Matt Moderwell plays under the night sky versus Indiana on October 1. He broke the scoreless draw against Michigan State on Friday in the last minute. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North By Northwestern

The tension could not be contained. So what if the score was 0-0?

Yes, every corner kick went uncashed. Every free kick was fruitless. Northwestern and Michigan State were knocking on a door that wouldn’t budge open.

At the end of the night, all it took was for the stars to align, and for José Del Valle to send a beautiful last-minute kick across the goal area, to give Matt Moderwell and the Wildcats the game-winner that had so eluded each team for 89 minutes on Friday. Sprinting into action as the ball reached its peak, Moderwell met it perfectly and set home a short range missile that Spartan goalie Hunter Morse and his team couldn’t avert.

It was a thrilling end to a game that had seen Northwestern (7-7-1, 3-3-1 B1G) battle back-and-forth with Michigan State (3-9-3, 3-2-1 B1G) in front of the homecoming crowd. The Wildcats put on offensive pressure in the final minutes—including a Moderwell shot in the 88th minute saved by Morse—that was signalling for a payoff. And when Moderwell’s opportunity returned, he didn’t miss it.

“I didn’t have much left in me,” he said after the game. “I knew overtime wasn’t really going to be an option for us.”

“It was going to come down to one play, a set piece probably or a mistake, to win the game,” said head coach Tim Lenahan. “Fortunately we were the ones to get it."

Despite their late burst of attack, Northwestern hadn’t lit a spark for much of the game. They were outshot 4-0 in the first half despite leading Michigan State 3-2 on corner kicks, and their three shots on goal all came in the final ten minutes. The Wildcats also couldn’t capitalize on the Spartan’s 16 fouls, including eight from midfielder Michael Pimlott.

The game picked up in energy past the 20th minute, as both teams had potential chances that neither could convert. A span of about five minutes saw a long-range strike from Northwestern’s Mattias Tomasino get surprisingly close to a scoring chance, a Michigan State shot on goal following a free kick get saved by Wildcat goalkeeper Miha Miskovic, and two NU corners come up empty.

In the 53rd minute Richie Bennett finally had the first shot for Northwestern—though it went wide. Not long after, the Spartans would end up getting three corner kicks in a row. But they were unable to come away with a shot on goal, and Miskovic ended the danger with a direct grab off the third kick.

“I really didn’t have to do much,” said Miskovic, who faced only one shot on goal. “I just had to command the whole night. We did a good job, especially in the second half.”

Receiving a pass from far, Bardia Kimiavi almost had a great goal for the Wildcats in the 66th minute, but his attempt went wide of both Morse and the net. While the moment was disappointing as both teams kept looking for their highlight, eventually Northwestern got the result they were looking for and added another three points toward their placing in the conference standings.

As the ’Cats approach the Big Ten Tournament, they’ll need to make use of their final conference game on Wednesday against Wisconsin (2-10-3, 0-4-2 B1G) if they want to secure a higher seed for the competition.

“It’s going to be a wintry mix,” said Lenahan about the expected weather against Wisconsin. “We’re going to have to be mentally prepared for it. They’ve played very well at home. They tied Michigan and Maryland, two of the top teams in the league. We’re going to have to have the right mindset.”

Game stats and details provided by SIDEARM Sports