Home 25-Year CFB Anniversary: Northwestern Rallies From 16 Down in Fourth to Stun Michigan

25-Year CFB Anniversary: Northwestern Rallies From 16 Down in Fourth to Stun Michigan

by Mike Ferguson

Photo via YouTube

After being a doormat for the better part of a half-century, Northwestern rose to football relevance under Gary Barnett in the mid-1990s.

The Wildcats won the Big Ten outright in 1995 before sharing the title in 1996. One of the most memorable moments that year was a comeback win over Michigan and it came on this day 25 years ago.

Despite trailing 16-0 after three quarters, Northwestern found a way. The Wildcats scored the game’s final 17 points in a 17-16 victory.

Setting the Stage

Northwestern had bounced back from a season-opening upset loss to Wake Forest with three wins. The Wildcats were back in the polls at No. 22 as they arrived at Dyche Stadium in Evanston on Oct. 5, 1996.

With a non-conference slate that included UCLA, No. 5 Colorado and Boston College, Michigan was a perfect 4-0 and ranked sixth in the country. To that point, Michigan had not allowed more than 14 points in any game. Through three quarters, the trend did not seem to be changing.

The Comeback

Through three quarters, Michigan’s Chris Howard had scored the game’s only touchdown. Three Remy Hamilton field goals helped Michigan take a 16-0 lead.

The final period was about two minutes old when Northwestern cut the lead in half. Lavelle Brown’s touchdown run followed by a 2-point conversion made it 16-8.

A Howard fumble and a 3-and-out for Michigan was followed by field goals from Northwestern kicker Brian Gowins. With the score now 16-14, Northwestern’s final possession began at its own 20-yard-line.

The Wildcats proceeded to march 58 yards in 12 plays to the Wolverines’ 22-yard-line. Quarterback Steve Schnur, who finished with 246 yards passing, completed six throws on the decisive drive. The final went to D’Wayne Bates.

With 13 seconds left, Gowins’ third and final field goal of the day was the winner. His 39-yard attempt split the uprights and the comeback was complete.

In Hindsight

Northwestern finished with 172 yards in the final quarter compared to just 28 for Michigan. It also was a damper on an outstanding day by Michigan wide receiver Tai Streets, who caught 12 passed for 150 yards.

Michigan bounced back to win its next three games, but dropped three of four to close the year. The Wolverines finished 8-4 and ranked No. 20 in the country after a 17-14 loss to Alabama in the Outback Bowl.

The Wildcats also won their next three games before falling to Penn State in what would be their only Big Ten loss of the season. Northwestern finished tied atop the Big Ten standings with Ohio State, but the Buckeyes were given the Rose Bowl bid.

With a loss to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl, Northwestern finished 9-3 and in the top 15 for the second year in a row. The biggest comeback from that season came over a top-10 Michigan team and on this day a quarter-century ago.


New York Times

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.