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Wildcats blow 14-10 halftime lead, fall 29-28 in classic

by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)

Main Storyline: Northwestern emerged out of the tunnel beautifully, stepping up after a couple of first downs to smother Nebraska’s wideouts.

After allowing Taylor Martinez to run through a gaping hole for one first down, the Northwestern defense stepped up big time, as Chi Chi Ariguzo played the option perfectly, cutting off the pitch angle, and then Nick VanHoose smothered one receiver for an incompletion and launched an immediate tackle on another to prevent the first down.

Main Storyline: Northwestern finally had some success on the ground, as Venric Mark exploded through the hole for an 80-yard touchdown run, to put the Wildcats ahead 21-10.

Venric Mark finally turned the corner, zooming around the left end for four yards to begin Northwestern’s first drive of the second half. Trevor Siemian followed by finding Rashad Lawrence on an inside slant for the first down.Siemian then found Christian Jones over the middle, but Jones dropped it for the second time. Venric Mark made it irrelvant, however, exploding through a Minnesota-like hole for an 80-yard touchdown run.

Main Storyline: Bo Pellini aggressively went for a fourth-and-three and Tyler Scott came up with the huge defensive play to recover possession.

Ameer Abdullah once again found a huge hole on the left side for a first down. On the next series, Dean Lowry again stepped up with much needed pressure, and when Martinez rolled left and unleashed a throw, Campbell was once again there to break it up. But Nebraska returned to the ground, as Braylon Heard found another huge hole to push Nebraska to midfield. Martinez exploded later after a fake handoff, running it 15 yards into Northwestern territory. Northwestern needed to stop the run and they got Abdullah as he tried to hit the left sideline. The Wildcats got a break when Quincy Enunwa couldn’t hang onto a leaping grab as he hit the ground hard. Martinez looked like he might have it as he took the third-and-10 around the right end, but David Nwabuisi miraculously tripped him up three yards short. When Bo Pellini decided to go for it, he had no chance, as Tyler Scott immediately got into the backfield and hauled down Martinez for a loss of 10. Scott knew it was going to be a keeper all along, and he was instantly on Martinez.

Main Storyline: Northwestern got a break with a big pass interference call, but couldn’t push any farther upfield.

Rashad Lawrence drew a huge pass interference on third-and-seven, as he turned around to grab a short Trevor Siemian pass, and found his ankle held so he couldn’t get to it. Mohammed Seisay undoubtedly hindered Lawrence from making the catch, but still the Wildcats got lucky. Siemian’s pass was fairly short. The penalty moved the Wildcats into Cornhuskers’ territory. But the Wildcats couldn’t take advantage, as a false start penalty against Kain Colter, still trying to rush to the line at wide receiver when Siemian snapped the ball, forced Northwestern into a third-and-long.

Main Storyline: Northwestern’s defense bent but didn’t break as the Wildcats came up with another big third-down stop.

The Cornhuskers’ drive started out well, as Abdullah zigzagged through the entire Wildcats defense for 15 yards, causing at least six missed tackles along the way. The next play went no better as their star cornerback, Nick VanHoose, went for the big hit, head-first, sending Abdullah into the air, but injuring himself in the process. Still, with VanHoose off of the field, the Wildcats put the Cornhuskers into a third-and-two, and stuffed the middle to force the punt.

Main Storyline: Northwestern had the ball up, 21-10, with a chance to take a three-possession lead. Instead, the Wildcats went three-and-out, and Martinez launched a smooth drive up the field to draw within 21-16.

Northwestern went three-and-out, giving Nebraska the ball at midfield. The Siemian-to-Colter connection continued to flop, as Siemian tossed one well over Colter’s head. On the Cornhuskers’ first play, Martinez found Kenny Bell wide open along the sideline for a first down. Martinez was later stuffed as he considered running it up the middle, but he adjusted nicely, rolled out right, and found Tim Marlowe for a first down. Martinez, soon after, found Kenny Bell along the sideline, and he was pushed when he was already out-of-bounds, to put Nebraska on the three-yard line. Then, Martinez rolled right, and suddenly saw a hole, and quickly cut inside for the touchdown. Nebraska tried a nifty play for the two-point conversion, as Abdullah optioned it out to Braylon Heard. A two-point conversion would have moved the Cornhuskers within a field goal. Instead, Heard ran into his own blocker and fell three yards short.

Main Storyline: Northwestern continued to go deep without much success. The Wildcats were forced to punt, though it was a nice job by Williams to send it deep and Quinn Evans to record the takedown.

On Northwestern’s next possession, Siemian had Jones down the right sideline, but this time his pass was well long, bring up third-and-six. Siemian again went long for Rashad Lawrence along the left sideline, but Lawrence had a hard time breaking free, and the pass sailed beyond his reach, for the Wildcats’ second straight three-and-out.At least, Brandon Williams came up clutch, with a deep punt, that Abdullah caught running backwards. Quinn Evans came in with the nice pursuit.

Main Storyline: Drew Smith backed Nebraska up with a huge sack. Penalties further backed the Cornhuskers up, and even with a third-and-24, things got tense at Ryan Field, before Northwestern finally forced the punt.

Drew Smith became the latest and greatest Northwestern defensive lineman to get to Martinez, coming in at a tough angle, and making the risky hit to force a second-and-19. On third-and-14, Daniel Jones had a chance to bring Martinez down, but he barely grazed him, and Martinez got a pass upfield. A pass intereference on Northwestern combined with an inelgible receiver penalty on Nebraska, combined with a third penalty on the Cornhuskers’ bench players for stepping on the field, to give Nebraska third-and-19. They picked up the first down on a nice pass play, and run after the catch, but an illegal formation penalty wiped it out and sent them back into a third-and-24. Martinez decided to just chuck it down the left sideline at that point, and his pass was well beyond everyone, forcing Nebraska to punt.

Main Storyline: Pat Fitzgerald had a gutsy call to go for it on fourth-and-inches and Kain Colter rewarded him with a beautiful second effort to secure the first down. Trumpy followed with a touchdown to put the Wildcats up 28-16.

Kain Colter began Northwestern’s drive at midfield, with a beautiful keeper, as it appeared to everyone that he would pitch it off to Venric Mark, only to take it upfield for six yards. On third down, Trevor Siemian finally found Kain Colter wide open in the middle of the field for a huge first down. Siemian couldn’t keep up the good vibrations though, even after a big block derailed the Cornhuskers’ blitz, badly missing Lawrence with his pass to the outside. Siemian then found Cameron Dickerson crossing the field for a minimal three-yard gain. On third down, Trevor Simeian had his best rush of the season, ducking out of the way of two blitzers and surging past the first-down line. A penalty tacked on moved Northwestern into the red zone. Mike Trumpy got three consecutive carries and came up just short of a first down. On fourth and inches, Colter was pushed back, but he didn’t fall and surged up for the first down. It was a risky call given that a field goal would have insured that Nebraska could n ot take the lead with a touchdown. On first-and-goal, Mike Trumpy again earned the carry, and barreled his way off of one tackle and into the end zone to give Northwestern a 28-16 lead.

Main Storyline: Northwestern blew two chances for a game-ending pick. Given the extra opportunities, Martinez launched a touchdown drive with two huge passes, a laser over the middle and a lob into the end zone, to draw Nebraska within 28-23.

Northwestern nearly sealed the outcome with a pick of Taylor Martinez, but after David Nwabuisi tipped it into the air, two Wildcats collided with each other attempting to catch the deflection, the ball deflected off of them, and the Wildcats had another chance to catch it, but ultimately the ball dropped harmlessly to the ground. Ibraheim Campbell nearly picked the next pass as well, a short out route to Jamal Turner, as he stepped in front beautifully but couldn’t quite hold onto the laser. That gave Nebraska another shot with third-and-10, where Martinez found a wide-open Kyler Reed. Martinez made them pay, evading a sack, for a quick screen. Then, later on he found Quincy Enunwa over the middle to put Nebraska in the red zone. Martinez then tried to find Abdullah out of the backfield; if he caught it, he would have had an easy route to the end zone, but the pass was a little high, bringing up second-and-goal. Martinez then found a leaping Taariq Allen to draw the Cornhuskers within a single possession.

Main Storyline: Northwestern was only able to eat up a minute and a half of clock as the referees missed a huge pass-interference call.

With 5:50 left, Northwestern had the ball with a chance to seal a season-defining win. The crowd noise went up several decibels in anticipation. Kain Colter began with a decent cutback, after starting toward the right sideline, for three yards. Trumpy picked up a few more, as the clock ticked below five minutes, and the Wildcats had a third-and-four. Siemian tried to find Colter, who was tackled as the ball came in, but somehow a flag wasn’t thrown, and Northwestern had to punt with 4:22 to go.

Main Storyline: Northwestern couldn’t guard the middle of the field. Martinez got into a nice groove to put the Cornhuskers up one, though their two-point conversion was no good.

Martinez began with a huge throw over the middle to Enunwa. No one bothered contesting Enunwa’s leaping grab, and so the Cornhuskers found themselves at midfield. The Wildcats’ passive approach to deep balls really hurt them on that play.C.J. Bryant wrapped up Kenny Bell beautifully on second down to force a third-and-three from Nebraska. Martinez then found Enunwa with a nice, quick pass to Enunwa along the right sideline for a first down. Again, the Wildcats couldn’t guard the middle of the field, as Martinez found Turner up the middle to set up first-and-goal. Then, Martinez went back to the middle of the field for the touchdown to put Nebraska in the lead.

Main Storyline: Northwestern stalled just after midfield and Jeff Budzien came up just short on a 53-yard field-goal attempt.

Northwestern got the ball with exactly two minutes remaining, and began smoothly as Siemian found a well-covered Colter for eight yards. He then found Lawrence on the right sideline for a first down. He then found Lawrence as he wandered out of the pocket along the left sideline, and Lawrence did a beautiful job keeping his feet in. Jean-Baptiste nearly had an interception on the next play but it went through his raised hands. Siemian then ran for three yards. With a third-and-seven from the Nebraska’ 36, Northwestern likely needed six yards just to put Jeff Budzien in range. On third down, he went for a perfectly-covered Vitale for no ostensible reason. Budzien’s 53-yard attempt was well-kicked, but twisted just right of the uprights to Pellini’s delight. Nebraska ran the clock down pretty well, and Northwestern got it back deep in its own zone. With eight seconds left, one pass to the middle of the field didn't work, forcing the Wildcats to look for a miracle. Colter's miracle lob was broken up around midfield, and Nebraska got the win.