It seemed that Clayton Thorson had done it all this season, throwing for 2774 yards and 15 touchdowns, but there was one thing he hadn’t done: catch a pass.
His opportunity came in the second quarter when backup running back, Jeremy Larkin threw a great pass to the junior QB on a very well designed trick play. The Cats picked up 24 yards on the play but the gain was the last thing on everyone’s mind when Thorson grabbed at his right knee immediately after being tackled. Thorson remained on the ground for some time, then had to be carted off the field. He did not return. The good news is, he did not have to go straight to the hospital and he was back out, on crutches, on the sidelines in the second half. He will have an MRI tomorrow.
The Thorson injury was only one of the strange occurrences in Friday’s game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. The unusual happenings continued when Kentucky’s star running back, Benny Snell Jr. was ejected for making contact with an official when he merely pushed the referee’s hands away after being tackled.
Then later, Northwestern’s leading tackler, redshirt freshman Paddy Fisher was ejected on what seemed like a phantom targeting call near the end of the first half.
Northwestern tight end Bennett Skowronek also left the game in the first half to go into concussion protocol. He did not return.
Just like that Thorson, Fisher, Skowronek, and Snell Jr. all out of the game with a half still left to play.
Through all of the mayhem, Northwestern had grabbed a 17-7 lead on a field goal by Charlie Kuhbander, and 2 rushing touchdowns from Justin Jackson who finished the game with 157 yards on 32 carries and those two touchdowns.
Kentucky scored its only first-half points on a 3-yard touchdown run by the aforementioned Snell Jr.
In the second half, things calmed down somewhat but Kentucky’s QB Stephen also felt the aftermath of multiple big hits from the defensive line of Northwestern and he was in and out during half number two. For periods of time, it was the two backup quarterbacks going head-to-head, senior Matt Alviti for Northwestern and junior Drew Barker for Kentucky. Alviti, a Maine South alum, finished with 54 yards on the ground and 50 through the air on 4-11 passing. He did not turn the ball over. Barker had 16 yards passing on 2-3 and no turnovers.
The only scoring in the third quarter came from Kentucky on an option play which resulted in Stephen Johnson running it in from three yards out.
The teams traded punts until, on their own 26-yard line, Johnson dropped back to pass and was hit right as he released the ball. The throw was not nearly hard enough and Northwestern safety Kyle Queiro stepped in front of the pass and tiptoed down the sideline for a pick-six to put Northwestern up 24-14.
About three and a half minutes later, after a Northwestern drive stalled, Kentucky kicker, Austin MacGinnis converted an impressive 48-yard field goal.
Northwestern got the ball back and a nice return from Jeremy Larkin brought the ball out to the Northwestern 30-yard line. After covering 9 yards on the first three plays of the series, coach Pat Fitzgerald had a tough decision to make: go for it on fourth and one and quite possibly put the game away, or punt it and give Kentucky the ball back. With roughly 2:30 left on the clock, Fitzgerald decided to roll the dice and go for it.
On a quarterback sneak where Alviti, at first glance, did not make the line to gain, and the call on the field stood upon review, Northwestern had given Kentucky the ball on their 39-yard line. Fitzgerald later said that he “got a little bowl game aggressive” with the call. Kentucky took advantage of the short field and Johnson again rushed in for a touchdown, this time from nine yards away with 37 seconds remaining.
This made the score 24-23 for Northwestern. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops decided to go for the two-point conversion and the win. From the three-yard line, Johnson dropped back and fired one into the end zone for receiver Tavin Richardson. The throw was a bit behind Richardson and he got his hands on the ball but could not pull it in. The score remained 24-23. In a last-ditch effort, Kentucky attempted an onside kick but Northwestern recovered and ran out the remainder of the clock.
The game capped another 10-win season for Northwestern as well as a season-ending 8-game winning streak.
NU: RB Justin Jackson 157 yds. 2 TD S Kyle Queiro INT TD
Kentucky: QB Stephen Johnson 19-36 257 yds 2 INT 2 rush TD K Austin MacGinnis 48 yd FG.