Oct. 20, 2012
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Site: Evanston, Ill. (Ryan Field)
Score: Nebraska 29, Northwestern 28
Records: NU (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten), Nebraska (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten)
Next NU Event: Saturday, Oct. 27 vs. Iowa 11 a.m. Evanston, Ill.
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EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern kept a prolific Nebraska rushing attack largely in check and brought a 21-16 lead into the fourth quarter, but the visiting Huskers were able to gain a one-point lead with 2:08 to play and held on for a 29-28 victory Saturday at Ryan Field.
The Wildcats are now 6-2 on the season with a 2-2 mark in the Big Ten and a 1-1 record against Legends Division opponents.
NU nearly found the game-winning points when it drove the ball to the Nebraska 36 and Jeff Budzien attempted a 53-yard field goal. The career-long attempt by Budzien had the distance but missed just outside the right upright.
Junior running back Venric Mark starred once again in the NU backfield, racking up 118 rushing yards -- including an 80-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that put NU in front 21-10 -- to gain his fifth 100-yard rushing game in eight outings this season. He was forced to exit the game late in the third quarter with an injury.
Saturday marked the first time in 2012 (seven games) that an opponent held the Nebraska offense under 30 points.
Nebraska forced three-and-outs by the Wildcats offense on NU's first four series of the game while the Huskers took a 3-0 lead on a 27-yard field goal by Brett Maher. Midway through the opening quarter, Nebraska seemed poised to seize control of the game when they recovered a muffed punt by the Wildcats return team, but the play was negated by a personal foul call against the Huskers.
The Wildcats were once again forced to punt, however, and Brandon Williams managed to pin the Huskers deep in their own territory. Nebraska punted three plays later and, following another Northwestern three-and-out, the Wildcats opportunistically fell on a muffed punt by the Huskers' returnman. Redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose recovered the loose ball.
NU took over on Nebraska's 14-yard line and seized a 7-3 lead when Trevor Siemian found freshman superback Dan Vitale for a 10-yard touchdown pass, Vitale's first career score as a Wildcat.
Turnovers remained the story in the first half, with the Huskers fumbling away a Wildcats punt and VanHoose recovering for the home team for the second time on the afternoon. Soon after, with the Huskers driving across midfield, a completed pass down the middle ended with NU's Ibraheim Campbell forcing a fumble that was recovered by fellow safety Jared Carpenter.
Still, Nebraska's defense was up to the task of keeping Northwestern at bay and regained possession with good field position and 9:09 remaining in the first half. On the second play of the drive, Taylor Martinez found an open Kenny Bell in the middle of the field, and Bell did the rest by taking it 37 yards to paydirt to restore a 10-7 Nebraska lead.
Two drives later, Northwestern took over on the 50-yard line and moved the chains with a fourth-and-1 pickup on a Colter QB sneak. Mark then converted a key third-and-5 play by moving the pile for seven yards, and on the next play Siemian dropped back and found Tony Jones down the sideline for a 26-yard TD completion.
The Wildcats brought a 14-10 lead into the halftime locker room -- despite being outgained 226-107 in the first two quarters -- marking the seventh time in eight games this season NU has been ahead at the intermission.
Northwestern got off to an auspicious start in the second half, forcing a Nebraska punt and beginning its drive on its own 7-yard line. On the fourth play of the series, Colter handed off to Mark, who burst through a hole on the right side of the line and outran the Huskers D to finish off an 80-yard scoring rush, his longest career play from scrimmage and ninth rushing touchdown of the year.
Asked to be on the field for much of the third quarter, Northwestern's defense continued to pressure Martinez in the backfield while also limiting the Huskers' conference-leading ground game. Martinez recorded the only other score of the period on a 3-yard touchdown rush, but the Wildcats stopped the ensuing two-point conversion, keeping Northwestern ahead, 21-16.
The Wildcats extended their lead back to double digits when Mike Trumpy capped an 11-play drive by plunging in from three yards out with 8:31 left, extending the hosts' advantage to 28-16.
However, Nebraska responded with an 80-yard drive capped by an eight-yard pass from Martinez to Taariq Allen. Northwestern was unable to pick up a first down on the ensuing drive and the Huskers got the decisive score with just over two minutes left when Martinez and Ben Cotton teamed up on a 7-yard scoring pass to give Nebraska its first lead since midway through the second quarter.
NU got into Nebraska territory on its next possession, but Budzien's field goal attempt was barely off the mark.
Defensively, junior LB Damien Proby finished as the Wildcats' leading tackler with 12 total stops while CB Daniel Jones set a career high with 11 (10 solo).
Next week, Northwestern rolls on in its Big Ten schedule when it hosts Iowa at Ryan Field as part of its annual Homecoming weekend. Kickoff time is set for 11 a.m. CT with the television broadcast provided by ESPN2.
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