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In a dizzying nine-minute stretch of the third quarter, the Northwestern Wildcats turned three turnovers into 21 points to stun the No. 20 Utes 31-20 Monday night.

 

The highlight was Jared McGee's 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown, the middle turnover in the nightmarish stretch for Utah.

 

The Wildcats (9-5) scored 28 points total in the third quarter to win their third straight bowl game under Fitzgerald. The Green Bay Packers reportedly want to interview Fitzgerald for their head coaching job.

 

Fitzgerald credited the seniors for winning 36 games in four seasons and gushed about the program's future.

 

Senior Clayton Thorson became the all-time leading passer for Northwestern, going 21 of 30 for 241 yards for 10,731 career yards. He broke Brett Basanez's school record of 10,580. Thorson threw for two touchdowns and was intercepted once in making his 53rd straight start for the Wildcats, the most by a quarterback in Big Ten history. He is the program's all-time winningest quarterback at 36-17. He was replaced after taking a hard shot midway through the fourth quarter, but came back in.

Utah (9-5) cruised to a 20-3 halftime lead behind redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Shelley before it all fell apart in the third quarter. Shelley had two interceptions and a fumble. Utah had four turnovers in the third quarter and five in the second half.

 

On the opening drive of the second half, Shelley threw the ball right to Northwestern's Blake Gallagher. Thorson's 52-yard pass to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman set up his 4-yard scoring toss to Riley Lees.

 

The Utes had the ball first-and-goal at the 6 when Shelley rolled right, was hit from behind by Joe Gaziano and fumbled. McGee picked it up on the third bounce and ran down the sideline untouched for an 82-yard return that pulled the Wildcats to 20-17.

 

The Utes advanced to the 30 and looked like they had enough for a first down on a catch by Jaylen Dixon, but he was stripped by Trae Williams. JR Pace recovered and returned it 34 yards. Two plays later, Northwestern took a 24-20 lead when Thorson threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to senior offensive lineman Trey Klock, a key player in goal line and short-yardage situations.

 

Northwestern added another touchdown in the third quarter when Lees scored from 8 yards out for a 31-20 lead.

 

Pace had a second interception in the third quarter, on a deflected pass.

 

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the second half was a nightmare.

 

Shelley was making his fourth start in place of Tyler Huntley, who broke his collarbone against Arizona State on Nov. 3. Also out were leading rusher Zack Moss, leading receiver Britain Covey and leading tackler Chase Hansen, a senior.

 

Shelley threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Dixon and a 4-yarder to tight end Jake Jackson, both in the first quarter.

 

Utah lost for the just the second time in its last 16 bowls dating to 1999. Whittingham's bowl record dropped to 11-2. He was trying to become the first to win the Holiday Bowl as a player and coach. He played in the first four Holiday Bowls with BYU, going 2-2. He was inducted into the Holiday Bowl Hall of Fame in 2009.

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