Against all odds, Nebraska let another opportunity to win slip through its fingers.
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for 455 yards and three touchdowns, and orchestrated a late comeback win from 10 points down with under five minutes left to pull off a 34-31 overtime win over Nebraska.
For the first time in school history, the Huskers are 0-6.
Nebraska received the ball first in Saturday’s affair, and capitalized quickly. On the second play from scrimmage, Devine Ozigbo weaved through traffic for 33 yards, and then two plays later Martinez found JD Spielman down the sideline for a 42-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead just 88 seconds into the game.
After a Northwestern drive stalled near midfield, Martinez and Nebraska drove down the field again, this time with a 19-yard pass to Jack Stoll, for the longest play of the drive. The drive stalled at the Northwestern 28-yard line, where freshman kicker Barrett Pickering’s field goal attempt hit off of the right upright.
Both teams followed with three-and-outs, before Northwestern put together a drive at the end of the first quarter which moved them to the Nebraska 30-yard line. The drive stalled there, as a screen pass attempt to Solomon Vault was met by multiple Nebraska defenders for a seven-yard loss that pushed them out of field goal range.
Nebraska had a promising drive after a pair of first downs, but Jerald Foster’s second penalty of the half pushed them into 3rd-and-20 and ended the drive. Northwestern then countered with a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game.
On the drive, the Wildcats did not face a third down until the ninth play, where Thorson found Flynn Nagel open down the sideline for a 21-yard touchdown pass. Thorson threw for 63 yards on the drive.
With just over three minutes left in the first half, Nebraska faced 3rd and 10 from its own 23-yard line when Trae Williams broke through the offensive line untouched and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Earnest Brown IV and returned 10 yards for a touchdown. The score put the Wildcats up 14-7.
Despite their struggles throughout the second quarter, the Huskers were able to end the half strong. Martinez found Mike Williams on back-to-back plays for passes of 24 and 13 yards, then three plays later Ozigbo ran untouched into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown run. With an opportunity to tie the game, Pickering’s extra point attempt sailed wide right.
The Wildcats received the ball to start the second half, and quickly drove into Nebraska territory. On third down, Thorson under threw his receiver and was intercepted by Antonio Reed at the Nebraska three-yard line.
With new momentum, the Huskers responded with a methodical, 15-play, 97-yard touchdown drive to take a 20-14 lead. Nebraska used a balanced attack to move down the field, with 45 rushing yards and 52 passing yards, with Ozigbo capping it off with a one-yard touchdown run.
The Huskers had an opportunity to build on their lead on their ensuing possession, but Martinez had his pass toward the end zone intercepted by JR Pace. The Wildcats had a chance to pull within three, but Drew Luckenbough’s 42 yard field goal attempt went wide right.
As the game turned toward the fourth quarter, Ozigbo began to take over. The senior broke off back-to-back runs of 37 and 21 yards to move into the red zone, then Maurice Washington finished the drive off with a three-yard touchdown run. A quarterback draw up the middle by Martinez on the two-point conversion attempt put the Huskers up 28-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Northwestern had a quick response, though. On the fourth play of their next drive, Thorson hit Flynn Nagel for a first down, but he broke several tackles for a 61-yard touchdown reception to make it 28-21.
After a three-and-out, Northwestern had a chance to tie the game and drove into Nebraska territory again. This time, the Huskers had an answer.
Tre Neal reeled in a tipped pass and returned it 14 yards to the Northwestern 36-yard line, giving the Huskers their best field position of the game. After driving into the red zone, Pickering’s 34-yard field goal gave Nebraska a 31-21 lead with only six minutes standing in the way of Scott Frost’s first win of the season.
Instead, Thorson got to work. The senior converted two fourth and 10’s and drove them deep into Nebraska territory for a field goal that made it 31-24 with 2:27 left.
The Huskers had a chance to run out the clock, but instead ran three rushing plays for just three yards and punted. Isaac Armstrong’s punt was downed at the Northwestern one-yard line with 2:02 left in the game.
In the final 122 seconds of regulation, Nebraska collapsed. Thorson’s first pass fell incomplete, but a roughing the passer call against Carlos Davis moved them 16 yards out of their own end zone.
The Wildcats only faced one third down on the drive, which resulted in an 11-yard completion to Nagel for a first down. With 20 seconds left, Thorson completed a pass to Bennett Skowronek for 27 yards to move them down to the Nebraska five-yard line. After spiking the ball, Thorson dumped a pass off to JJ Jefferson, who stretched across the goal line for the game-tying touchdown with 12 seconds left.
After losing the coin toss, Nebraska got the ball first in overtime. Frost took yet another gamble this season and went for it on fourth-and-one from the Northwestern 16-yard line. The snap went low, but Martinez recovered and threw a prayer toward the end zone. It was intercepted in the end zone once again by Pace, and Northwestern needed any score to win.
The Nebraska defense forced a fourth down immediately, but Luckenbough pushed a 37-yard field goal through to give the Huskers to their worst start in school history.
With their late push, the Wildcats ended up out-gaining the Huskers 487 yards to 482. They finished with just 32 rushing yards, while Nebraska ran for 231. Ozigbo led the way with 159 yards on 22 carries. Martinez finished with 288 total yards with one touchdown and three turnovers.
“I’m kind of running out words to tell them,” Frost said after the game. “Other than just stick together.”
In the end, Nebraska managed to choke away another game, dropping its record to 0-6 for the first time in program history.
“There’s hundreds of ways the guys could have one that game,” Frost said. “They deserved it and it’s overdue.”