Lincoln, Neb. - Nebraska only trailed for the game's final 3:25, but the Huskers' last drive ended on a turnover inside the Minnesota 5-yard line, as the Golden Gophers escaped from Memorial Stadium with a 28-24 win on Saturday afternoon.
The loss dropped the Huskers to 8-3 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten, while Minnesota improved to 8-3 and 5-2 in the conference. It marked Nebraska's only home loss of the season in the final home game for 13 Husker seniors.
Nebraska took a 21-7 lead into halftime and started the second half with the ball. However, Tommy Armstrong Jr. was sacked twice in the first three plays, and Minnesota used a short field to put up a quick score to narrow the margin to 21-14. The Big Red answered with a 30-yard Drew Brown field goal to make it 24-14, before Minnesota put up another touchdown on a 19-yard run from Rodrick Williams Jr. on 4th-and-1.
The Huskers led 24-21 heading with the ball heading into the fourth quarter. The two teams exchanged punts to open the final period before Minnesota took over at its own 20 with 8:34 left. The Gophers put together an 80-yard drive in 10 plays that took 5:09 off the clock. Leidner gave the Gophers their first lead of the game with his three-yard run over the left side with 3:25 left to make it 28-24 Minnesota.
Armstrong, who finished the day 12-of-19 passing for 223 yards and one touchdown, led the Huskers down the field beginning with a 16-yard pass to De'Mornay Pierson-El and a 13-yard pass to Lane Hovey. After a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on Minnesota, Armstrong through deep down the middle incomplete to Jordan Westerkamp in the end zone.
On the next play, Armstrong found Pierson-El on the right side line. Pierson-El leaped high and came down momentarily with the football, but it was ripped out of his hands by Briean Boddy-Calhoun at the Minnesota 2. It was Pierson-El's second fumble of the game after a reception inside the Gopher red zone, although Pierson-El's fourth quarter catch would not have stood because he stepped out of bounds on his route and was flagged for illegal touching.
Pierson-El was Nebraska's leading receiver on the day, finishing with four catches for 87 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown. Westerkamp added five receptions with 47 yards, while Kenny Bell contributed one catch for 73 yards on the game's third play before leaving with an injury.
As a team, Nebraska produced 397 total yards, including 174 on the ground led by 98 yards and the game's first touchdown by senior Ameer Abdullah. Armstrong added 45 yards on 12 carries to finish with 268 total yards of offense.
Minnesota answered with 416 total yards, including 281 yards on the ground. Quarterback Mitch Leidner led the Gophers with 110 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, while adding 135 yards on 8-of-17 passing.
Gopher running back David Cobb added 80 yards and one score on 15 carries.
Nebraska took a 21-7 lead into the locker room thanks to solid defense and a pair of huge plays. Bell came up with the first big play for the Big Red on Senior Day, hauling in Armstrong's pass over the middle and racing 73 yards to the left sideline. Bell was tackled out of bounds at the Minnesota 5 and left the game with an injury. It was the second key injury for the Huskers in the first three plays, as senior center Mark Pelini left with an injury on the first play of the game and did not return.
Abdullah burrowed his way into the end zone to plays after Bell's catch to give Nebraska a 7-0 lead with 9:43 left in the first quarter.
Minnesota answered the drive with a nine-play, 71-yard drive capped by Leidner's one-yard sneak to tie the score with 4:43 left in the quarter.
The Huskers regained the lead on Armstrong's 18-yard touchdown pass to Pierson-El with 10:57 left in the half to put the Big Red back up, 14-7.
Minnesota threatened to answer before the Blackshirts stiffened to force a 30-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Santoso. The Huskers then came up with a huge special teams play, as defensive end Randy Gregory blocked Santoso's kick, which was scooped up by safety Nate Gerry. The sophomore shedded tacklers and got several big blocks on his 85-yard sprint to his first career touchdown to give Nebraska a 21-7 lead with 5:18 left in the half.
Gerry added 11 tackles and a pair of pass breakups on the day from his safety spot, while Gregory added eight stops including a sack of Leidner to end the half.
The Blackshirts got another stop before Armstrong and the offense threatened again. On 3rd-and-10 at the Minnesota 35, Armstrong found Pierson-El across the middle for a first down and more. However, Pierson-El was hit from behind and lost the football to end the Husker threat without points.
Armstrong completed 8-of-14 passes for 151 yards in the first half to lead a Husker offense that racked up 233 total yards, including 82 yards on 16 first-half carries. The Blackshirts limited the Minnesota offense to 192 yards on 39 plays, including just 4-for-11 passing for 54 yards for Leidner.
Armstrong accounted for 194 total yards in the first half, including 43 rushing yards. Abdullah finished the half with 31 yards and a score on eight carries.
The Huskers close the regular season by taking on Iowa in the annual Heroes Game on Friday, Nov. 28. Kickoff in Iowa City is set for 11 a.m. in a game televised by ABC.
Final: Minnesota 28, Nebraska 24
Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
First Quarter (7-7)
NEB - 9:42 - Ameer Abdullah 2 run (Drew Brown kick), 5 plays, 84 yards, 2:03 - NEB 7-0
MINN - 4:43 - Mitch Leidner 1 run (Ryan Santoso kick), 9 plays, 71 yards, 4:52 - 7-7
Second Quarter (Nebraska, 21-7)
NEB - 10:57 - De'Mornay Pierson-El 18 pass from Tommy Armstrong Jr. (Brown kick), 8 plays,49 yards, 4:03 - NEB 14-7
NEB - 5:18 - Nate Gerry 85 return of blocked field goal by Randy Gregory (Brown kick), NEB 21-7
Third Quarter (Nebraska, 24-21)
MINN - 11:14 - David Cobb 17 run (Santoso kick), 4 plays, 35 yards, 1:48 - NEB 21-14
NEB - 7:19 - Brown 30 FG, 9 plays, 63 yards, 3:55, NEB 24-14
MINN - 1:47 - Rodrick Williams Jr. 19 run (Santoso kick), 10 plays, 73 yards, 5:25, NEB 24-21
Fourth Quarter (Minnesota, 28-24)
MINN - 3:25 - Leidner 3 run (Santoso kick) - 10 plays, 80 yards, 5:09 - MINN 28-24
Time of Game: 3:20
Game Start: 11:02 a.m. (central)