The cardiac cats made their return this afternoon as Northwestern nearly lost their opening game against Syracuse after giving up a 22-point lead. The Wildcats managed to edge the Orange 42-41 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. thanks to Demetrius Fields.
Fields caught the go-ahead touchdown pass from backup quarterback Trevor Siemian with :44 seconds remaining. Siemian replaced starting quarterback Kain Colter late in the second half which was the decision of head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
The Wildcats came into its season opener with a chip on their shoulder as this team wanted to prove they were better than last season’s mark when they finished 6-7.
“The goal was to go 1-0 and we found a way to get the job done,” said head coach Pat Fitzgerald. “That being said, I’m proud of the way our guys fought; proud of the way we found a way to win. But obviously in between we have a lot things we need to work on. You’ll hear me say this all week, but I think most of the teams in the country would feel the same way, you make the biggest improvement from week one to week two.”
Their contest with Syracuse began with consecutive field goals by the Orange before Venric Mark returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown.
Northwestern would later add to their lead after a Syracuse turnover. Colter hit Mark for a 21-yard touchdown pass. This would be the first of four unanswered scoring drives by the Wildcats as they built a 35-13 lead over Syracuse with 7:34 remaining in the third quarter.
After Northwestern went ahead by 22 points, Syracuse staged their dramatic comeback led by quarterback Ryan Nassib. Nassib passed for 472 yards and four touchdowns. All four of his touchdown passes came in Syracuse’s scoring drives after trailing 35-13.
“He’s a pretty savvy kid,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not like you are going up against a first-time starter. He had a great understanding of what they were trying to do and how they were trying to accomplish it. They moved their protection around a little bit, they did some different things.”
Syracuse went ahead of Northwestern with 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter. Nassib found Christopher Clark for a 7-yard touchdown pass which put the Orange ahead 41-35.
With just over two minutes remaining, the Wildcats embarked on a scoring drive without their starting quarterback Colter but instead backup Siemian. Siemian has seen late-game action before and did a great job against Syracuse on Saturday.
Siemian who has expressed his desire to be the starting quarterback for the Wildcats led the team on a crucial scoring drive. After beginning the drive on its own 25 yard line, Siemian compiled five completions before rushing for nine yards on a Northwestern 3rd down and 15. This proved to be critical for the Wildcats because Syracuse was penalized with a questionable late hit.
Siemian was pushed just enough out of bounds to warrant the call from officials which gave Northwestern new life. On the next play, Siemian found Fields in the corner of the endzone for the equalizing touchdown pass. Kicker Jeff Budzien completed the extra point to put Northwestern ahead 42-41.
For the Wildcats, this win marked the seventh consecutive opening day victory for Fitzgerald and Northwestern. The Wildcats will face Vanderbilt next Saturday at home.
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