TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Auburn stopped Northwestern's final trick play of the game and, after two earlier celebrations, the Tigers held on for a 38-35 overtime win in the Outback Bowl on Friday.
Wes Byrum kicked a 21-yard field goal in overtime, and the Tigers overcame several mistakes that gave the Wildcats chances for their first bowl victory in 61 years. On the game's final play, the Wildcats sent backup kicker Steve Flaherty onto the field to try to force a second overtime. But a fake field goal failed when holder Zeke Markshausen took the snap, circled right end and was forced out of bounds by Auburn's Neiko Thorpe at the 2-yard line. Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos had been injured earlier in the overtime. The Tigers intercepted Mike Kafka five times - twice in the end zone - and shut down a fake field-goal play to end Northwestern's gallant bid on the last play.
Kafka threw for a career-best 532 yards and four touchdowns. He rallied Northwestern from a 14-point deficit in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats wasted a chance to win it in regulation. Auburn (8-5) finished its first season under Gene Chizik with the second-most wins by a first-year coach in school history. Only Terry Bowden, who went 11-0 in 1993, produced more wins in his initial season on the job. Northwestern (8-5) fell to 1-7 all-time in postseason games. The lone win came against California in the 1949 Rose Bowl. Walter McFadden returned one of two interceptions 100 yards for a touchdown and Ben Tate ran for 108 yards and two TDs for Auburn, which led 35-21 before Northwestern stormed back with a pair of touchdowns and a 2-point conversion to force overtime.
Demos squandered a chance to win it in regulation, hooking a 44-yard field goal attempt wide right with no time remaining. Byrum gave Auburn the lead on the first possession of the extra period, and then things got real interesting. Thinking they had won the game when officials ruled Kafka fumbled when he was sacked for a 10-yard loss, the Tigers rushed off the sideline to celebrate until the call was overturned in the replay booth. Four plays later, Demos lined up for a 37-yard field goal to tie but hit the right upright, setting off another premature celebration.
This time, Aairon Savage was penalized for roughing the kicker, giving Northwestern new life - but also leaving the Wildcats without Demos, who limped off the field. With Demos injured, the Wildcats send out Flaherty, and the Tigers were ready for the fake. Kafka only threw seven interceptions during the regular season and entered Northwestern's first New Year's Day game in more than a decade with a streak of 116 consecutive passes without one. McFadden had two interceptions in the first quarter, setting up Auburn's first touchdown and giving the Tigers a 14-0 lead when he broke on a throw intended for Markshausen in the end zone and returned it the length of the field. Kafka completed 47 of 78 passes and looked like he might be able overcome the early mistakes when threw TD passes of 35 yards to Andrew Brewer and 66 yards to Drake Dunsmore within a span of 2 minutes, 15-seconds to make it 21-21 heading into the fourth quarter.