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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern edges out Nebraska 21-13 to remain undefeated

After a rough start, Northwestern controlled the second half to pull off its third consecutive win.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

For the second week in a row, Northwestern (3-0) pulled out a gritty victory, as it overcame a 13-7 halftime deficit to defeat Nebraska (0-2) 21-13, starting 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 2000.

The Wildcats took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish on the opening drive of the second half, with John Raine catching a touchdown to cap a 10-play, 61-yard drive. As the defense held Nebraska scoreless in the second half, NU added another score with just under 10 minutes.

Peyton Ramsey was far from perfect, but turned things around enough in the second half to secure the win, finishing with 169 yards and two touchdowns through the air. With Isaiah Bowser sidelined due to injury, Drake Anderson carried the rushing load by posting 89 yards on 18 carries, while the pass catchers demonstrated a team effort with seven different Wildcats finishing with at least one reception.

The defense held steady despite some occasional scares from the Huskers’ offense and kept to the classic bend-but-don’t-break philosophy of Mike Hankwitz, highlighted by the sensational play of the linebacking core. Northwestern has now played three straight second halves without surrendering a single point.

Four plays into Northwestern’s first offensive drive, the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-1 on their own side of the field and went for it. Fitzgerald and Bajakian’s risky decision paid off. Drake Anderson converted before breaking away for a 41-yard touchdown two plays later to give the Wildcats the early 7-0 lead.

Following a Kuhbander missed field goal, the Huskers took over for the remainder of the half. They hit a few chunk plays and drove beyond the Northwestern 20-yard line four times but produced only 13 points. The only touchdown they scored came after they took over at the 3-yard line following a Ramsey interception.

The usually mistake-free Ramsey struggled in the first half, completing six of 13 passing attempts for 51 yards and two interceptions. On the second pick, he telegraphed an out route that Myles Farmer jumped on for his second pick of the day and returned all the way to the three-yard line.

Opening drives continued to be the sweet spot for the Wildcat offense as it began the second half with a five-minute touchdown drive. Kyric McGowan led the comeback effort by with a kick return to the NU 39-yard line and creating an impressive 13-yard catch and run.

Ramsey found composure and showed off his wheels several times before slinging a five-yard touchdown score to Raine, putting Northwestern back in front with a 14-13 lead. The score was Raine’s first as a Wildcat as the grad transfer tight end also hauled in four receptions for 33 yards.

Northwestern struggled to contain Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez on the ground all day. He single-handedly marched Nebraska down field midway through the third quarter with back-to-back 19-yard and 20-yard runs. With the Huskers in prime scoring position, Brandon Joseph bailed out the Wildcats once again with a backward-diving interception in the end zone after Martinez waited too long to hit his receiver.

Early in the fourth quarter, the ‘Cats started with great field position thanks to a 36-yard punt return from Riley Lees, who ultimately capped off the drive six plays later with a 10-yard touchdown grab.

With Nebraska head coach Scott Frost electing to put Luke McCaffrey under center after the Martinez interception, Nebraska marched to the Northwestern five-yard line with the help of two pass interference penalties, but a Chris Bergin interception halted their momentum. The starting signal caller finished the day 12-of-27 for 125 yards and an interception, adding 13 carries for 102 yards. McCaffrey finished 12-of-16 for 93 yards and an interception with 49 yards rushing as well.

Nebraska drove all the way to the Northwestern 14-yard line on the final drive but turned the ball over on downs with one second left, securing the win for the Wildcats.

Next week, Northwestern travels to Purdue (2-0) in a battle of the Big Ten West’s top contenders at 6:30 p.m. CT.