Huskers Fall in Final Seconds at Illinois
Champaign, Ill. - For the fourth time in five contests to open the season, the outcome of Nebraska's football game was not decided until the opponent's final offensive play.
For the third time, the Huskers walked away on the short end of the scoreboard with a 14-13 loss at Champaign's Memorial Stadium in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams. Nebraska slipped to 2-3 overall and 0-1 in the Big Ten, while the Fighting Illini improved to 4-1 and 1-0 in the conference.
The game was decided on a one-yard touchdown pass from Wes Lunt to Geronimo Allison and Taylor Zalewski's ensuing extra point with 10 seconds left to cap the Fighting Illini's comeback from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Nebraska, which led 13-0 entering the final period thanks to three tremendous quarters of defense by the Blackshirts, possessed the ball with one minute left at the Illinois 27. On 3rd-and-7, a play after Illinois had spent its final timeout,Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw an incomplete pass intended for Devine Ozigbo off bootleg action to stop the clock with 55 seconds left.
That incompletion gave the Illini hope to have enough time for another offensive possession. Facing a strong wind and rainy conditions, the Huskers chose not to attempt a 45-yard field goal to potentially extend the lead to nine points. NU also chose not to punt, and instead went for it on fourth down. After another incompletion, the Illini started their final possession with 51 seconds left at their own 28.
After a 15-yard completion from Lunt to Sam Mays to open the drive, Lunt hooked up with Malik Turner on a 50-yard strike to fly all the way down to the NU 7 with just under 40 seconds left.
Lunt then targeted Allison on his next two attempts, the first one out of bounds, before pass interference was called on the Huskers to give the Illini first down at the NU 2. After back-to-back incompletions to Nathan Echard and Allison, Lunt looked for Allison again and drew another pass interference on the Big Red to move the ball to the NU 1. The next play produced the game-tying touchdown before Zalewski's PAT.
Lunt finished the day 23-of-45 for 251 passing yards and two touchdowns. The Blackshirts sacked him twice but were unable to force a turnover against the Illini on the day.
Allison led the Illini receivers with eight receptions for 91 yards, including the game-deciding touchdown. Turner added four grabs for 70 yards, including the 50-yarder that set up the game's final score.
Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who came on for Illinois injured starting tailback Josh Ferguson in the first half, carried 24 times for 98 yards to lead Illinois on the ground. Ferguson produced 50 yards on just four carries early in the game.
Nebraska outgained Illinois on the ground, 187-131, thanks to a career-high 70 yards on just seven carries from Devine Ozigbo. The freshman scored the game's first points in the second quarter with his first career touchdown, a nifty 19-yard run to put Nebraska up 7-0 with 12:35 left in the first half.
Senior fullback Andy Janovich added 11 carries for 43 yards, including six carries for 30 yards on Nebraska's final drive to push the Huskers inside the Illini 30 in the game's final minute.
Armstrong added eight carries for 38 yards on the ground, while Alonzo Moore contributed three carries for 21 yards. Terrell Newby rushed five times for 15 yards.
Armstrong struggled to his worst passing day of the season, completing just 10-of-31 passes for 105 yards with one interception, but he still staked the Big Red to a 13-0 lead through three quarters.
Tight end Cethan Carter finished with three catches for 63 yards, including a huge 55-yarder in the second quarter to set up the first of Drew Brown's two field goals. Brown's 39-yarder with 11 seconds left in the second quarter gave the Big Red a 10-0 halftime lead, as the Blackshirts pitched a first-half shutout for the second straight week.
Linebacker Chris Weber had a huge day for the Blackshirts, recording a career-high 17 tackles, including three tackles for eight yards in losses. Fellow linebacker Dedrick Young added 11 stops, including two for losses, while junior defensive tackle Maliek Collins produced his best game of the season with nine tackles. Collins added three tackles for 16 yards lost, including 1.5 sacks for 12 yards on Lunt.
After a scoreless first quarter in which Zalewski missed a pair of field goals and Nebraska struggled to move the ball against a crisp wind, the Huskers took a 7-0 lead on Ozigbo's touchdown run. The score was set up by an outstanding 33-yard run by Armstrong.
The Huskers took their 10-0 lead to the locker room despite being outgained 208-169 by the Illini in the first half.
The Big Red kept the wind in the third quarter, but managed just 36 yards of offense. However, the Blackshirts shut out the Illini in the quarter and got a Brown field goal from 28 yards out with 2:55 left in the third to take a 13-0 lead to the fourth.
Punter Sam Foltz was also instrumental in helping the Huskers build a 13-0 lead, averaging 46.9 yards on his nine punts in the game. Foltz boomed five punts of 50 or more yards, and buried the Illini inside their own 20 on three occasions.
Illinois took advantage of the wind right away in the fourth, marching 75 yards in 10 plays capped by a 22-yard Lunt touchdown pass to Marchie Murdock to pull the Illini within 13-7 with 13:21 left in the game.
For the game, the Illini produced 382 yards of total offense compared to 292 for the Huskers.
Nebraska returns home to take on Wisconsin next Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Kick-off against the Badgers is set for 2:30 p.m., with live national television coverage by ABC. No. 19 Wisconsin dropped its Big Ten opener at home to Iowa, 10-6, earlier on Saturday.