ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Roy Roundtree made Desmond Howard proud.
Roundtree, wearing Howard’s No. 21 legend jersey, caught a 53-yard Hail Mary pass with 16 seconds left to set up a game-tying field goal, and Michigan went on to beat Northwestern 38-31 in overtime.
The victory keeps Michigan’s chances of a Legends Division title alive. To make the Big Ten Championship Game (televised by FOX), they need to win their last two games and hope Nebraska loses at least once.
Roundtree and Northwestern’s Daniel Jones went up together for the ball, tipping it into the air. Roundtree then grabbed it as he fell to the ground at the Wildcats 9-yard line.
“A GREAT play by #Roundtree,” Howard immediately tweeted, adding a #neverquit hashtag.
Roundtree was thrilled to hear the Michigan icon had been watching.
“I’ve felt honored to wear No. 21,” he said. “This summer, I made myself a promise that I wasn’t going to let him down.”
The catch might not have been as spectacular as Howard’s famous diving grab against Notre Dame, but quarterback Devin Gardner was impressed by Roundtree’s one-man tip drill.
“We practice that play all the time,” Gardner said. “He’s not usually tipping it to himself, though.”
Gardner, starting in place of Denard Robinson (elbow) for the second straight week, rushed his teammates down the field and spiked the ball with seven seconds left. Brendan Gibbons came on to kick a 26-yard field goal and force overtime.
Michigan lost the overtime coin toss, but scored on its first possession when Gardner beat the defense to the pylon on a 1-yard run. The Wolverines then held Northwestern’s offense to eight yards on four plays, with Kenny Demens taking down Tyris Jones for no gain on 4th-and-2.
“I was proud to make that hit — not for myself, but for all of my teammates,” Demens said. “The defense didn’t play great, but we finished strongly enough to get the win.”
The Wildcats appeared to have the game locked up when they converted a 4th-and-1 at the Michigan 40-yard line with 3:12 to play and the Wolverines out of time outs. Northwestern, though, couldn’t gain any yardage, and had to punt with 27 seconds left.
That’s when Michigan defensive captain Jordan Kovacs knew his team still had a chance.
“As I was walking off the field, I kept thinking about Notre Dame last year, and how we were down three in just this situation, and how Denard took us down to win it,” he said. “It was Devin this time, but I have just as much faith in him.”
Brady Hoke thought the odds were even better than Kovacs.
“My wife asked me ‘Did you know you were going to win?’ and I told her yes,” he said. “I know these kids, and I knew they were going to pull this out.”
Jeremy Gallon gave Michigan a chance, returning a poor punt 23 yards to the Michigan 38, and Gardner hit the bomb to Roundtree on the next snap.
“He just put it up there for me,” Roundtree said. “I tipped it to myself, and I came up with it. That play was for Michigan.”
Roundtree’s catch and Demens’ tackle gave Michigan a win that looked unlikely for most of the second half. Northwestern scored on its first drive of the third quarter to go ahead 21-14 and led by as much as 10.
The Wolverines struggled to contain Northwestern’s option attack, as tailback Venric Mark (104 yards) and quarterback Kain Colter (82 yards) combined for almost 200 yards rushing. The Wildcats were also to change things up by bringing in passing specialist Trevor Siemian, who went 6-of-7 passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
“They are tough to play, because you basically have to game plan for two different offenses,” Demens said. “When #13 (Siemian) is in the game, they are going to be a passing team, and when #2 (Colter) is out there, they are going to run.”
Northwestern finished with 431 yards of offense, but Michigan got the defensive stop it needed in overtime.
“Obviously, there are a lot of things we have to do better, but we did enough to win the game,” Hoke said. “We did miss a lot of tackles, but you have to give Kane Colter a lot of respect. That’s a very good player.”
Gardner finished 16-of-29 for 286 yards and two touchdowns through the air and added 47 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground.
“I knew my time was going to come here, I just didn’t expect it this quickly,” Gardner said. “I thought it would be next year, but I’m ready.”
Hoke said Robinson is day-to-day with nerve damage in his elbow, and wasn’t going to tip his hand about who would start Saturday against Iowa if both quarterbacks are healthy.
“That’s something we’ll have to discuss,” he said.
Gardner, though, doesn’t expect to keep the job once Robinson is healthy.
“This is Denard’s team, and it is always going to be Denard’s team,” he said. “He’s done too much to ever change that.”