ASSOCIATED PRESS ARTICLE BY RICK GANO
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) - Mike Kafka hit Andrew Brewer with two first-half touchdown passes and Brian Peters and Jordan Mabin made key defensive plays late as Northwestern beat No. 17 Wisconsin 33-31 on Saturday.
Northwestern (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten) improved its bowl positioning with its third straight victory. Fans swarmed Ryan Field after the victory, which wasn't clinched until Mabin intercepted Scott Tolzien with 42 seconds to go.
Stefan Demos kicked four field goals for the Wildcats.
Northwestern led 27-14 at the half behind Kafka, who finished with 326 yards, and Brewer, a former quarterback.
But Wisconsin's David Gilreath returned a punt 68 yards for a third-quarter TD to get the Badgers (8-3, 5-3) back in the game.
Tolzien found Garrett Graham wide open in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard pass with 10:45 to go, pulling the Badgers within 33-31 and setting the stage for a wild finish.
Wisconsin got the ball back three more times, trying to move into position for a field goal, but had turnovers on two of the possessions.
The Badgers got the ball back with eight minutes to go but had to punt. They stopped the Wildcats and, after a holding penalty, took possession again at their own 34 with 3:43 to go. After a third-down pass interference call kept the drive going, Northwestern's Quentin Davie upended Wisconsin's John Clay, causing a fumble that Peters recovered at the 41 with 1:44 left.
Northwestern had to punt again, and the Badgers got the ball back at their 20 with 42 seconds to go, before Mabin sealed the victory with his interception of a long pass.
Trailing 27-14 at the half, Wisconsin, the Big Ten's top rushing team, came out passing. Clay, the conference's leading rusher who was averaging 112 yards per game, finished with 100 on 23 carries. Tolzien completed 19 of 30 passes for 235 yards.
Kafka had his fifth 300-yard passing game of the season, going 26 of 40 for 326 yards.
The Wildcats used trickery to build the halftime lead. Kafka lateraled to leading receiver Zeke Markshausen, who then passed to a wide open Sidney Stewart. Stewart caught the ball at the 6 and then went to the end zone to complete the 38-yard play and cap a three-play, 80-yard drive -- Northwestern's second TD in a span of 2:21.
Northwestern added a 38-yard field goal by Demos with 34 seconds to go after Wisconsin stopped the Wildcats on third-and-1 at the 20.
Northwestern had gone up 17-14 when Brewer fully extended to catch Kafka's third-down pass in the end zone. His highlight reel reception was upheld by video review and set up by Stephen Simmons' 64-yard kickoff return.