Another Northwestern-Nebraska matchup, another nail-biting finish. But this time, Northwestern ended up on the winning end.
The Wildcats got big plays from quarterback Clayton Thorson and a terrific defensive effort much of the afternoon to hold off the Huskers for a 30-28 road win Saturday afternoon in Lincoln.
The win ended Northwestern's two-game skid and was the team's sixth victory of the season. After back-to-back seasons without bowl appearances, the Cats will be going to the postseason this year.
Thorson didn't have much luck throwing the ball in the first half, but he made a couple huge contributions with his legs, rushing for big gains of 68 and 49 yards in the first 30 minutes. Both those runs set up scores, the first a Thorson touchdown run and the second a field goal after Christian Jones dropped what would have been a touchdown pass right before halftime.
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The Cats also got a 72-yard interception-return touchdown from Nick VanHoose in the second quarter, and Northwestern went to the break with a 17-12 lead, despite the Huskers' huge statistical advantages in total yardage and time of possession.
Nebraska responded out of the half with a brilliant six-minute touchdown drive by Tommy Armstrong and Nebraska's offense, one that saw the Huskers convert five times on third down.
Northwestern went right downfield after that go-ahead score and settled for a red-zone field goal for the second time on the day, again taking the lead at 20-19.
After the Huskers again grabbed the lead with a field goal of their own, the Cats went 77 yards in two and a half minutes and got a go-ahead touchdown on a 37-yard pass from Thorson to Dan Vitale. That made it 27-22, and Northwestern didn't trail again.
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After the Cats had to again settle for a field goal on a red-zone trip, Armstrong led another touchdown drive and nearly tied the game in the waning minutes. He scored on a quarterback keeper, but the two-point conversion attempt failed. Northwestern took over and ran the clock out to hold on for the win.
Thorson completed just four passes for 16 yards in the first half, but he finished with 177 passing yards and a touchdown pass. He rushed for 106 yards in the first half and finished with 126 yards on the ground. Northwestern managed to narrow the gap in total yardage, finishing with Nebraska in front, 373-333, in that department.
The Northwestern defense played very well Saturday, holding Nebraska to just 82 rushing yards. Defensive lineman Dean Lowry had 10 tackles, six tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
Armstrong finished completing 24 of his 48 passing attempts for 291 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Armstrong added two touchdown runs.
The win bumped Northwestern to 6-2 on the season and cemented a ticket to a bowl game. Nebraska, meanwhile, dropped to 3-5 on the season. The Huskers' five losses have come by a staggering 13 combined points.