EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — With Northwestern again holding a late lead, coach Pat Fitzgerald was willing to punt the ball away and put his defense on the spot.
This time, the Wildcats held firm.
Northwestern forced four straight incompletions by Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell to close out a 23-20 victory over the Spartans on Saturday. The victory came a week after the Wildcats lost in overtime at Michigan following a last-ditch pass by the Wolverines at the end of regulation.
"The guys responded when we got back off the bus a week ago, from Ann Arbor," Fitzgerald said. "That's when this game started."
Jeff Budzien kicked a 27-yard field goal with 7:30 remaining, and Northwestern was able to hold on to this fourth-quarter lead. The Wildcats (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) forced a punt near midfield, but Fitzgerald decided to punt back to Michigan State on fourth-and-1 from the Northwestern 49. That gave the Spartans (5-6, 2-5) the ball back at their own 20 with 1:29 left.
Dion Sims was unable to hold on to Maxwell's fourth-down pass, ending the Spartans' final threat.
"It was great in so many ways from what happened last week to, in our careers, no one on our team has beaten Michigan State," Northwestern linebacker David Nwabuisi said. "It felt great to get the win."
Michigan State had the ball for 34:19 but turned it over four times.
Northwestern's Trevor Siemian threw for 165 yards, including a 41-yard pass to Dan Vitale that helped set up the winning kick.
Northwestern lost fourth-quarter leads in gut-wrenching losses to Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan. Last weekend's defeat at Michigan unfolded in stunning fashion when Devin Gardner heaved a 53-yard pass to Roy Roundtree to set up the Wolverines' tying field goal in the final seconds of regulation. Michigan went on to win 38-31.
The Wildcats recovered from that tough finish, and now Michigan State must do the same. All seven of Michigan State's conference games have been decided by four points or fewer — the first time that's happened to any Big Ten team since at least 1996, according to STATS, LLC.
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