Lincoln – Tanner Lee’s pass across the middle on 4th-and-12 in the first overtime was deflected by Northwestern safety Kyle Queiro to give the visiting Wildcats their third consecutive overtime win with a 31-24 victory over Nebraska on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers, who slipped to 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten, led 24-17 after three quarters, but Clayton Thorson’s seven-yard touchdown run with 5:32 left in regulation capped a 13-play, 84-yard drive that took 5:03 and tied the score at 24.
Both teams had a chance to win in regulation, with Nebraska moving more than 50 yards on the ensuing drive before stalling near the Northwestern 40. Thorson and the Wildcats, who improved to 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten, moved near the Nebraska 40 but his Hail Mary pass was batted out of the back of the North end zone as time expired.
Moments later, Northwestern was back taking aim at the North end zone after Nebraska won the overtime toss and elected to defend. Seven plays later, Thorson plunged over the right side of his offensive line on 4th-and-inches at the goal line to give the Wildcats a 31-24 lead on the opening possession of overtime.
Nebraska had a chance to respond, but Lee was sacked on second down to put the Huskers at 3rd-and-20 from the 35. After an eight-yard completion to Tyler Hoppes, Lee’s final attempt was batted away to give Northwestern its fourth consecutive victory, including its third straight in overtime.
Northwestern finished with a 475-337 edge in total yardage, but Nebraska held the advantage in time of possession, 31:40-28:20. The Huskers finished with just 112 rushing yards on 31 carries, led by 72 yards on 23 carries from Devine Ozigbo. Lee completed 21-of-38 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns, but he threw three interceptions. The first two did not result in points for the Wildcats, but his third came with Nebraska knocking on the door at the Northwestern 19 with just under 11 minutes left in the game.
The turnover came immediately following a 23-yard completion to JD Spielman that had a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Northwestern tacked on it to push the Huskers into the red zone. Godwin Igwebuike came up with a diving interception for the Wildcats in the flat after Joe Gaziano hit Lee as he was throwing the ball.
Northwestern cashed in the turnover by going 84 yards in 13 plays to tie the game. The drive was capped by Thorson’s seven-yard touchdown run. He finished the day with four carries for nine yards, but he scored the game’s final two touchdowns.
Northwestern’s Justin Jackson led all rushers with 31 carries for 154 yards, while Jeremy Larkin added 10 carries for 69 yards for the Cats.
Thorson completed 19-of-35 passes for 243 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Nebraska converted both of those interceptions to touchdowns, including Marcus Newby’s first career interception and 49-yard return for a touchdown to give Nebraska a 21-17 lead early in the second half. Newby finished with 10 tackles, just behind Chris Weber’s 11 stops to lead the Huskers.
The Huskers trailed 17-14 at halftime, before Newby’s huge defensive play to set the tone for the third quarter. On Northwestern’s third play of the quarter after receiving the kick to start the half, Newby stepped in front of Thorson’s pass toward the Nebraska sideline and galloped 49 yards for a touchdown.
Newby’s big play inspired the Blackshirts and seemed to deflate the Wildcats the rest of the quarter. Northwestern managed just one first down and gained just 39 yards the rest of the quarter.
Nebraska used a gargantuan 18-play, 79-yard drive that consumed 9:24 to extend its lead. However, the Big Red drive stalled on the Northwestern 6, and the Huskers settled for a 23-yard Drew Brown field goal to keep it a one-score game at 24-17 with 3:04 left in the third quarter.
After forcing a three-and-out by Nebraska on the game’s opening drive, Northwestern went 59 yards on 10 plays capped by Jackson’s 17-yard touchdown run to take a 7-0 lead just 5:24 into the game.
Lee then threw an interception to Queiro to give the Wildcats a chance to extend the lead. It was the first of two interceptions for Queiro on the day. He also recorded six tackles and three total pass breakups, including the deflection on the game’s final play.
However, Joshua Kalu answered Queiro’s first interception with Kalu’s second interception of the season and seventh of his Husker career. Kalu’s 32-yard return to gave momentum to the Big Red, and Lee took advantage by marching the Huskers 61 yards in 10 plays capped by his 22-yard touchdown strike to Bryan Reimers. It was just the second overall reception of the season for Reimers, who has been hampered by injuries throughout the year. Brown’s extra point tied the score at 7-7 with 33 seconds left in the first quarter.
Northwestern regained the lead early in the second quarter on Larkin’s 24-yard touchdown run to cap a four-play, 63-yard drive. The Wildcats led 14-7 with 9:06 left in the half, but that lead lasted just 45 seconds.
On Nebraska’s ensuing drive, Spielman raced 40 yards on a sweep, before Lee hit Jack Stoll with a beautiful 32-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 14. It was just Stoll’s second career reception and first touchdown catch of his career.
Northwestern used Charlie Kuhbander’s 24-yard field goal with 1:12 left in the half to cap an eight-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 3:22 and take a 17-14 lead into the locker room at the half.
Nebraska returns to Big Ten road action next Saturday when the Huskers take on Minnesota TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. (CT) with live television coverage by FS1.
Northwestern 31, Nebraska 24 (Overtime)
Saturday, Nov. 5, 2017
First Quarter (7-7)
NU – 9:36 – Justin Jackson 17 run (Charlie Kuhbander kick), 10 plays, 59 yards, 4:18, Northwestern 7-0
NEB – 0:33 – Bryan Reimers 22 pass from Tanner Lee (Drew Brown kick), 10 plays, 61 yards, 5:21, 7-7
Second Quarter (Northwestern 17-14)
NU – 9:06 – Jeremy Larkin 24 run (Kuhbander kick), 4 plays, 63 yards, 1:18, Northwestern 14-7
NEB – 8:21 – Jack Stoll 32 pass from Lee (Brown kick), 2 plays, 72 yards, 0:40, NEB 14-14
NU – 1:12 – Kuhbander 24 FG, 8 plays, 80 yards, 3:22, Northwestern 17-14
Third Quarter (NEB 24-17)
NEB – 14:08 – Marcus Newby 49 INT return (Brown kick), NEB 21-17
NEB – 3:04 – Brown 23 FG, 18 plays, 79 yards, 9:24, NEB 24-17
Fourth Quarter (24-24)
NU – 5:32 – Clayton Thorson 7 run (Kuhbander kick), 13 plays, 84 yards, 5:03, 24-24
Overtime (Northwestern 31-24)
NU – 0:00 – Thorson 1 run (Kuhbander kick), 7 plays, 25 yards, Northwestern 31-24
Kickoff: 2:40 (CT)
Length of Game: 3:19