Video Highlights of the game with a Wildcat slant.
EVANSTON, Illinois (Ticker) -- Anthony Thomas let fellow Big Ten rushing star Damien Anderson off the hook and No. 23 Northwestern had another miracle finish.
Anderson dropped what appeared to be a sure touchdown with under two minutes to play but Thomas' fumble on No. 12 Michigan's ensuing possession allowed Zak Kustok to throw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Sam Simmons, lifting the Wildcats to an improbable 54-51 victory.
Coming off back-to-back shutouts, the Wolverines' defense looked helpless against a Northwestern offense that rolled up well over 600 yards in total offense.
"In November, games with the championship on the line, you know you have to play good defense in order to win and we didn't do that today," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
Northwestern fell one point shy of the all-time school record.It put up 55 against Michigan in 1958.
Anderson became the first Wildcats running back ever to rush for 200 yards in consecutive games. But his inability to catch a high-arching pass from Kustok in the end zone on 4th-and-goal from the 12 with 1:49 left seemingly cost Northwestern the game and any hopes of catching Purdue in the race for the Rose Bowl.
"It was a tougher catch than you wanted it to be," Northwestern coach Randy Walker (May he RIP) said.
Yet Thomas coughed up the ball after a short run, giving Kustok and the Wildcats one more chance with just under a minute to go. The junior signal-caller found Simmons on a short crossing route and the 5-10, 202-pound junior scampered past the goal line, sending the raucous crowd at Ryan Field into a frenzy.
"I've been coaching for 25 years and I don't know if I've everseen a more courageous, inspiring performance," Walker said. "Iexpect them to play like this. To play hard for 60 minutes. We just keep finding a way to win."
Kustok completed 27-of-40 passes for a career-high 322 yards and two touchdowns and Anderson rushed for a pair of scores while picking up 268 yards on 31 carries.
Michigan was up to the task offensively, scoring on all but four of its possessions.
Drew Henson was 23-of-35 for 312 yards and four touchdowns while Thomas rumbled for 199 yards and three touchdowns on 37 greuling carries, the last of which cost Michigan the game.
Undaunted by Northwestern's final drive, Henson moved Michigan into position for a 56-yard field goal attempt by Hayden Epstein with four seconds left. But a poor snap prevented Epstein from getting the kick away and Northwestern celebrated its second straight miraculous triumph.
Last week, Kustok found Simmons with a 45-yard bomb as time expired, giving the Wildcats a 41-35 win against Minnesota.
Northwestern (7-1, 5-1 Big Ten) moved one-half game ahead of Michigan (6-3, 4-2) in the race to catch first-place Purdue for the right to go to Pasadena in January. The Boilermakers (7-2,5-1) have the inside track to the Rose Bowl with two games toplay.
Kustok opened the scoring in the four-hour epic with a one-yard run 2:17 into play. But Thomas scored the first of histouchdowns and Henson fired the first of three TD passes to David Terrell as Michigan took a 14-7 lead with 3:06 remaining in the first quarter.
In the second period, Henson and Terrell hooked up for TD passes of 10 and 22 yards as the Wolverines opened a commanding 28-10 lead.
Tim Long kicked field goals of 24, 22 and 43 yards in the second quarter and Anderson's seven-yard scoring run helped the Wildcats close within 28-23 at the half.
Henson began the third quarter with an 11-yard TD pass to Bill Seymour and Kustok answered with a one-yard scoring toss toDavid Farman with 8:44 left in the period.
Thomas' one-yard dive gave Michigan a 42-29 cushion but Anderson's 45-yard TD run got Northwestern back within six points with 3:40 left in the third quarter. Epstein booted a 52-yard kick just over a minute later but Kustok shaved the lead to 45-43 on a 12-yard run nine seconds into the fourth quarter.
Long's 41-yard field goal gave Northwestern a tentative 46-45 lead but Thomas went in from one yard with 8:34 to play, putting Michigan back in front, 51-46.
Kustok moved his team right back down the field and appeared to convert a 4th-and-goal from the 7 when he hit Teddy Johnson over the middle with an apparent TD pass. But the Wildcats were penalized for having an illegal man downfield and Kustok dropped back on 4th-and-goal from the 12, finding Anderson all alone on a fade route towards the left sideline.
The stocky running back appeared to have the ball all the way but had it slither through his arms at the goal line. Luckily for the Wildcats, cornerback Raheem Covington was in prime position to fall on Thomas' fumble, giving Northwestern one more shot at its latest miracle.
"You don't expect things like that to happen, but sometimes it does," Terrell said of Thomas' fumble.
"I was trying to get the first down and I saw a seam and something bad happened," Thomas added.