Football: Northwestern drops heartbreaker to Nebraska on game-ending field goal


Alison Albelda/Daily Senior Staffer

JJ Jefferson is tackled by the Nebraska defender. The wide receiver had four catches for 25 yards.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Web Editor


LINCOLN, Neb. — When Northwestern and Nebraska get together, it’s a near-certainty the game will come down to the wire.

Five of the last eight meetings were decided by three points or fewer, and Saturday’s affair was no different. After the Wildcats defeated the Cornhuskers in overtime the last two years, it was Nebraska (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) that made a field goal as time expired as NU (1-4, 0-3) lost 13-10.

With 2:13 left in a tie game, the Cats began a drive at their own 20, as junior quarterback Aidan Smith attempted to lead them to a victory in his first career start. Smith picked up a pair of first downs as NU moved across midfield. But at the Cornhuskers’ 48, Smith threw an interception on a play where the officials may have missed a pass interference call.

“It was a poor decision on my part,” Smith said. “I felt like that swung the momentum of the game. I saw (my receiver) coming, thought he was there, threw it, and when I threw it he wasn’t here. Would I have liked the pass interference call? Yes. Should I make a better decision in the future? Yes.”

The Cornhuskers moved into field goal range on a long pass from backup quarterback Noah Vedral to star freshman receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, and Lane McCallum ended things shortly afterward with a 24-yard kick.

Junior linebacker Paddy Fisher, who led the Cats with 10 tackles, called Robinson an “explosive athlete.”

“Nebraska used him in multiple formations and multiple situations,” Fisher said. “Going into the game, we only had a little bit of knowledge on him, and the rest was just adjustments. (He’s a) very talented, explosive player who’s going to have a great future.”

Robinson was a weapon for the Cornhuskers right from the outset. On their second offensive series, he broke loose on an end-around run for a 42-yard touchdown, giving Nebraska an early 7-0 lead.

The Cornhuskers stretched the lead to 10-0 in the second quarter before the Cats could finally get their offense going. Junior receiver Riley Lees returned a kickoff into Nebraska territory, and NU used the momentum from the return to drive far enough to get a field goal. The 10-3 score would hold up into halftime.

After the Cats made a defensive stop to start the second half, they put together their best drive of the game. Starting at its own 42, NU got runs of 12, eight, seven, eight and seven yards on its first five plays — three by Anderson, two by Smith — to advance to the Cornhuskers’ 16. A pass interference call moved the ball to the two, and Smith finished it off with a touchdown run up the middle to tie the game at 10.

The 58-yard scoring drive took less than two minutes.

The game became a defensive struggle after the Cats evened the score. Each team missed a field goal, but other than that both offenses were relatively quiet. And so it was that Smith, playing in front of over 89,000 red-clad fans, had a chance to engineer a game-winning drive. But instead, he committed the game’s only turnover, which Nebraska turned into the decisive points.

With the loss, NU is now 1-4, which is the program’s worst five-game opening stretch in coach Pat Fitzgerald’s 14 years in charge of the program.

“We’re going to coach the guys better to play cleaner, to play smarter, to play fundamentally better,” Fitzgerald said. “We typically win this type of game when we don’t beat ourselves. This team’s fighting their butts off. They’re not playing well enough, they understand that, but they’re working their butts off to improve.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @bxrosenberg