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Football: Luckenbaugh steps up, hits game-winner to beat Nebraska

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Drew Luckenbaugh is lifted up by his teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal in overtime Saturday. Luckenbaugh made his first two career field goal in Northwestern's win.

Drew Luckenbaugh is lifted up by his teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal in overtime Saturday. Luckenbaugh made his first two career field goal in Northwestern's win.

Allie Goulding/Daily Senior Staffer

Allie Goulding/Daily Senior Staffer

Drew Luckenbaugh is lifted up by his teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal in overtime Saturday. Luckenbaugh made his first two career field goal in Northwestern's win.

Ella Brockway, Reporter

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Drew Luckenbaugh lined up for his first career field goal attempt with less than a minute to go in the third quarter of Northwestern’s home matchup against Nebraska on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore’s career stat line up until that moment was limited to 16 kickoffs in four games, and the two extra points he had kicked earlier in the day, playing as the first-string kicker in place of the injured Charlie Kuhbander.

His attempt didn’t go as planned: Luckenbaugh rushed into the kick, and the ball sailed far wide left of the goalpost, preventing the Wildcats from drawing within 3 points. The Cornhuskers scored a touchdown to increase their lead on the next drive, and the Pennsylvania native knew he had to put his miss out of his mind.

“As I was growing up, we had a saying, ‘Fix it and forget it,’” Luckenbaugh said. “So I realized what I did, and then just fixed it and moved on in the next one.”

Move on he did: Luckenbaugh converted his next two extra point attempts and a 31-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to help power the Cats back from the deficit and into overtime, before sending the ball straight through the uprights for a 37-yarder to give NU a dramatic 34-31 win on Homecoming at Ryan Field.

The winner came on the heels of a game-tying 99-yard drive at the end of regulation and a forced four-and-out by the Cats defense at the start of overtime. It was NU’s first game-winning field goal since a 2015 win over Penn State, in which kicker Jack Mitchell missed three kicks before converting a game-winning attempt with seconds remaining.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald noted after the game that Luckenbaugh’s willingness to step up and make a big play down the stretch, especially after his initial miss, helped the Cats climb out of a hole in the fourth quarter.

“(It’s a) next-man-up mentality, and it was his turn, his opportunity,” Fitzgerald said. “He stepped up and really responded incredibly from that first kick.”

Luckenbaugh joined the team as a preferred walk-on, redshirted his first year, and did not see any game action last season. He had a career-long field goal of 47 yards while in high school — a school record, and finished with the most field goals in all of Pennsylvania as a sophomore in 2013.

He spent the past two seasons learning behind Mitchell and Kuhbander on the depth chart and, after it became clear that Kuhbander would not play against Nebraska, took advice this week from long snapper Tyler Gillikin and holder Jake Collins, mentally preparing for a moment like Saturday.

“Every week we usually have some kind of (special) situation or something where we practice going in that rush, going down to the kick to try to win the game,” Luckenbaugh said. “It’s different what it’ll actually be in the game, but it at least gets you in that mindset and gets you prepared for it.”

In addition to the two field goals, Luckenbaugh ended the game a perfect 4-for-4 on extra points and with 263 yards from five kickoffs.

While it’s still uncertain what the kicking situation will be for next week’s game at Rutgers — Fitzgerald described Kuhbander’s injury status as “day-to-day” in the postgame news conference — the coach was full of praise for Luckenbaugh after the win.

“Drew made a big statement that he was ready mentally,” Fitzgerald said. “He was able to overcome some adversity after that kick (and) he stepped up when his teammates needed him. To me, that’s pretty special.”

Email: ellabrockway2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @ellabrockway

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