EAST LANSING, Mich. – This seemed like the most fitting scenario for the team to clinch their spot at the top of the Big Ten West division.
For a second time this season, Northwestern fell behind 17-0 to Michigan State in the first 16 minutes of a game. They did the same thing in their second game against Iowa on the road and rallied for a victory, showing the resilience that had become a staple of this particular group.
Indeed, the did rally, even taking the lead in the second half. But the magic at the finish wasn’t there like it had been in Week 2 or at other times in 2020, and because of it, their crowning as division champs will have to wait.
The Spartans got a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter then completely shut down the Northwestern offense. Michigan State finished off a 29-20 upset of the eighth-ranked Wildcats with a fumble recovery in the endzone on the final play, sending Pat Fitzgerald’s team to their first loss of 2020.
While it doesn’t take the team out of the running for a Big Ten West championship, which they can still get with a win in their final two games, it does likely knock them out of the running for a berth in the College Football Playoff. That was talked about should Northwestern run the table, including a win in the Big Ten Championship, but that scenario is likely off.
It looked like it might stay when the Wildcats managed to shrug off a terrible first and early second quarter. Michigan State ran off 17-unanswered points on a pair of Rocky Lombardi touchdown passes, one to Jalen Nailor for 75 yards and the other to Jayden Reed early in the second quarter.
Like they did against Iowa – a 21-20 victory on October 31st – Northwestern would rally all the way back to grab the lead. Two first half field goals were followed by a Peyton Ramsey bootleg touchdown in the third then a direct snap rushing score for Cam Porter to make it 20-17.
Then turnovers became a problem, with the Wildcats losing three in the final quarter, with all of them leading to scores. A fumble after a Northwestern interception by Paddy Fisher led to a Matt Coghlin 44-yard field goal to tie it.
Ramsey’s second interception later in the fourth quarter led to another Coghlin field goal, this time from 48-yards, to give Michigan State the lead. Northwestern couldn’t generate a response on offense, going three-and-out on the next series, then watched a final play lateral attempt end up in their endzone.
Kaylon Gervin fell on it in the endzone to finish the scoring for Michigan State, who denied Northwestern a comeback clinching moment on Saturday.