EVANSTON, ILL. - Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini ran at a referee trying to call timeout.
Taylor Martinez snapped the ball before his coach could reach the official. He stepped back to pass, took a step forward and fired the ball toward a slanting Ben Cotton in the end zone.
Cotton caught the pass and the normally calm Martinez pumped his fist in the air and let out a yell. Touchdown Nebraska.
Martinez led his team back from a 12-point fourth quarter deficit and kept the Huskers’ Big Ten Legends Division title chances alive with a 29-28 win over Northwestern in front of a crowd of 47,330 at Evanston, Ill., Saturday.
“To get a win on the road is a great feeling,” senior wideout Tim Marlowe said. “We have had some tough games on the road. But it’s going to be a great, happy plane ride home.”
The comeback started with 8:31 left in the game after Northwestern took a 28-16 lead on a Mike Trumpy touchdown run.
After struggling earlier in the half, Martinez finished strong to end the game. He completed nine of his last 10 passes, including a pair of touchdowns tosses.
One of those touchdowns went to Taariq Allen from eight yards out, cutting the lead to 28-23 with a little under six minutes remaining.
After a quick stop by the Husker defense, Martinez led the offense back out for what would prove to be the game winning drive with 4:10 remaining in the game.
A 30-yard pass play to sophomore Quincy Enunwa catapulted the offense into Northwestern territory and Nebraska was in business.
The drive ended with Cotton receiving Martinez’s sixth straight completion in the back of the end zone, giving Nebraska the lead for good. The play wouldn’t have happened if Pelini had reached the referee in time to call a timeout though.
“I’m sure glad I didn’t make it in time,” the Nebraska football coach said.
Enunwa helped Martinez’s passing game on the receiving end with six catches for 110 yards. Fellow sophomore Kenny Bell finished the game with six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown catch in the second quarter while Marlow came back from a collarbone injury to record two catches for 23 yards.
“It felt great to get back out there,” Marlowe said.
Nebraska needed the comeback after struggling throughout the first three quarters of Saturday’s game with mental mistakes.
Ameer Abdullah and Bell fumbled back-to-back Northwestern punts in the first half to give the Wildcats good field position. A Kyler Reed fumble also stalled a Husker drive in Northwestern territory early in the second quarter.
Nebraska committed eight penalties for 62 yards in the game, costing Nebraska a third down conversion on a number occasions. The Huskers finished three of 14 on third down in the game.
“It’s frustrating putting ourselves in a situation to have to comeback the way we did,” Pelini said. “I’m proud of our team with its resiliency and the fight that we showed. We overcame a lot today. It was a heck of a football game.”
The Nebraska defense responded well as the Wildcats recorded seven points off of those three Nebraska turnovers. The Huskers held Northwestern to 301 yards of total offense, over 100 yards below 410-yard average.
The comeback win sets up a Saturday night showdown in Lincoln next Saturday night against Legends Division leader Michigan. The Wolverines knocked off Michigan State Saturday to go 3-0 in conference play.
The energy around the team right now has the Huskers ready to go Friday night.
“Saturday night’s going to be rocking in Lincoln,” Marlowe said. “We’re excited. It’s going to be something awesome.”