LINCOLN – Jordan Westerkamp had the perfect opportunity to be a hero for the Nebraska against Northwestern Saturday at Memorial Stadium.The redshirt freshman wide receiver made the most of that opportunity.
With the Huskers trailing 24-21 in the final seconds, quarterback Ron Kellogg III threw a 49-yard pass to Westerkamp for the game-winning touchdown on a ball that was tipped by a Wildcat defensive player and fell into his hands that provided a 27-24 Nebraska victory. It’s believed to be the first Hail Mary touchdown pass in Husker history.
“It was sure a crazy play,” Westerkamp said. “I’m not sure who tipped it backwards, but someone tipped it back. I was just kind of there by myself, and I was able to make the play. I didn’t really know I was fully in the end zone. I just sort of reached backwards.”
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said he was happy for Westerkamp, an Illinois native who lived about 45 minutes away from the Northwestern campus.
“Jordan just made a great play for us,” Pelini said. “I saw the ball tip in the air and saw Westy kind of flash and then saw the crowd reaction. I looked down and saw the ref put his arms up. I was a little bit in disbelief. It was pretty cool for him.”
The touchdown came after Jeff Burzien kicked a 21-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 24-21 lead with 1 minute, 20 seconds left.
Kellogg also provided some big plays for Nebraska on the final drive. The senior, who had thrown an interception earlier in the game, came in on the last series after Tommy Armstrong, Jr. threw his third interception that led to the Burzien field goal.
On the final drive, Nebraska faced a fourth-and-15 and Kellogg found Ameer Abdullah, who ran 16 yards to get a first down on the Husker 40 to keep the game going. That led to Westerkamp’s game-winning catch four plays later.
Kellogg, who was 7-of-13 for 104 yards passing, said the throw to Westerkamp was pretty special, simply because he didn’t know he was going to be in after the field goal.
“They told me that I was going. I wanted to collect my mind and thoughts. I didn’t even know I could throw it that far,” Kellogg said. “But thank God for Jordan. No way did I imagine being part of a play like that. I told (Nebraska assistant coach) Joe Ganz that I felt like I hit a shot in the final four. I didn’t know what really happened as I got hit after I threw the ball and then I heard the crowd react. It’s a weird feeling and I’m stunned by it.”
And it was also the defense, which gave up 326 yards to the Northwestern offense, that stepped up when it had to after a Tyler Scott interception took the ball to the 7-yard line. After Wildcat quarterback Kain Colter ran to the 1-yard line, Northwestern could not get another yard and settled for three points rather than seven.
“Every play leading up to (the Westerkamp catch) was big,” Pelini said. “Crazy game. I’m proud of how our defense stepped up after giving up the interception. That was pretty special with how they came back. It was a good team win for us.”
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald gave Nebraska credit for making the final play happen.
“We have guys on guys and then you can never let somebody get behind the pile,” Fitzgerald said. “I really couldn’t see, I was blocked, I don’t know if Jordan was the back side receiver and ran behind everyone or what it was. That is pretty much it. Give credit to Nebraska, great team win by them.”
The game started well for Nebraska on its first series. Armstrong started at quarterback and made his presence known early. The freshman was 3-for-3 passing for 36 yards and had three carries for 34 yards with a touchdown run.
However, Northwestern came right back with a 12-play drive of its own to tie the game. Much of the yardage came from Colter, who had 45 yards on the drive, including a 9-yard gain where he eluded five tacklers on a 3rd-and-6. Treyvon Green, who had 19 carries 149 yards and three touchdowns, capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
After stopping Nebraska on its next series, the Wildcats came right back with a six-play scoring drive. Green broke loose on a 39-yard run to the 6. Two plays later, he scored his second touchdown on a 4-yard run.
Nebraska had a chance to cut into the Northwestern lead on the next drive, but Pat Smith missed a 48-yard field goal attempt.
Then Nebraska brought in Kellogg in at quarterback in the second quarter. But Kellogg was picked off by Chi Chi Ariguzo and the Wildcats took advantage. Trevor Siemian, who went in for Colter at quarterback on the drive, found Dan Vitale for 38 yards. Green scored on the next play on a 10-yard run to give Northwestern a 21-7 lead with 11:07 left of the second quarter.
Pelini brought back Armstrong on the next series and he didn’t disappoint. He was 3-for-3 on the drive, connecting on a 3-yard scoring strike to Enunwa to cut Northwestern’s lead to 21-14.
Neither team was able to get going offensively after that, but the Nebraska defense stepped up in the third quarter and gave the Huskers a little momentum. Avery Moss picked off a Siemian pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 21-all.
“That was a heck of a catch Avery made and a difficult one,” Pelini said. “That was a heck of a play and he was pretty excited about it.”
One series later, Nebraska looked like it was going to take the lead as it drove down to the 35-yard line in the fourth quarter. But a holding penalty backed the Huskers back up and Armstrong threw an interception to hault the drive.
“We made some mistakes that hurt us,” Pelini said. “We missed some tackles, especially early on. We didn’t give our crowd much to cheer about early in the game. Our kids just responded when they had to.”
The Wildcats had to battle throughout the game, especially with Green being the only running back for them. Northwestern was without running backs Mike Trumpy and All-American Venric Mark, and Stephen Buckley got injured in the game and didn’t return. Green even went out for a series but returned later. Fitzgerald said he was proud of the way Northwestern played.
“It was a tough way to lose. Obviously, with the way the guys battled, a lot of guys going down throughout the course of the game and to see the way they battled was absolutely amazing,” he said. “We have to get healthy, that’s the No. 1 thing right now. We need it and obviously it would have been a lot better with a win. We just have to keep grinding.”
Pelini said the one thing he was happy about was that Nebraska, which had 472 yards of offense, hung together and didn’t give up. He added he hopes it adds momentum for the Huskers game against Michigan Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It wasn’t pretty but I’ll take it,” Pelini said. “It was a good team win and I’m happy for them. I hope it keeps them believing and keeps their energy up. But the same challenges lies ahead and it’s easier to handle now. Hopefully momentum can carry over into next week.
“But I feel bad for Pat and his kids because they played very hard and they are a class-act program.”
As for Westerkamp, he said he wants to turn the focus to Michigan next week, but he said the game-winning touchdown is something he’ll remember.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, but it was a crazy play,” Westerkamp said. “It will be a memorable play. I’ll definitely enjoy it.”
Pelini agreed: “That’s a play that those players will remember forever. They’ll be telling their kids about that play in the future.”