IOWA CITY – The Wildcats are Big Ten West champions for the first time ever.
Northwestern clinched at least a share of the division title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game with a 14-10 win over Iowa.
Wisconsin and Purdue both lost Saturday, clearing the way for the Cats to punch a ticket to Indianapolis December 1st at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Despite a 6-4 overall record, Northwestern downed the likes of Purdue, Wisconsin and Iowa to reach the top of the division with a 6-1 conference record.
“This team has overcome a ton of adversity,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We got beat up. We had a bunch of injuries, lost some tough games there. The brotherhood in that locker room is the glue that kept everything together.”
Bennett Skowronek’s 32-yard touchdown that came off an incredible catch in the fourth quarter gave the Wildcats a 14-10 lead they wouldn’t surrender.
After a first half that yielded just three total points on a field goal from Iowa kicker Miguel Recinos, the scoring ramped up in the second.
Bowser hit a hole for a 34-yard touchdown to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game.
Bowser was the only Wildcat to surpass 45 yards from scrimmage other than quarterback Clayton Thorson, and his performance certainly gave Northwestern a boost after a first half in which it only posted 75 total yards.
“I think (the touchdown) got us going,” Bowser said. “Obviously, not scoring in the first half, so coming out and scoring in the second half, that was big for our offense and big for our defense too, knowing that they had a lead.”
After Recinos missed a field goal to respond, Iowa safety Jake Gervase intercepted Clayton Thorson’s pass off a tip.
Iowa cashed in just two plays later with Nate Stanley’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
The Hawkeyes had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth, but Northwestern’s Cameron Ruiz forced Mekhi Sargent to fumble, and the Wildcats jumped on it.
Iowa had one final chance with under two minutes to go, but another fumble by Ivory Kelly-Martin ended the Hawkeyes’ chances.
“They outplayed us tonight,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Nobody’s more disappointed right now than the 115, 116 guys on our football team. They’ve worked hard, they’ve invested and I thought they competed hard tonight. But I guess it wasn’t good enough.”
Folks might chide the Big Ten for having a four or even five-loss team represent the league in its championship game. But the fact of the matter is that the Wildcats are 6-1 in the conference for the first time since 1996, when they won nine games and played in the Citrus Bowl.