It was over.
And then it wasn’t.
Jordan Westerkamp hauled in a 49-yard touchdown pass from Ron Kellogg III as time expired, and Nebraska stunned Northwestern 27-24 in Lincoln.
After the Wildcats (4-5, 0-5 Big Ten) pulled ahead 24-21 with a Jeff Budzien field goal, Kellogg took over with 1:20 remaining and no timeouts — needing to put his team in field-goal range.
It seemed like a difficult task. The Nebraska offense had not scored in the second half, and just minutes earlier, Tyler Scott intercepted Tommy Armstrong, which led to NU’s go-ahead drive.
As for what followed, there were no words, only second chances. In what epitomized this battle of attrition, backup defensive lineman Max Chapman sacked Kellogg to bring up a quick 4th-and-15 for the Huskers offense.
Instead of panicking, Kellogg found running back Ameer Abdullah for 16, and then connected with Sam Burtch on consecutive passes. On the following play, though, Quincy Enunwa had a rare drop, and the comeback appeared out of reach.
So with four seconds left, NU called its final timeout, and Pat Fitzgerald likely warned his team about what might happen next. Kellogg roamed the pocket, flung a perfect spiral that was tipped at the two-yard line and finally caught by Westerkamp.
The celebration began in Lincoln; the questions continued in Evanston. NU fell to 0-5 in Big Ten play, with games against Michigan and Michigan State on the upcoming schedule. But even with considerable injuries, the Wildcats had this one, and it slipped away at the last second.
In his return from injury, junior Treyvon Green ran for 149 yards and three touchdowns, all of which came in the first half. After Stephen Buckley–the only other available running back–left the game with an apparent leg injury, Green gutted out an impressive effort.
Add in Kain Colter’s 86 yards and the Wildcats’ offense showed flashes of their old form, which carried them to a 21-14 halftime lead despite some defensive lapses.
Both offenses began to struggle, though, much of which could be attributed to the two quarterbacks. Nebraska’s Armstrong threw three second-half interceptions, helping an injury-plagued NU team stay in contention. The Wildcats managed to follow the “next man up” strategy on defense, as redshirt freshman Dwight White filled in for the injured Nick VanHoose and had his best game of the season.
Siemian, however, continued his rapid descent. With his shaky offensive line crumbling, Siemian turned and fired one third-quarter pass directly to defensive end Avery Moss — who returned the interception 25 yards for a touchdown. That tied the score, with each team trading offensive hiccups until the final drive.
Siemian finished four-of-13 with 36 yards and the one pick. Colter added only 45 yards through the air, with the offense completely reliant on the read option’s success.
Despite allowing 472 yards of offense–including the final touchdown–the NU defense was outstanding for most of the afternoon. The linebacking corps perfectly monitored Tommy Armstrong, with the secondary doing enough to keep the team competitive.
There were mistakes, yes, and there were positives, yes, but this game will be remembered for a final play that branded the curse on Northwestern’s 2013 football season.