Wildcats confident in Hail Mary toss

by Sarah Mitchell

With less than three seconds left in a tied game and the snap safe in hand, Northwestern quarterback Zak Kustok rolled to his right and intently watched three of his wide receivers sail down the right sideline.
Nearly fifty yards later, the trio dropped anchor in the end zone, turned around and waited for Kustok’s pass.
Would it even get there?
“I knew I was going to be able to get it that far,” Kustok said. “I knew I was going to get the ball in the end zone. I wasn’t worried about that at all.”
Spying an open space, Kustok let go of the precious cargo. His last look showed the ball in flight.
“I got hit. I didn’t really see it,” Kustok said. “I was laying on the ground.”
Kunle Patrick found himself sandwiched between two other Wildcats wide receivers as he sprinted down the sideline. Within seconds, Patrick reached the end zone.
He then turned around and waited for Kustok’s pass, sensing Minnesota’s defensive backs right behind him the entire time.
“I wasn’t sure what (the defender) was going to do so, I just reacted,” Patrick said.
The 6-foot-1 Patrick — who admitted in Northwestern’s media guide that if he could change one thing about himself, it would be his height — rose higher than the defenders and set the football like a volleyball player.
He knew exactly where he was tipping it.
“I knew where he was because we practice it all the time in practice,” Patrick said. “I knew where he was.”
Sam Simmons was waiting, right next to the out-of-bounds line.
“It was just a beautiful tip and I was just waiting. My job is to sit there and wait,” Simmons said.
The five-foot-ten wide receiver guided the ball out of the air and stamped both feet in the end zone, finalizing a 41-35 defeat of the Gophers.
The designed play Northwestern runs through every Thursday in practice became the death of Minnesota.
“I just started running. I turned back to the referee after I caught it and he threw up his hands and I just kept running,” Simmons said. “I just ran.”
Run he did. Simmons ran right off the field after making the game-winning grab.
He ran until he hit the stairs leading to the visiting locker room. Unlike Minnesota’s defense, the stairs stopped Simmons.
“I was going to go up the stairs, but when I got to the hallway I just fell because I was so tired,” Simmons said. “A bunch of guys met me there and picked me up and told me to come back out. I caught my breath, ran back out there and celebrated with the team.”
In that mix was Kustok — who had just peeled himself off the turf — and Patrick — who was quite possibly the only Wildcat on the field to actually see the touchdown.
“I was happy,” Patrick said. “I just got up and started running around.”
All the Northwestern players ran until they eventually formed a group, basking in a win that seemed nearly impossible three seconds earlier.

Sarah Mitchell covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected].