Huskers Fall to Hokies in Thriller
Lincoln - Virginia Tech scored on six straight possessions in the second and third quarters and held off a late Nebraska rally to hand the Huskers their first loss of the season, 35-30 on Saturday night in front of a Memorial Stadium record crowd of 85,831.
Nebraska trailed 28-10 late in the third quarter but rallied to cut the deficit to 28-23 with more than seven minutes remaining. But the Huskers (3-1) could get no closer, as a pair of costly penalties kept the decisive Virginia Tech drive, resulting in the Hokies' final touchdown and with 2:28 left to give VT a 35-23 lead.
Despite facing a two-touchdown deficit with less than 2:30 remaining, NU refused to fold. Senior quarterback Joe Ganz, who finished with 278 yards, engineered a four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took just 56 seconds. The drive was capped by a 17-yard touchdown strike to Todd Peterson to pull the Huskers within 35-30 with 1:32 left.
Alex Henery then took the field for an onside kick attempt that was secured by Virginia Tech tight end Greg Boone at the NU 43. The Huskers had two timeouts left and were able to force a Hokie punt. Brent Bowden, who shanked a 21-yard punt and watched Nate Swift return a punt 88 yards for his first career return touchdown on his two previous punts in the fourth quarter, lofted a 30-yard punt to stick NU at the 10 with 25 seconds left.
With no timeouts remaining and 90 yards standing between the Huskers and victory, Ganz again got Nebraska moving. He hit Niles Paul on a 21-yard pas, then found Peterson deep across the middle on a crossing route. Peterson hauled in the pass and crossed midfield before being stripped of the ball by VT cornerback Stephen Virgil at the Hokie 44. Virgil returned the fumble eight yards to Husker 48, and Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor took a knee on the final play to secure the win for the Hokies.
Taylor guided a balanced Hokie attack on the ground and through the air. He finished with a game-high 87 rushing yards on 15 carries, while completing 9-of-15 passes for 171 yards.
The Hokies finished with 377 yards of total offense, including 206 yards on the ground, while Nebraska managed 333 total yards, but just 55 rushing yards to go along with Ganz's 278 yards through the air.
Special teams also played a major role in the game, swinging the momentum in the direction of both teams during the course of the game.
Virginia Tech got on the board first when Virgil blocked a Dan Titchener punt for a safey with 8:35 remaining in the first quarter. After the Husker defense forced a three-and-out following the free kick, Macho Harris picked off a Ganz pass and returned it to the NU 5. Three plays later, Darren Evans found the end zone on a one-yard touchdown run to give the Hokies an early 9-0 lead.
Nebraska quickly answered the score when Ganz found tight end Mike McNeill wide open downfield for a 37-yard touchdown strike. The touchdown pass cut the deficit to 9-7 and capped a quick three-play, 68-yard drive that took just 1:14 seconds.
Virginia Tech pushed its lead to 12-7 when Dusty Keys connected on a 19-yard field goal just nine seconds into the second quarter. Keys' kick was answered 4:06 later when Henery capped a 45-yard Husker drive with a career-long 48-yard field goal. Keys went on to add field goals of 38 and 27 yards to give the Hokies an 18-10 halftime advantage.
Nebraska was held to 128 total yards in the first half while managing just five first downs. Virginia Tech totaled 198 yards, but the Husker defense stiffened in the red zone, as the Hokies had to settle for field goals in two of their three trips inside the NU 20. After having to punt in both of its first two possessions, Virginia Tech scored the last four times it had the ball in the half.
Virginia Tech made it five straight scoring possessions in the third quarter when the Hokies marched 61 yards on the opening drive of the second half. Tech again had to settle for a field goal however, as Key connected from 36 yards out for his fourth field goal of the game.
Nebraska went three-and-out on its opening possession of the half and a big punt return set the Hokies up at the NU 33. Virginia Tech found the end zone three plays later when Evans found an opening and scampered 19 yards for his second rushing touchdown of the game to give the Hokies a decisive 28-10 advantage.
The Husker offense responded by grinding out a tough 12-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a 12-yard touchdown run from Roy Helu Jr. The drive was fueled by a key third- and fourth-down conversion. It also lasted more than six minutes essentially ending the third quarter with Nebraska trailing 28-17.
The NU defense then put an end to Virginia Tech's streak of six straight scoring possessions by forcing a three-and-out. Following a 21-yard punt, the Husker offense enjoyed its best starting field position of the game at the Virginia Tech 45. A holding penalty left Nebraska facing a 2nd-and-20 situation, but Ganz found Peterson for a 14-yard gain before a third-down incompletion ended the drive.
Nebraska's special teams then came up huge when Swift returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown. Swift's touchdown return was the first of his career and the fourth-longest punt return in Nebraska history. NU missed a two-point conversion and trailed 28-23 with 7:52 remaining.
Virginia Tech drove into Nebraska territory on its ensuing position before the Huskers appeared to stop the Hokies on third down at the NU 35. But a 15-yard late hit penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Nebraska set Virginia Tech up with a frist down at the NU 11. Taylor then capped the drive three plays later with a two-yard touchdown run that put the Hokies in front 35-23.
The Husker offense fought right back as Ganz found Swift for consecutive gains of nine and 46 yards. Two plays later, Ganz found Peterson for a 17-yard touchdown pass to finish off a four-play, 80-yard drive that consumed just 56 seconds.
The loss was the first of Head Coach Bo Pelini's career, as his career-opening win streak was snapped at four. The defeat also marked just the Huskers' third loss to a non-conference opponent at Memorial Stadium in 49 games dating back to 1991.
Nebraska will wrap up its five-game season-opening homestand next Saturday, when the Huskers battle nationally ranked Missouri on Homecoming at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff for NU's tangle with the Tigers is set for 8 p.m. with a national telecast on ESPN.
Scoring (Virginia Tech 35, Nebraska 30)
Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
Attendance: 85,831 (Memorial Stadium record)
First Quarter (Nebraska 7, Virginia Tech 9)
VT - Stephan Virgil blocked punt, safety, 8:35
VT - Darren Evans 1 run (Dustin Keys kick), 5:22
NU - Mike McNeill 32 pass from Joe Ganz (Henery kick), 3:54
Second Quarter (Nebraska 10, Virginia Tech 18)
VT - Keys 19 field goal, 14:51
NU - Henery 48 field goal, 10:45
VT - Keys 38 field goal, 7:10
VT - Keys 27 field goal, 1:15
Third Quarter (Nebraska 17, Virginia Tech 28)
VT - Keys 36 field goal, 10:25
VT - Evans 19 run (Keys kick), 6:54
NU - Roy Helu Jr. 12 run (Henery kick), 0:04
Fourth Quarter (Nebraska 30, Virginia Tech 35)
NU - Nate Swift 88 punt return (2-PAT pass failed)
VT - Tyrod Taylor 2 run (Keys kick), 2:28
NU - Peterson 17 catch from Ganz (Henery kick), 1:32
Nebraska vs. Virginia Tech Final Game Statistics Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini Quotes (Audio) Nebraska Player Quotes
(Joe Ganz l Cody Glenn l Nate Swift l Roy Helu Jr. Audio)
Nebraska Postgame Notes Nebraska Season Statistics Photo Gallery