By LaMond Pope
SOUTH BEND, Indiana – Pat Fitzgerald didn’t have any words of wisdom for kicker Jack Mitchell.
No speech to match the magnitude of the moment.
“It’s about action,” the Northwestern coach said. “Even when he got iced [at the end of regulation], we didn’t come over and have a chit-chat and coffee and talk about world peace. It’s ‘go do your job.’ ”
Mitchell did just that, connecting from 41 yards to give the Wildcats a stunning 43-40 overtime victory against Notre Dame.
“I looked up and I knew it was in right away,” Mitchell said. “So I started running the other way.”
Mitchell made four field goals. The third tied the score at 40 with 19 seconds left. The game-winner came shortly after Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza missed from 42 yards.
“Incredible,” Mitchell said. “Never experienced anything like that. Never had a game-winner before. Very, very fun.”
Notre Dame and Northwestern hadn’t played since 1995.
It was worth the wait.
The Wildcats took advantage of four Notre Dame turnovers (one interception, three fumbles) to complete the comeback.
“There weren’t errors,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “There were critical errors.”
The mistakes added up to a second straight defeat.
“We just don’t play clean enough as a football team and those are the things that prevent us from winning,” Kelly said. “You can’t start winning until you stop losing.”
The Irish (7-3) built a 40-29 lead when Everett Golson found Will Fuller for an 11-yard touchdown with 10:43 left. The Irish decided to go for two and failed.
“We felt like given the circumstances, our kicking-game situation, that we were going to try to extend it with a two-point play,” Kelly said.
Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian scored on a six-yard run, and the Wildcats (4-6) had a successful two-point conversion, to get within 40-37.
Notre Dame still looked like it had the game in hand after picking up a couple of first downs. But normally reliable back Cam McDaniel fumbled.
“It was a critical situation in the game and a time where my number was called on and I just didn’t get the job done,” McDaniel said. “That’s really all there is to it.”
Northwestern took over at its own 28 with 1:28 left.
“I said, ‘They are giving us a shot, guys. Let’s let it rip,’ ”Siemian said.
It took just five plays to reach Notre Dame’s 28. Three incomplete passes followed, putting it all on Mitchell’s foot.
“You’ve had so many reps kicking over the years and in the cold, we practiced outside this week,” he said. “I was feeling comfortable.”
He came through at the end of regulation and again in overtime to give the Wildcats a win for the ages.
“The way the guys persevered and fought I thought was really the hallmark that we have tried to do all season long,” Fitzgerald said. “We were able to find a way to make one more big play.”