Slide comes to end
JACKSONVILLE - The stuffed monkey spent the last year in storage, out of sight but still in everyone's mind. Coach Pat Fitzgerald dusted it off for the Gator Bowl and even had it on the sideline Tuesday as a reminder of Northwestern's decades-long bowl losing streak — the ol' monkey on their backs. Now, it's in pieces. Behind huge interceptions early and late, No. 21 Northwestern beat Mississippi State 34-20 and snapped college football's longest postseason losing streak. The Wildcats (10-3) hadn't won a bowl game since 1949, a nine-game skid that was tied with Notre Dame for the longest in NCAA history.It's history now. And as a reward, Fitzgerald let his players rip the monkey to shreds in the locker room. "We've never been here before, but now we're here and here to stay with a new streak you can talk about in a positive fashion," Fitzgerald said. Quentin Williams returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the game and Nick VanHoose set up another touchdown with a 39-yard interception return in the fourth. Those plays were the difference in a back-and-forth game that featured more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six). In between, Northwestern's two-quarterback system kept the Bulldogs (8-5) off balance most of the day. Scrambler Kain Colter ran for 71 yards, making up for his two interceptions. Backup Trevor Siemian threw for 120 yards and an interception, and also ran for a score. Even with the turnovers, they were more efficient than Mississippi State's Tyler Russell. Russell completed 12 of 28 passes for 106 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He had only thrown six picks in the first 11 games this season. He threw interceptions on Mississippi State's first two possessions and tossed another one early in the second quarter. After falling behind 13-0, Russell settled down and got the Bulldogs back in the game. Venric Mark, Northwestern's all-everything back, finished with 56 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Mark and Colter were on the field for the final few snaps, watching from afar as the madness started to unfold on their sideline. The Wildcats spent the final 1:42 celebrating the program's first postseason victory since beating Cal in the 1949 Rose Bowl. Defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt, one of the team's 25 seniors, doused Fitzgerald with a water bucket and then jumped into his arms. When the game ended, players danced at midfield and then ran toward the stands to recognize friends, family and fans. Fitzgerald playfully directed the band as it belted out the alma mater.