HOUSTON – The heavy fog that descended on south Texas early Saturday was unusual for this time of year. And even though most of it had lifted 90 minutes before the start of the Meineke Car Care Bowl at Reliant Stadium, it hung like a heavy curtain on Northwestern.
The Wildcats couldn’t find the spark they needed until it was too late and went on to lose their ninth consecutive bowl game, this one 33-22 to Texas A&M.
‘‘They all stink,” said Pat Fitzgerald, who played in two bowl games as an NU linebacker and has been an assistant or the head coach for the Wildcats’ last six bowl games. ‘‘That’s really eloquent and professional, I know, but they’re all equally awful.
‘‘You know I love you guys who write for us in Chicago, and I know you’ll beat us up with [the losing streak] again and that the monkey is on our back. But we’ll worry about that the next postseason.”
The figurative monkey is real – or at least it was last week. An NU player toted around a stuffed monkey wearing a No. 63 jersey – representing the number of years since the Wildcats (6-7) last won a bowl game – every day leading up to the game. Injured defensive lineman Niko Mafuli, who broke his leg in practice Dec. 10, had the monkey strapped to his scooter during the game.
After the game, an oddly subdued Fitzgerald gave credit to an Aggies defense that held NU to 278 yards and sacked quarterbacks Dan Persa and Kain Colter a combined eight times (Persa seven times, Colter once). Fitzgerald also praised Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was 27-for-40 for 329 yards and a touchdown.
But the Wildcats deserved some credit, too, especially after making things interesting in the fourth quarter.
With the Aggies (7-6) leading 30-7, NU safety Brian Peters picked off a pass by Tannehill at Texas A&M’s 40-yard line. That sparked a Wildcats drive that ended with Colter’s one-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion pass from Jeremy Ebert to fellow receiver Demetrius Fields that pulled NU to 30-15.
The Wildcats made it 30-22 with 5:22 left when Colter found Tim Riley in the end zone from two yards out.
‘‘We hit a little lull at the end of the first half, but we picked it up back in the end,” Persa said. ‘‘But that lull cost us.”
As Persa leaves, it appears Colter will take over at quarterback. The true sophomore filled in more than admirably when Persa was unable to start NU’s first three games while continuing to recover from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered late last season.
Against the Aggies, Colter ran 17 times for 65 yards and a touchdown, completed 2 of 3 passes for 13 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 12 yards. But despite his versatility and what he has done in a pinch, Colter made it clear what he wants to do in 2012.
‘‘I don’t want to be a wide receiver, not at all,” Colter said. ‘‘I could do it, but I just don’t want to. And despite what many people think, I can throw the ball. I will work hard in this offseason and try to follow in the footsteps of [former NU quarterback Mike] Kafka and Persa.”