Evanston, Ill. - Taylor Martinez accounted for more than 400 total-offense yards and rallied the Nebraska football team from 12 points down midway through the fourth quarter for a 29-28 win at Northwestern Saturday.
Nebraska's fourth-quarter comeback marked its second double-digit rally in Big Ten play this season and gave the Huskers their first road win of the year. It matched the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.
It also improved NU to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play, while dropping Northwestern to 6-2 overall and 2-2 in the conference.
Martinez was nothing short of sensational in the fourth quarter for the Huskers, completing a pair of long touchdown drives in the final eight minutes with touchdown strikes. For the day, the junior quarterback from Corona, Calif., went 27-of-39 for 342 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception. He added 18 carries for 65 yards on the ground, while accounting for another score, giving him a hand in all four of the Huskers' touchdowns on the day.
He was at his best with the game on the line in front of a sellout crowd of 47,330 fans at Ryan Field in Evanston with an ABC national television audience looking on.
Martinez and the Huskers had their backs to the wall after Mike Trumpy's three-yard touchdown plunge pushed Northwestern's lead to 28-16 with 8:31 left in the game.
Nebraska started 1st-and-10 at its own 20 and Martinez carried twice for 14 yards to set up 1st-and-10 at the 34. A pair of incompletions put the the Huskers at 3rd-and-10, before Martinez hit Kyler Reed for 16 yards and a crucial first down. It was the first of five completions for Martinez on six snaps, including a 30-yard connection with wide receiver Quincy Enunwa to put NU 1st-and-Goal at the Northwestern 8. After an incompletion on a screen pass attempt to Ameer Abdullah, Martinez hit Taariq Allen for his first career touchdown on a highlight reel catch in the corner of the end zone to pull th Huskers within 28-23 with 5:55 left.
The Blackshirts then stepped up, as they had done throughout the day, forcing their 10th three-and-out of the contest to give Martinez and the Huskers the ball back with plenty of time to operate, while sending the more than 20,000 red-clad Nebraska fans into a frenzy.
Nebraska started 1st-and-10 at its own 24, and Martinez wasted little time putting the Huskers in business, hooking up again with Enunwa, this time for 31 yards on the first play of the drive. On 3rd-and-3 at the Northwestern 38, Martinez hit Enunwa again to convert with a six-yard completion.
On the next play, Martinez hit Jamal Turner on a 25-yard strike to put the Huskers 1st-and-Goal at the Wildcat 7. Martinez stayed hot, hitting senior tight end Ben Cotton on a seven-yard strike in the middle of the end zone to put the Huskers up 29-28.
In the two decisive drives, Martinez went 10-for-13 for 140 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while adding three carries for 16 yards to account for all 156 Husker yards in the two drives. Enunwa was his favorite target in the last eight minutes, hauling in four receptions for 74 yards on the two drives on his way to a career day. Enunwa finished with six receptions for a career-best 110 yards in his first career 100-yard receiving game.
Following Cotton's touchdown catch, the Huskers went for two to try and push their lead to a field goal at 31-28, but Martinez's pass attempt fell incomplete and gave the Wildcats a chance to win with a field goal.
Northwestern drove to the Nebraska 36, but the Blackshirts held on 3rd-and-7, nearly grabbing two interceptions in the final series, before forcing a career-long field goal attempt by the Wildcats' Jeff Budzien from 53 yards out. Budzien, who was a perfect 11-for-11 on field goal attempts this season and 29-for-29 on PATs, missed his first kick of the year wide right with 1:10 left, and Nebraska escaped with its first-ever win in Evanston.
Statistically, Nebraska dominated the game, rolling up 543 yards of total offense, while holding Northwestern to just 301. Nebraska rushed for 201 yards, notching its seventh consecutive 200-yard rushing performance of the season.
But three first-half turnovers and some game-changing penalties cost the Huskers in the first half. Abdullah and Kenny Bell both muffed first-half punts, while Reed fumbled after catching a pass for a first down deep inside Northwestern territory. NU also lost a fumble recovery on a muffed punt by the Wildcats inside Northwestern's own 20, after a personal foul called on Daimion Stafford away from the play. The Huskers also did it without senior I-back Rex Burkhead, who left the game in the first quarter with an injury. Burkhead carried four times for 13 yards in the game's first seven minutes.
Despite the mistakes, the Huskers kept fighting on their way to matching the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history. Nebraska most recently rallied from a 12-0 fourth-quarter deficit at Missouri in 2009, while also coming back from 12 down at Colorado (19-7) in 1966.
Abdullah led the Nebraska ground game with his third 100-yard rushing effort of the season, finishing with 101 yards on 19 carries. In addition to Enunwa's big receiving day, Bell finished with six receptions for 77 yards, while Abdullah added five grabs for 21 yards. Turner contributed three catches for 56 yards, while Reed and Tim Marlowe each added a pair of receptions.
The Blackshirts held Northwestern's Kain Colter in check, limiting him to just 35 rushing yards on 14 carries and just 1-of-2 passing for five yards. Colter also managed just three receptions for 17 yards.
Venric Mark led the Wildcat ground game with 16 carries for 118 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown burst on Northwestern's opening drive of the second half. That run put Northwestern up 21-10, after taking a 14-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Huskers limited Wildcat quarterback Trevor Siemian as well, as he completed just 15-of-35 passes for 116 yards. But Siemian did not throw an intercpetion and tossed a pair of touchdown passes in the first half.
Nebraska jumped to a quick 3-0 lead on Brett Maher's 27-yard field goal with 11:21 left in the opening quarter. That score was set up by Martinez's first completion to Enunwa of 30 yards on the day to put the Huskers at the Northwestern 18.
Northwestern answered with Siemian's 10-yard pass to Dan Vitale with 1:35 left in the first quarter to go up 7-3. That Wildcat drive began after Abdullah's muffed punt gave Northwestern the ball at the Husker 14.
Despite a fumbled punt by Bell with 12:22 left in the half, and Reed's fumble at the Northwestern 22 just two minutes later, the Huskers still regained the lead on Martinez's 37-yard touchdown strike to Bell with 8:25 left in the second quarter.
But the Wildcats took a 14-10 lead into the locker room at halftime on Siemian's 26-yard pass to Tony Jones with 1:25 left. Nebraska trailed despite the Blackshirts forcing seven three-and-outs and holding the Wildcats to just 107 total yards on 38 plays in the first half.
After Mark put Northwestern up 21-10 with his explosive run with 12:17 left in the third, Martinez answered with a three-yard scoring run with 1:09 left in the quarter. Nebraska attempted a two-point conversion on the play, but Braylon Heard's run failed and the Huskers trailed 21-16.
Stafford and P.J. Smith led the Blackshirts with eight tackles apiece on the afternoon, while defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler and defensive end Eric Martin added six stops. Stanley Jean-Baptiste added a career day with five pass breakups from his cornerback spot, the highest total by a Husker defender since Zackary Bowman batted away five balls against Michigan in the 2005 Alamo Bowl.
Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium for the first time since Sept. 29, when the Huskers play host to Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. The game will air live nationally on ESPN2 and will mark Michigan's first-ever appearance at Memorial Stadium and the Wolverines' first visit to Lincoln since 1911.
Final: Nebraska 29, Northwestern 28
Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012
Ryan Field (Evanston, Ill.)
First Quarter (NU, 7-3)
NEB - 11:21 - Brett Maher 27 field goal - 8 plays, 65 yards, 2:21, NEB 3-0
NU - 1:35 - Dan Vitale 10 pass from Trevor Siemian (Jeff Budzien kick) - 3 plays, 14 yards, 1:19, NU 7-3
Second Quarter (NU, 14-10)
NEB - 8:25 - Kenny Bell 37 pass from Taylor Martinez (Maher kick) - 2 plays, 45 yards, 0:44, NEB 10-7
NU - 1:25 - Tony Jones 26 pass from Siemian (Budzien kick) - 8 plays, 50 yards, 2:38, NU 14-10
Third Quarter (NU 21-16)
NU - 12:17 - Venric Mark 80 run (Budzien kick) - 4 plays, 93 yards, 0:47, NU 21-10
NEB - 1:09 - Martinez 3 run (Braylon Heard run failed) - 6 plays, 49 yards, 2:31, NU 21-16
Fourth Quarter (NEB, 29-28)
NU - 8:31 - Mike Trumpy 3 run (Budzien kick) - 11 plays, 52 yards, 3:52, NU 28-16
NEB - 5:55 - Taariq Allen 8 pass from Martinez (Maher kick) - 10 plays, 80 yards, 2:36, NU 28-23
NEB - 2:08 - Ben Cotton 7 pass from Martinez (Martinez pass failed) - 6 plays, 76 yards, 2:02, NEB 29-28
Final: Nebraska 29, Northwestern 28
Time of Game: 3:39
Game Start: 2:35 p.m. (central)