TAMPA - If a pitcher threw as many pitches as senior quarterback Mike Kafka threw passes, he would rest and ice his arm.
Don't tell that to Kafka, who completed 47 of 78 passes for 532 yards and 4 touchdowns, while rushing 20 times for 34 yards and a score. All told, Kafka broke Outback Bowl records for attempts, completions, yards, total yards and plays in Northwestern's 38-35 overtime loss to Auburn on Friday.
Said Kafka after the game: "I feel like I could go back out there and do it again. My arm feels fine."
But Kafka misfired multiple times in the loss and was intercepted five times. On Northwestern's opening drive of the game, Kafka's pass for Scott Concannon slipped through his hands and was picked off by Walter McFadden. On their next possession, the Wildcats moved to Auburn's 4-yard line, but McFadden stepped in front of pass intended for Zeke Markshausen.
Still, Fitzgerald wouldn't blame Kafka for the miscues.
"Michael is the reason why we're here," Fitzgerald said. "Mike's the reason why we got into overtime and had a chance to win the game. I hope the NFL sees the same thing that I see, a man with a big-time arm."
Making much from nothing: Drake Dunsmore caught 9 passes for 120 yards and 1 touchdown, but his biggest reception looked like it wouldn't go anywhere. Kafka fired to Dunsmore on a bubble screen in the right flat, where he made a move toward the sideline. Dunsmore shook Demond Washington and sprinted down the right sideline. McFadden caught Dunsmore at the 15-yard line, but the sophomore superback carried McFadden for 5 yards before shrugging him off his back. The 1-yard completion turned into a 66-yard touchdown scamper.
"When you're in the heat of the play, you don't really think about it," Dunsmore said. "If you're still on your feet, you keep going in the direction of the end zone. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, so I tried to get there."
Something up his sleeve: Stefan Demos missed the extra-point attempt on the Wildcats' first score of the fourth quarter, leaving NU with an 8-point deficit in the final minutes. After Kafka's touchdown pass tied the game, Pat Fitzgerald dipped into his bag of tricks for the 2-point conversion. Kafka rolled left on a fake option but handed the ball off to Andrew Brewer on an end-around. Brewer, a former quarterback, evaded the rush and connected with uncovered Brendan Mitchell in the right corner of the end zone.
The play, called "Yankee" in honor of NU alum and New York Yankees' manager Joe Girardi, helped the Wildcats the game with just more than a minute remaining in regulation.
"If I told you (why it's in honor of Joe Girardi), we have a few plays that are similar, so I don't want to spread that," Kafka said.
Second chance the charm: If the overturned fumble call and roughing the kicker penalty in overtime weren't enough, NU had another gift-wrapped surprise in the fourth quarter. This time, the penalty helped the Wildcats tie the game. On fourth-and-3 from the Auburn 33, Kafka dropped back and tried to avoid an all-out blitz. But as Nick Fairley dragged Kafka to the ground, he ripped at the quarterback's helmet gear, inducing a 15-yard facemask penalty. Kafka hit Sidney Stewart on the next play for a touchdown.