EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Rolling along with a 10-point lead, Nebraska had its first victory under coach Scott Frost and the end of the longest losing streak in its proud history in sight.
Northwestern yanked it all away. Now the Cornhuskers are off to their worst start ever.
Clayton Thorson threw for a career-high 455 yards and three touchdowns, and Drew Luckenbaugh kicked a 37-yard field goal in overtime to give Northwestern a 34-31 victory over the winless Cornhuskers on Saturday afternoon.
Nebraska (0-6, 0-4 Big Ten) blew a 10-point lead in the final 5:41 in regulation and fell to 0-6 for the first time. The Cornhuskers extended the longest losing streak in their storied history to 10 games. This isn’t the start Frost envisioned when he decided to take over at his alma mater after orchestrating a drastic turnaround in two seasons coaching Central Florida.
“This is wearing on me, but mostly I just feel bad for them, especially the seniors,” he said.
When asked, Frost said he agreed with the notion that a young team such as this needs to learn how to win.
“Lombardi said it: Winning is a habit, and unfortunately, so is losing,” Frost said. “We challenged the guys before the game: Find a way to make one more play to put us over the top. … We had some guys step up and make some plays today. Coulda, woulda, shoulda ended the game for us.”
Flynn Nagel set career highs with 220 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Luckenbaugh made the first two field goals of his career in the fourth quarter and overtime after missing a 42-yarder in the third. The Wildcats (3-3, 3-1) won at home for the first time after an 0-3 start at Ryan Field.
“That’s the most fun football game I’ve ever been a part of,” Nagel said.
Things weren’t looking good for them trailing 31-21 with 5:41 left in the fourth quarter. But Luckenbaugh kicked a field goal, and Northwestern drove 99 yards after getting pinned at the 1 with 2:02 left.
The Wildcats were aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty against Carlos Davis that moved the ball from the 1 to the 16, and Thorson finished the drive with a 5-yard TD to JJ Jefferson with 12 seconds left in regulation.
Nebraska got the first shot in overtime after Northwestern deferred. Frost decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the 16, rather than kick a field goal in part because Barret Pickering missed one earlier in the game. A low snap out of the shotgun on what quarterback Adrian Martinez said was a running play did in the Cornhuskers. He scooped up the loose ball around the 30, heaved it to the end zone from the 37 and was intercepted by JR Pace.
Northwestern moved 6 yards before Luckenbaugh nailed a 37-yarder on fourth down to give the Wildcats their second straight victory and set off a wild celebration.
“Great character, absolutely terrific character,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “That’s who they are. That’s who we recruit. I thought the talk on the boundary the whole game was excellent. But after we got the field goal to cut it to a one-score game, the guys [said], ‘We’re winning this football game. We’re winning the game.’ … To get it done in overtime, I just think shows character.”
Nebraska’s Devine Ozigbo ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Martinez threw for 251 yards and a TD.
JD Spielman caught eight passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. But Nebraska remained winless since a victory at Purdue last Oct. 28.
“It’s frustrating,” linebacker Luke Gifford said. “That’s for sure. At this point, the rah, rah stuff — that’s got to go. I think we have passed that point.”
Nebraska: This one has to sting for the Cornhuskers, who thought they were on the verge of breaking through prior to this game. They were in control, only to let the lead slip away down the stretch.
“I always watch the ESPN deal when I’m not coaching a game and watch the percent chance of winning,” Frost said. “Makes me sick sometimes when I watch teams that are 98 percent chance of winning. I thought that would be us, but it’s hard to tell where ours was in this game. That’s just heartbreaking for those guys.”
According to ESPN’s Win Probability Model, Nebraska’s probability to win peaked at 98.7 percent in the fourth quarter.
Northwestern: The Wildcats showed resolve by rallying late. But they continue to struggle in the run game since leading rusher Jeremy Larkin was forced to stop playing because of a spinal issue. They finished with 32 yards rushing — compared to 231 for Nebraska — after being held to a combined 36 the previous two games.
“I was just thinking about this. We’ve been progressing so much over the weeks. We’re just missing that one thing. We’ve marked off every box. We just haven’t got a win, and it’s the craziest thing.” — Ozigbo on Nebraska’s streak
“Everything felt pretty calm. I was with my holder and my snapper. … They’re talking to me because they’d been in this before.” — Luckenbaugh on getting ready to kick the winner.
Nebraska: Hosts Minnesota on Oct. 20
Northwestern: Visits Rutgers on Oct. 20
— Associated Press —