Winston-Salem, N.C. - The Nebraska Blackshirts made huge defensive plays late in the game to preserve an exciting 20-17 road victory by the No. 16 Huskers over defending ACC champion Wake Forest on Saturday at Groves Stadium. The rugged defensive effort helped NU improve to 2-0 on the season, while Wake Forest slipped to 0-2.
Nebraska Coach Bill Callahan said he was not surprised by the close contest, and actually anticipated the defensive struggle.
"This was a BCS championship football team with a lot of pride, and they have always had a good defensive football team," Nebraska Coach Bill Callahan said after the game. "We are pleased to come out of this game with a win. Our fans were tremendous. We had more than 10,000 fans in this stadium, about a third of this stadium and they were a factor in the game today."
After surrendering a quick touchdown to give Wake Forest a 17-13 lead less than five minutes into the second half, the Blackshirts slammed the door on the Demon Deacons the rest of the way to seal the victory in front of a sellout crowd of more than 32,000, which included between 10,000 and 15,000 Husker fans, in Winston-Salem.
No defensive play was bigger than a late fourth-quarter stop with just over six minutes to go when senior captain Zackary Bowman leaped to pickoff a Brett Hodges third-down pass in the end zone to stop the potential go-ahead touchdown by the Demon Deacons. Bowman's interception allowed the Huskers to dodge a big bullet that followed an interception by Wake Forest that gave the Demon Deacons a first-and-goal at NU's 10.
Bowman's interception seemed to spark the Nebraska offense, as the Huskers took control and marched NU to the Wake Forest 35.
The Demon Deacon defense held on fourth down with 1:45 left to give Wake Forest one final chance. Walk-on defensive back Ben Eisenhart from Culbertson, Neb., appeared to make the Blackshirts' final big play by intercepting a pass that was tipped by Omaha native Cortney Grixby, but the call on the field was reversed by replay officials to give Wake Forest one final chance on fourth-and-10.
Called on for one final time, the Blackshirts stepped up again by forcing an incompletion with just over one minute left to give the ball back to the Husker offense to run out the clock.
"When you are in these types of games where you are the road and the pendulum swings back and forth, the important thing is how you adjust and how you respond as a football team," Callahan said. "I was really proud of how our team responded to get the win today."
Although the Blackshirts took center stage in the second half, senior quarterback Sam Keller produced solid numbers by completing 24-of-41 passes for 258 yards with one touchdown on the day. Junior I-back Marlon Lucky also continued his strong start to the season by carrying 24 times for 90 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run.
Senior receiver Terrence Nunn led the Husker receiving corps on the afternoon, pulling down six balls for 83 yards, while junior wide receiver Nate Swift added five catches for 45 yards.
The Blackshirts had a hand in big plays throughout the day, as the Huskers' first interception helped put points on the board and give Nebraska an early first-quarter lead.
Senior linebacker Corey McKeon came up with NU's first big defensive play on his interception of a Hodges pass. McKeon's interception helped set up Alex Henery's 22-yard field goal just over six minutes into the game.
The Husker offense moved the ball to the Wake Forest 5, but could not turn the turnover into a touchdown and had to settle for the short field goal. Wake Forest answered with a short field goal of its own early in the second quarter, before Henery helped NU regain the lead with another 22-yard boot with 7:41 left in the first half.
Hodges then drove the Demon Deacons again and found paydirt for the first time on his one-yard dive with 5:13 to play in the half to give Wake a 10-6 edge. Hodges finished the day 12-for-24 through the air for 140 yards with two interceptions.
But Nebraska took momentum into the locker room as Keller executed the two-minute drill to perfection, capped on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Keller to tight end Sean Hill with just 16 seconds left in the half. It was Hill's first career reception and gave the Huskers a 13-10 advantage heading into the locker room at the half.
Although Nebraska took momentum into the locker room, Wake Forest seized it on the first drive of the second half by marching the distance of the field capped on Kenneth Moore's five-yard touchdown run with 10:52 left in the third. Moore finished as the game's leading rusher with eight carries for 116 yards, while adding four receptions for 35 yards.
Keller and the Husker offense then produced its final answer of the day for the Demon Deacons, marching the length of the field. This time, Lucky took matters into his own hands before NU reached the Red Zone, sprinting 22 yards for a touchdown to give the Huskers a 20-17 lead with 8:13 left in the third quarter.
The two defenses did the rest, shutting out the offenses for the final 23 minutes.
Nebraska secured the victory despite being outgained on the day. The Huskers managed 373 yards of total offense, including 258 yards passing and 115 yards rushing. Wake Forest churned out 376 total yards, including 140 passing and 236 yards on the ground. The Demon Deacons also held an edge in time of possession by controlling the ball for 32:02. Wake Forest converted 9-of-20 third-down attempts, while the Huskers were just 3-of-15 on third-down conversions.
Larry Asante posted nine tackles to lead the Blackshirts in that category, while Bowman produced a big day with seven tackles and his fourth-quarter interception. Linebacker Steve Octavien added six solo tackles, including two tackles for loss. Zach Potter added five tackles, including two for loss with Nebraska's only sack of the day. McKeon also notched five tackles while adding an interception.
The Huskers return home next week for a highly anticipated matchup with No. 1 USC at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The game is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff with a prime-time national telecast by ABC.
Scoring (#16 Nebraska 20, Wake Forest 17)
First Quarter (Nebraska 3, Wake Forest 0)
NU - Alex Henery 22 field goal, 8:49, NU 3-0
Second Quarter (Nebraska 13, Wake Forest 10)
WF - Sam Swank 25 field goal, 10:46, 3-3
NU - Henery 22 field goal, 7:41, NU 6-3
WF - Brett Hodges 1 run (Swank kick), 5:13, WF 10-6
NU - Sean Hill 25 pass from Sam Keller (Henery kick), 0:16, NU 13-10
Third Quarter (Nebraska 20, Wake Forest 17)
WF - Kenneth Moore 5 run (Swank kick), 10:52, WF 17-13
NU - Marlon Lucky 22 run (Henery kick), 8:13, NU 20-17
Fourth Quarter (Nebraska 20, Wake Forest 17)
|Nebraska vs. Wake Forest Final Game Statistics|
|Nebraska Postgame Notes|
|Wake Forest Postgame Notes|
|Audio Highlights from the Husker Sports Network|
|Nebraska Season Statistics|