-ahead touchdown to take a 34-30 lead. Northwestern still had a chance, especially following a 38-yard kickoff return by running back Venric Mark. With time ticking away, Northwestern faced fourth and inches. A fumbled snap, a controversial spot of the ball and a change in possession effectively ended Northwestern’s night. Ohio State scored a meaningless touchdown on a punt return scramble later, an event that mattered only to oddsmakers who labeled Ohio State a 6.5-point favorite.
After the game, the streets were still filled. Downtown Evanston continued to buzz well after midnight. Cabs were in short supply as restaurants and bars closed their doors for the night.
Northwestern continues its quest for a Big Ten title, still a possibility despite the loss, next week against Wisconsin in Madison.