By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nebraska senior receiver Brandon Reilly had only one celebration routine in mind should he score a touchdown in Friday’s Music City Bowl against Tennessee.
It’s the same one he’s had planned since August.
“When you go the whole year without scoring, you kind of don’t think about too many celebrations,” Reilly said. “That’s about the only one I had.”
Reilly, who tied a Nebraska bowl record with two receiving touchdowns in the Huskers’ 38-24 loss at Nissan Stadium, hauled in a 38-yard scoring pass from senior quarterback Ryker Fyfe in the second quarter.
Incredibly, the touchdown was Reilly’s first of the season. So he followed through with his long-planned celebration. He tossed the ball in front of him, mocked a punt and pointed both hands toward the heavens.
That, of course, was a loving tribute to fellow senior Sam Foltz, the beloved Nebraska punter who perished in an automobile accident in July.
“I’ve thought about it for quite a few months now,” Reilly said. “At the time, I felt it was right. Last game, in Nashville, a bowl game Foltzy would’ve loved to come to. It just seemed like it had to be done.
“It means a lot. I think it might mean a lot to Gerald and Jill (Sam’s parents). It’s something I felt was right.”
Reilly admitted he was surprised it took him this long to share his celebration.
“Wish I could’ve unleashed it a little bit sooner, but I felt it was right. It was the only thing that crossed my mind,” Reilly said. “Personally, I thought I’d score the first game. But I’m not too big on individual stats.”
Reilly became Fyfe’s go-to receiver as the Huskers played without decorated senior receiver Jordan Westerkamp, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during bowl practices. Fyfe, meanwhile, was making only his third career start in place of another injured senior, Tommy Armstrong, Jr.
“I told him before the game, if you get one-on-one, I'm going to get you the ball and hopefully get one touchdown,” Fyfe said of Reilly. “He had two today, so good for him."
Reilly made a sensational catch when he hauled in a 9-yard touchdown while keeping one foot in bounds deep in the corner of the end zone in the third quarter. That time, he simply tossed the football high in the air to celebrate.
Later, Reilly caught a 39-yard pass while being well-defended by Malik Foreman, a reception that advanced Nebraska to the Tennessee 25-yard line, setting up junior kicker Drew Brown's 45-yard field goal with 12:06 remaining in the game.
Reilly finished with four receptions for 98 yards, the eighth-most receiving yards in a bowl game in Nebraska history.
“There’s a few out there I wish I could’ve had back, but going into the game, I’m very confident with Ryker back there, and he was comfortable with me,” Reilly said. “We were talking, ‘Let’s just go out with a bang.’ We didn’t get the win, but we put on a good show.”
Reilly said the transition from Armstrong to Fyfe wasn’t difficult, noting Fyfe has always taken some practice reps with the top offense, even before bowl preparations.
Fyfe finished 17-of-36 passing for 243 yards and two touchdowns. His 243 passing yards were the second-most in Nebraska bowl history, and his 39-yard pass to Reilly was a personal season long.
“I can’t be more proud of him,” Reilly said. “He kept getting up. Every time I’d run deep, they (the Tennessee fans) would be cheering, and I was like, ‘Ugh, number 9 (Derek Barnett) just hit him again.’ He stood in there, and he’s a warrior.”
Reilly, like Fyfe, joined the team as a walk-on, having bypassed a potential junior hockey league career.
“I think back sometimes, ‘What would’ve happened with hockey?’ you know, but the way college has been for me, it’s been a fun ride,” Reilly said. “I never would’ve met any of these guys, so I wouldn’t trade it for nothing.
“We’ve been through a lot. A lot of us walked on together. It’s those friendships that last a lifetime, and that's what I'm going to hold onto most about this journey.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.