This game had every bit of drama followed by the one of the most stunning finishes that I have ever witnessed. The Wildcats looked to be putting together another Big Ten championship run when they rolled into Madison. The Badgers were coming off two three-point losses to Penn State and Ohio State. Both needed the victory.
Revenge was in the air for the Badgers hoping to erase the memory of last year’s 35-0 drubbing suffered against the Wildcats. The crowd was ready, as well – loud, raucous, and out of control. Chris Farley of Saturday Night Live fame was in attendance riling up the tailgaters and working his funny magic. The game started off ominously with the Badgers blocking a punt for a touchdown. More bad news occurred for Northwestern as their star running back Darnell Autry hurt himself badly enough to remove him from playing action.
Nevertheless, the game teetered back and forth creating a seasickness in the stands. Adrian Autry (no relation) filled in for Darnell and it was like replacing a battery. The machine still worked. Northwestern put together some impressive drives with Adrian leading the charge. However, the Wildcats found themselves down three with 1:37 remaining and setting up for a long field goal. Northwestern missed and Wisconsin took over needing to simply run out the clock. Badger RB, Ron Dayne, who had a great game up to this point, was handed the ball to assist in draining seconds from the scoreboard. But, three plays into the possession, QB Mike Samuel and Ron Dayne botched the exchange and the ball was loose on the turf. A swarm of purple surrounded the ball and Northwestern had life with 49 seconds left.
Two plays later, the Wildcats scored on a perfect pass to D’Wayne Bates in the corner of the endzone. Bewilderment soaked the crowd. Stunned silence. Tears and anger. No one could believe this painful outcome. Barry Alvarez was offered mountains of criticism after this game – should they have punted? Should they have taken a knee? No one would have expected the result. However, Northwestern head coach, Gary Barnett, was quoted as saying that he expected to win even when Wisconsin was in control and running out the clock. That’s one confident cat.