EVANSTON -- Brendan Gibbons sprinted onto the field as the final seconds ticked away in regulation, and with one big boot, he delivered what might have been the best play his coach has witnessed.
He also saved Michigan from another loss and helped send the Wolverines to one thrilling victory.
Gibbons tied it with a 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation and Devin Gardner scored on a 5-yard run to lift Michigan to a 27-19 triple-overtime win over Northwestern on Saturday.
Gardner scored on an option and ran it in on the two-point conversion to make it an eight-point game.
Northwestern had one more chance, but Trevor Siemian got sacked for a 14-yard loss by Jibreel Black on second down. Then, his desperation pass on fourth down got intercepted by Thomas Gordan in the end zone, giving the Wolverines (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) their second win in five games and sending the Wildcats (4-6, 0-6) to their sixth straight loss.
None of that would have happened had Gibbons not converted in a chaotic finish at the end of regulation.
The field goal unit sprinted onto the field, and Gibbons nailed a 44-yarder as time expired to send the game to overtime tied at 9, a play that coach Brady Hoke might have been the best he's witnessed.
"The last play of regulation is a play that a lot of team may not follow through and be successful," he said. "That tells you about the discipline of these guys playing together. How they got on the field. How the guys that weren't on that team got off the field. It might be the best single play I've ever seen."
Jake Butt then gave the Wolverines a 16-9 lead with a one-handed grab on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Gardner, but Northwestern wasn't finished.
Kain Colter tied it when he plowed in from the 1 on first down, sending it to a second OT. A 36-yard field goal by Jeff Budzien then put Northwestern ahead, but Michigan answered.
After a wide-open Jeremy Gallon dropped a pass in the back of the end zone on third down at the 12, Gibbons tied it at 19 with a 29-yarder. And ultimately, it was Northwestern absorbing another brutal loss.
"It's pretty unbelievable," Budzien said. "It's shocking. It's depressing. If you had told me we'd be 4-6 at this time of year, I would have laughed at you."
All those twists at the end of regulation and in overtime happened after the Wolverines wasted two big chances in the fourth quarter.
With a 9-3 lead, Northwestern was pinned at its 3 when Brandon Williams shanked a 7-yard punt.
The ball hit off the side of his foot and landed at the 15 before bouncing back to the 10, but Michigan settled for a 28-yard field goal by Gibbons.
Then, with 5:44 left, Michigan decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the 5 rather than attempt a tying field goal.
Gardner rolled to his right on a keeper. Chi Chi Ariguzo had the initial hit and Nick VanHoose helped bring him down for a 1-yard loss, temporarily preserving the lead.
Gibbons' tying field goal at the end of regulation came after the Wolverines converted two fourth downs. The field goal unit had to sprint onto the field after a 16-yard pass to Gallon, with holder Drew Dileo sliding like a baseball player to his spot.
Northwestern was scrambling, too, and Gibbons got the kick off right as time expired.
"Coach Hoke said hurry hurry up, hurry up. We ran in and where's Drew (Dileo, holder)? He slides in there. (Long snapper Jareth) Glanda does a nice job with a wet ball. Drew did a great job putting it down and it's my job to make the kick. It happened."
Gardner completed 24 of 43 passes for 226 yards without an interception, although he could have had a few considering the Wildcats broke up 10 passes and dropped at least four. He was also sacked five times, a slight improvement over the seven he absorbed in each of the previous two games.
Gallon had 115 yards receiving. Derrick Green ran for 79, and Michigan finished with 137 after being held tominus-69 rushing in back-to-back losses to Michigan State.
Siemian threw for 137 yards for Northwestern. Kain Colter passed for 26 and ran for 78, and the Wildcats absorbed yet another brutal loss.
This one comes after they fell by three at Nebraska two weeks earlier when Cornhuskers' Jordan Westerkamp snagged Ron Kellogg III's tipped desperation heave with no time left.
It also continues a spiral that began when they blew a 10-point third-quarter lead and lost by 10 to Ohio State at home on Oct. 5.
Michigan got a reprieve. A Big Ten championship is out of reach, but finishing with double-digit wins is not.
"We talked about sticking together and no better game than a game like that," Gardner said. "It showed we are sticking together."