Late touchdown gives No. 21 Nebraska 28-24 win against MSU at Spartan Stadium
It happened again.
For the fourth time this year, the MSU football team (5-5 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) had its heart ripped out in the game’s final minute, with the latest gut-wrenching loss coming at the hands of No. 21 Nebraska (7-2, 4-1). The Cornhuskers stunned the Spartans 28-24 after junior quarterback Taylor Martinez found sophomore receiver Jamal Turner for a 5-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining.
“I felt like we had it right there and in our grasp,” MSU junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell said with his fist clenched. “But it slipped away from us. It’s heartbreaking.”
The Spartans led by 10 points with just over seven minutes remaining, and nearly led by 17 points when junior cornerback Darqueze Dennard appeared to return his second interception of the game 96 yards for a touchdown, before a penalty to senior cornerback Johnny Adams negated the score and gave MSU the ball at its own 10-yard line.
Nebraska also benefitted from a pass interference call against Dennard in MSU’s end zone that gave the Cornhuskers a first down at MSU’s 5-yard line with 17 seconds remaining, which set up the game-winning score.
Both penalties drew the ire of MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who said he didn’t see either play the same way as the officials.
“Talk about taking it out of the kid’s hands and putting it into someone else’s,” Narduzzi said of the negated touchdown.
“It was a heck of a return by Darqueze. We said (the defense was) going to score today and we thought we did. We got late flags 25 yards from the ball. We will see it. I don’t know what the problem was, but I guess you are not allowed to block on defense. You can only block on offense. Players play, coaches coach, officials try to officiate the best they can. I guess they saw it that way. From the booth, I didn’t see it that way.”
Both teams exchanged touchdowns in the first quarter, with junior running back Le’Veon Bell carrying it in from 11 yards out for the game’s opening score and Nebraska responding with sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah catching a 2-yard touchdown pass following a 59-yard run by Martinez.
After Nebraska senior kicker Brett Maher missed a 30-yard field goal, Bell ran 40 yards to set up a 46-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Tony Lippett that regained the lead for the Spartans, before Martinez burst down the right sidelines for a 71-yard touchdown run to tie the game before halftime.
A 25-yard field goal from senior kicker Dan Conroy was the only scoring in the third quarter and edged the Spartans out in front, before a 1-yard touchdown run by Bell to begin the fourth quarter extended MSU’s lead to 10, 24-14.
Bell finished the game with 188 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries to lead the way for MSU, with Maxwell completing 9-of-27 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown.
But after MSU was unable to get a first down following Dennard’s second interception, Martinez made the Spartans pay with a 35-yard touchdown run, to bring the Cornhuskers within three, 24-21, and set up the nine play, 80-yard game-winning drive that began with 1:20 remaining.
Martinez ran for 236 yards and two touchdowns and also completed 16-of-36 passes for 160 yards, with two more touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Spartans fall to 2-4 at home this season and junior linebacker Max Bullough said the most frustrating part of the losing has been the team’s inability to finish games, a problem for which he doesn’t know the solution.
“I wish there was a magic secret to it,” Bullough said. “We need to finish. We need to not have as many penalties. Whatever it is, it’s our fault. We’re the ones getting the penalties. … We had a chance to finish the game on defense and we didn’t do it.”
MSU’s four conference losses have come by a combined 10 points, with no losses by more than four points, prompting a number of players to describe Saturday’s game as the most painful loss in a season full of them.
Head coach Mark Dantonio said it’s “one of the toughest games” he’s experienced during his time at MSU.
“All I can tell you is that you’ve got to keep pushing. You can’t flinch,” Dantonio said.
“I see life everyday for people; life’s tough for everyone. In the end, this hurts; this hurts a lot of people. You just have to be able to look things in the eye. I think you have to be able to keep pushing. I don’t know what else to say about it. Just keep working.”