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Turnovers, replays help Northwestern turn back Wisconsin

Northwestern's Justin Jackson (21) celebrates his touchdown run Saturday against Wisonsin. | Morry Gash/AP

MADISON, Wis. — The takeaways from this showdown between No. 20 Northwestern and No. 21 Wisconsin?

1. Giveaways hurt.

2. It’s always good to be on the right side of the video-replay official’s calls.

In a battle featuring stout defenses and modest offenses, the Wildcats prevailed 13-7 on Saturday in frigid Camp Randall Stadium.

‘‘One heck of a defensive battle,’’ NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said after holding the Badgers to minus-26 yards on 26 rushes. ‘‘We found a way to get one more stop. I was incredibly proud of our kids.’’

The win leaves NU (9-2, 5-2) two wins away from a school-record 11-win season. The Cats will play Illinois at Soldier Field on Saturday, and then head off to what’s shaping up as a very attractive bowl.

‘‘To play in an NFL stadium is pretty cool,’’ Justin Jackson said after rushing for 139 yards against a Wisconsin defense that led the Big Ten by allowing 97.6 rushing yards a game. ‘‘We’re all really looking forward to [playing in Soldier Field]. To play a team like Illinois that beat us in our house last year, we’re going to be really motivated, trying to get to 10 wins next week.’’

Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2) entered the game looking like a strong Holiday Bowl candidate. But don’t rule out NU after this win.

‘‘Both have very rich traditions, history and culture,’’ said Holiday Bowl representative Gary Rectenwald, beaming because he’d soon be headed back to Southern California. ‘‘They’ve been playing consistently excellent football. And they have excellent fan bases in Los Angeles, San Diego and Arizona, which is appealing to us.’’

The Cats enhanced their bowl prospects thanks to three apparent Badger touchdowns that were nixed in the replay booth. All seemed to be good reversals, although they enraged the 75,276 fans at Camp Randall.

A punt return for a TD came back because Alex Erickson had signalled a fair catch at the Wisconsin 22 with 5:46 left in the third quarter.

The Badgers then saw a 23-yard TD pass turned into a 22-yard catch at the 1 yardline with 41 seconds left because Troy Fumagalli was ruled down. And finally, a one-yard TD on the next play was ruled incomplete because Jazz Peavy failed to control the ball.

‘‘I’m still kind of speechless,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘I don’t know how that just unfolded. I’ve been on the other side of those games. I feel for those kids from Wisconsin because that’s a tough way to end up on the short end of it. [But] I’m incredibly happy for our guys. We have a lot to be thankful for here on Thanksgiving week.’’

Since its blowout losses to Michigan and Iowa, NU has won its last four games by a total of 17 points.

If the Cats aren’t overwhelming opponents, they are finding ways to survive and advance.

NU hobbled the Badgers with a 5-0 turnover advantage, but managed only 10 points off those miscues. Place-kicker Jack Mitchell, who was 2 for 4 on field goals, continued his erratic ways, missing from 27 and 40 yards.

‘‘It was a tough game to lose,’’ said UW coach Paul Chryst, who was OK with the fair-catch call, but seemed most bothered by the Peavy reversal. ‘‘I thought he had gotten a couple of feet down. [But] it doesn’t matter what I think.’’

The Cats’ joy was evident after a tough contest.

‘‘It was awesome,’’ said defensive end Deonte Gibson, who had four tackles for a loss, including three sacks. ‘‘We wanted to prove to Wisconsin, the Big Ten and the rest of the nation that we’re a great defense. I think we got that done today.’’