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'Gritty' Cade McNamara leads Michigan to triple-overtime victory at Rutgers

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Piscataway, N.J. — Nothing has been easy for Michigan season this season, not even winning at Rutgers, a team it has manhandled the last five years.

The Wolverines, who look like they have found an answer at quarterback in Cade McNamara, overcame a 17-point deficit, then faced overtime after giving up the tying touchdown and two-point conversion with 27 seconds left.

Michigan's Daxton Hill, right, intercepts a pass intended for Rutgers' Isaih Pacheco, left, as Michigan's Vincent Gray, center, defends during the third overtime of an NCAA college football game early Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Piscataway, N.J. Michigan won 48-42. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Michigan broke its three-game losing streak with a 48-42 victory over Rutgers in triple overtime Saturday night at SHI Stadium. Michigan is now 2-3, and Rutgers is 1-4.

“Our goal this week was to be 1-0, and we achieved that,” said UM linebacker Josh Ross, who led the team with 11 tackles and a sack. “We had a great week of preparation. Although we gave up a lot of points, we still came out with the win and we fought our butt off the whole game all the way to the end … I’m so proud of that defense, and I think it’s going to push us forward in a great way the rest of the season.”

BOX SCORE: Michigan 48, Rutgers 42 (3OT)

McNamara shined for the Wolverines after replacing starter Joe Milton with 4:18 left in the first half and Michigan trailing, 17-0. He immediately led Michigan to a touchdown. He was 27-of-36 for 260 yards and four touchdowns, and he scored on a 2-yard run in the second overtime.

“He was gritty,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of McNamara. “Sometimes you have to see it in the game, and he was as good as you could come in and play. Heck of a great comeback. It’s nice to know about yourself that you’re a quarterback that can lead comebacks and come from behind.”

Subscription: Niyo: Cade McNamara gives Michigan a bit of life in comeback victory

Harbaugh, after the game, would not commit to naming McNamara the starter going forward. McNamara, who shared reps with Milton with the first team during practice last week, found out Thursday he would not be starting. He said after the game he feels confident he can lead this team.

“Personally, I feel like I’ve done enough for me to be put in that position,” McNamara said when asked if he should start. “That’s coach Harbaugh’s decision. Whatever’s best for the team, that’s coach Harbaugh’s decision, but I feel like I’m confident enough in myself that if my number is called again, that I perform the same way.”

The Wolverines also got a boost in this game from its run game, which had been sagging the last few games. Michigan finished with 495 yards and had 146 yards rushing. Hassan Haskins led the way with 109 yards on 25 carries and had the winning score on a 1-yard run in the third overtime. Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral was 29-of-43 for 381 yards and three touchdowns and his only blemish was an interception by safety Dax Hill that ended the game.

This was a game of two 1-3 teams trying to find some light in this abbreviated Big Ten-only season. As Ross said, the Wolverines approached this week as trying to get to 1-0.

“This wins means a lot,” said defensive tackle Chris Hinton, who had a sack. “It’s the first step to get back on track and just to finish out the season strong. Emotionally, it’s a great win. We came back and played hard. We didn’t quit, we didn’t keep our heads down. We kept swinging.”

McNamara, who came in late in the 49-11 loss to Wisconsin last week and led the Wolverines to their only touchdown, replaced Milton, who had an uneven and unsteady first half. He was 5-of-12 for 89 yards and took two sacks.

Michigan went into halftime trailing 17-7 after McNamara connected with Cornelius Johnson on a 46-yard touchdown pass. It was the first of two touchdown receptions for Johnson, who also scored Michigan’s final points in regulation on a 9-yard reception.

Receiver Giles Jackson gave the Wolverines a boost to open the second half with a 95-yard kickoff return to pull within three.

“There were multiple sparks tonight, whether that was Giles running back that kick, or C.J. (Johnson) making that big route on that first touchdown to get us going,” McNamara said.

Rutgers' Christian Izien defends against Michigan's Cornelius Johnson during the third overtime.

There was a flurry of scoring by both teams. Rutgers, which finished with 486 total yards, took advantage of a depleted Michigan defense. Starting linebacker Cam McGrone was injured in the second quarter and didn’t return to the game and safety Brad Hawkins was also injured. Defensive end Kwity Paye missed his second game with an undisclosed injury.

Michigan’s offense also struggled early. For a third straight game, the starting tackles were out with injuries, and center Andrew Vastardis did not travel because of injury and was replaced by Zach Carpenter. Only left guard Chuck Filiaga has started every game this season.

After Michigan went ahead, 35-27, on Johnson’s 9-yard touchdown reception, with 5:07 left in regulation, Rutgers wasn’t done. Vedral scrambled and found Aron Cruickshank in the end zone with 27 seconds left to pull within 35-33 and then he rushed for the two-point conversion, tying the score.

In the first overtime, both teams missed field goals. Quinn Nordin missed a field-goal attempt, his third miss of the game. Rutgers then failed on a 45-yard attempt by Valentino Ambrosio.

The Scarlet Knights took a 42-35 lead in the second overtime on a 25-yard pass from Vedral to Jovani Haskins. Michigan moved to the Rutgers 8-yard line on a 17-yard pass to Giles Jackson. A personal foul on Rutgers pushed Michigan to the 4-yard line. McNamara scored on a 2-yard run, to make it 42-42.

In the third overtime, Michigan got a boost on 3rd-and-18 when Rutgers’ Avery Young was called for pass interference, giving the Wolverines first down at the 7-yard line. On fourth-and-1, Hassan Haskins got the touchdown for a 48-42 lead, but the two-point conversion failed. The touchdown was Haskins’ first of the game.

Hill sealed the victory, intercepting Verdal.

Haskins, who had 18 carries for 94 yards in the second half — he had seven for 15 in the first — said the win was a “relief” after all the ups and downs in the game.

“We’ve got to put our foot on the pedal,” Haskins said. “It ain’t stopping here.”

angelique.chengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis