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Rapid Reaction: Nebraska beats Northwestern 13-10 on game-ending field goal

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Pat Fitzgerald’s triple-icing strategy at the end wasn’t enough.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

LINCOLN — In a game dominated by defense, Northwestern (1-4, 0-3 B1G) broke in the final minute, falling 13-10 to Nebraska (4-2, 2-1 B1G) in one of the ugliest games either of the teams have played in recent memory.

A costly Aidan Smith interception on what looked to be a pretty blatant pass interference call in the game’s dying moments gave the ball to the Husker offense who took advantage on the game’s only turnover and converted a field goal to seal the win for Scott Frost’s team as time expired.

The call was far from the only factor that determined this game, but the replays show the Huskers got away with one.

For the second weekend in a row, the Wildcats put up another stellar defensive performance only to be let down by the offense’s inability to put points on the board. However, defending a short field, the ‘Cats couldn’t stop backup quarterback Noah Vedral from driving the Huskers into field goal range to steal the game in the final moments.

Playing without starting left tackle Rashawn Slater and running back Isaiah Bowser, the running game came alive in the third, but there was not much other offense of which to speak.

Junior Aidan Smith surprisingly got the start over Hunter Johnson, and he did not get off to a smooth start, taking a delay of game penalty as he was checking the protection before Northwestern could even run its first play.

The two teams traded three-and-outs to open the contest, but Nebraska struck on its second drive when wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson took a handoff and made a slick cut to find a gaping hole on the left side. The electric freshman’s 42-yard house call put the Huskers up 7-0 with 4:25 left in the first quarter.

After a slow opening frame in which NU offense logged just 42 yards and faced three third downs and ten-or-longer on its first three drives, they settled in. Aided by the wind at their backs, two of the three phases, at least, played complementary football.

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez made some nice throws on third down to engineer a field goal drive to make it 10-0 midway through the second quarter. The kick was just the Huskers’ third made field goal of the year. After that, though, the defense stiffened, allowing a combined 17 yards on its next two drives.

Special teams gave NU its best play of the half when Riley Lees returned a kickoff 50 yards to the Nebraska 45. Smith then used his legs to pick up two first downs, but the drive stalled and resulted in a Charlie Kuhbander 40-yard field goal, the final scoring of the half.

Smith was 10-17 for 70 yards passing and rushed for 30 more during the first half. Martinez was 8-12 for 61 yards through the air, looking most dangerous when he got out of the pocket.

The Wildcats, led by Drake Anderson, Aidan Smith and strong offensive line blocking, scored on their first possession of the second half. They did not leave the ground and went 58 yards in just six plays, with Smith scoring on a two-yard read option to tie the game at 10.

Things quieted down until Nebraska hit a huge play late in the third when Martinez shoveled a pass to Robinson. He made JR Pace look silly on a missed tackle and raced down to the NU 17 yard line. However, the Huskers’ kicking woes continued as Lane McCallum’s 29-yard attempt clanked off the right post.

On the final play of the quarter Martinez injured his knee, and backup Noah Vedral took over the rest of the way. The play calling was certainly more limited for the sophomore, and the Northwestern defense continued to tackle excellently.

Though the final statistics may not reflect it, the offensive line got a much better push in the second half and gave Smith good pass protection basically all afternoon. Aided by several penalties, NU had a chance to take the lead with under ten minutes left, but Kuhbander pushed a 34-yard kick wide right.

Smith finished 19-32 for 136 yards passing, an interception and 64 yards rushing with Hunter Johnson nowhere to be seen in this one.

The loss drops Northwestern to a dismal 0-3 in conference play as the team heads into a bye week before welcoming No. 4 Ohio State to Evanston on October 18.