While the Northwestern Wildcats haven’t had much success on gridiron until the past two decades, there are still several games that stand out in Wildcats lore.
The following are five of the greatest and most significant games in Northwestern football history over the years.
1) 1949 Rose Bowl: Northwestern 20, Cal 14
Date: Jan. 1, 1949
At the time, the Big Ten had a no-repeat clause in regards to which conference representative went to the Rose Bowl. This allowed an 7-2 Wildcats squad to make the trip to Pasadena with defending conference champ Michigan ineligible.
Northwestern would ironically draw undefeated and No. 4-ranked Cal who were coached by Pappy Waldorf, a former Wildcats head coach. The current Wildcats head coach Bob Voights played under Waldorf at Northwestern.
The Wildcats were underdogs going into the game, but jumped to an early lead on Frank Aschenbrenner’s 73-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The Wildcats had a 13-7 lead at halftime, but Cal grabbed the lead for the first time thanks to a short touchdown run in the third quarter. But, Wildcats running back Ed Tunnicliff took a direct snap and went 43 yards for the game-winning run. PeeWee Day would then intercept a late Cal pass to preserve the first bowl victory in Northwestern history.
2) Northwestern 19, Michigan 13
Oct. 7, 1995
This was the victory which may have finally cracked the ceiling hanging over the Northwestern football program. Earlier in the year, Northwestern opened with a surprising 17-15 win over No. 8 Notre Dame, but followed that off with a 30-28 home loss to Miami (Ohio).
However, No. 25 Northwestern was determined to prove they were for real when they arrived in Ann Arbor to face undefeated and No. 7-ranked Michigan. Darnell Autry ran for 103 yards and Steve Schnur hit fullback Matt Hartl for a 2-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter for the winning score.
Northwestern went on to win the Big Ten title and advance to the Rose Bowl, the program’s first bowl appearance in 47 years. The Wildcats finished 10-2, marking their first winning season in 24 years.
3) Northwestern 54, Michigan 51
Nov. 4, 2000
In a high-scoring battle, the two teams rolled up a combined 1,189 yards of total offense. Northwestern running back Damien Anderson rushed for 268 yards and two scores. His Michigan counterpart, Anthony Thomas, ran for 199 and three scores.
However, Thomas fumbled the ball away with under a minute left when it looked like he had a game-clinching first-down run. Northwestern recovered and promptly marched down the field. Zak Kustok eventually hit Sam Simmons on a quick slant route for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left for game-winning score.
4) Northwestern 6, Minnesota 0
Oct. 31, 1936
On Halloween, the Wildcats snapped the 28-game winning streak by the Golden Gophers with a 6-0 shutout win. Minnesota game into the game as the defending national champions and ranked No. 1 in the country.
Instead, Northwestern won the game and claimed the No. 1 ranking for three weeks until a season-ending 26-6 loss to Notre Dame. Still, the Wildcats finished 7-1 and won the Big Ten title that year with a perfect 5-0 record.
5) 2013 Gator Bowl: Northwestern 34, Mississippi State 20
Jan. 1, 2013
While the Wildcats finally starting to have success on the field since the mid-1990s, the albatross of having only one bowl victory in its history lasted a lot longer.
However, Northwestern finally broke the streak against the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. Quinton Williams returned an interception 29 yards for a Wildcats score less than a minute into the game while star running back Venric Mark and quarterback Trevor Siemian added second-half scoring runs. The two teams combined for seven interceptions, but Northwestern finally had its second bowl win.