EVANSTON — Gauging the Ryan Field wind, Illinois State kicker Sean Slattery deemed it a "little left to right."
Aiming just inside the left upright and with the breeze suddenly calm, Slattery's boot went right — right at the left upright, that is.
But with at least one Northwestern player prematurely celebrating, Slattery grazed his 33-yard field goal off the upright and caromed it through at the final horn Saturday to hand Illinois State a heart-stopping 9-7 victory over its Big Ten Conference and FBS foe before a crowd of 30,748.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," said Slattery, whose missed second-quarter extra point had loomed as the difference. "I thought it was a little left to right, but the wind kind of stopped when I hit it. I've made that kick 1,000 times in practice. I trusted my training."
Ranked No. 9 in FCS, ISU (2-0) claimed its first win in nine tries against the Big Ten. The Redbirds won their second game over an FBS opponent under Coach Brock Spack.
"I didn't say a lot to him (Slattery). I told the PAT/field goal team this is where we celebrate after you hit it," Spack said. "I had a lot of confidence in him. He's a great competitor. I knew after he missed the extra point he would come back."
ISU faced the proposition of outplaying but losing to the Wildcats (0-2) after Clayton Thorson connected with Austin Carr on a fourth-and-5 10-yard touchdown pass with 9:10 remaining. Jack Mitchell's extra point handed the Wildcats a 7-6 edge.
"I still felt we would come back and win the game," Spack said. "There was that vibe on the field."
In a drive that started at the ISU 13 with 3:11 remaining, sophomore quarterback Jake Kolbe completed 7 of 7 passes — three to Anthony Warrum — while marching the Redbirds to the Northwestern 16.
Spack called his final timeout with three seconds left. After two Wildcats timeouts, Slattery delivered.
"We feel like we belong playing teams like this. We never gave up. We kept pounding away and kept working hard," said Kolbe, who finished 30 of 41 passing for 287 yards. "We had some pretty bad drives. I made some pretty bad mistakes. My offensive line gave me a ton of time all day, and the receivers got open."
The Wildcats lost their second straight game by two points on final-play drama.
"We had a lot of individual breakdowns offensively, but you've got to credit ISU," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We knew today would be a battle. But I thought we would be able to move the ball better on the ground, and I thought we would pitch and catch better."
ISU went toe-to-toe with Northwestern all afternoon and had finished each quarter with more total offense yardage than the Wildcats with a final margin of 372-277.
"I'm very proud of my team and my coaching staff," Spack said. "Our players made plays. They believed and took our message, had faith in each other, played for each other and hung in there. These guys were here to win."
After Slattery was on line but short on a 49-yard field goal try in the first quarter, the Redbirds had third and goal at the 8 in the second period only to see a Kolbe pass intercepted by Montre Hartage.
Mitchell missed wide left on a 33-yard field goal attempt 5:49 before halftime.
ISU again proceeded downfield to the Wildcats' 6. But this time, George Moreira surged into the end zone on first and goal with a mere 32 seconds showing. Slattery was wide left with the extra point.
The Redbird defense stood tall while limiting Wildcats standout running back Justin Jackson to 39 yards on 11 carries. Thorson passed for 191 yards, but rushed for just 30 on 12 attempts.
"This is a great win, another stepping stone," said defensive tackle Dalton Keene. "We will enjoy this win. We will definitely remember this game. It was great competition and a good contest the entire way through. We were blessed to come out with the win."
Warrum hauled in nine Kolbe passes for 116 yards. Moreira topped all rushers with 56 yards on 12 carries.
Linebacker Alejandro Rivera paced the Redbird defense with nine tackles, while B.J. Bello, Keene and James Graham recorded sacks.
"We missed a field goal we've got to make," Fitzgerald said. "We've just got to find a way to win and find a way to make plays by coaching our guys better to win a football game."