Huskers drop season opener in Ireland to Northwestern, 31-28

Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 4:21 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 27, 2022 at 4:33 PM CDT
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DUBLIN, Ireland. (Nebraska Athletics Press Release) - Nebraska held a pair of 11-point leads, but Northwestern scored the final 14 points in both halves to claim a 31-28 win over the Huskers in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic at Aviva Stadium on Saturday to open the 2022 season.

Nebraska amassed 465 yards of total offense, including 355 yards on 25-of-42 passing by quarterback Casey Thompson, but Northwestern answered with 528 total yards, including 314 on 27-of-38 passing by Ryan Hilinski. The Wildcats also pounded the ball for 214 rushing yards. The Huskers committed three turnovers, including a pair of interceptions, compared to just one turnover by the Wildcats. Nebraska was flagged for just one penalty for five yards in the game, compared to eight miscues for 65 yards by the Wildcats.

Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda led the Nebraska receivers with 120 yards on four catches, including a touchdown, while Trey Palmer added a team-high eight receptions for 68 yards in his Husker debut. Tight end Travis Vokolek also hauled in five catches for 63 yards in just over a half before leaving the game.

Anthony Grant led the Big Red ground game with 101 yards on 19 carries, including a pair of third-quarter touchdown runs that gave Nebraska a 28-17 lead.

Nebraska struck first on transfer quarterback Casey Thompson’s opening Husker drive, marching the Big Red 75 yards in just eight plays capped by his 32-yard touchdown strike to Garcia-Castaneda. It was Garcia-Castaneda’s first catch as a Husker and it gave Nebraska a quick 7-0 lead just 2:19 into the game.

Northwestern got on the board for the first time late in the first quarter on Adam Stage’s 35-yard field goal that capped a nine-play drive and cut the Nebraska lead to 7-3 with 2:13 left in the period.

Thompson struck again early in the second quarter, putting an exclamation point on another scoring drive with his own one-yard touchdown run after coordinating a 15-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 5:08. The touchdown gave the Huskers a 14-3 just over three minutes into the second period.

Northwestern answered just over a minute later on Hilinski’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Raymond Niro III to cut the Husker lead to 14-10 with 10:58 left in the first half.

Thompson appeared to have Nebraska back in position to put up more points, but after a 24-yard completion to Garcia-Castaneda, Northwestern linebacker Greyson Metz pulled the ball free from the receiver’s right arm as they went to the ground. The call on the field was a fumble, but upon review it appeared that Garcia-Castaneda’s knee was down before the ball was pulled loose. However, it was determined their was not enough evidence to overturn the call on the field. The call stood, stopping Nebraska’s drive and giving the Wildcats the ball at the Northwestern 11-yard line.

Nebraska’s defense held on the drive and did not allow the Wildcats to convert the turnover into points, but the Huskers were silenced the rest of the half. Northwestern found the end zone again with Hilinski’s six-yard touchdown pass to Donny Navarro with 25 seconds left to give the Cats a 17-14 lead.

Thompson and the Huskers were able to threaten in the final seconds of the half, setting up a 55-yard field goal attempt for Brendan Franke as time expired, but the long kick sailed wide right to close the first 30 minutes.

Northwestern took a 17-14 lead into the locker room at halftime and started the second half with the ball, but the Blackshirts came up with quick stop and then Thompson and the Cornhuskers went back to work. Thompson marched the Big Red 88 yards in nine plays, including a highlight-reel 58-yard hookup with Garcia-Castaneda to convert on 3rd-and-8 from the Nebraska 24-yard line. The drive was capped by Anthony Grant’s first touchdown as a Husker. His three-yard touchdown run put Nebraska back on top 21-17 just over five minutes into the third quarter.

The Blackshirts came up with a big play moments later, forcing a fumble by Cam Porter at the end of a 21-yard run. The fumble, which was recovered by Caleb Tannor, turned into Nebraska points two plays later, when Grant galloped 46 yards for a touchdown to put the Big Red back up by 11 points at 28-17 with 9:09 left in the third quarter.

Northwestern stopped Nebraska’s momentum by recovering an on-side kick attempt, giving the Wildcats a short field. Five plays later, Porter atoned for his fumble on the previous drive, plowing into the end zone from three yards out to cut the Husker lead back to 28-24 with 7:53 left in the quarter.

Nebraska maintained its four-point lead into the fourth quarter, and less than a minute into the period, the Blackshirts stopped the Wildcats and forced an Adam Stage field goal attempt. Stage missed wide right from 36 yards, and Thompson quickly moved the Huskers near midfield after a pair of completions to Brody Belt. But on 1st-and-10 from the Nebraska 38, Thompson’s pass deep down the middle was intercepted by Cameron Mitchell, who returned it to the Northwestern 42 before being tackled by Thompson.

Six plays later, Anthony Hull burst six yards into the end zone to put Northwestern back on top, 31-28 with 11:34 left. The defenses held the rest of the way, and Nebraska was unable to stop the Wildcat running game. Hull led all rushers in the game with 119 yards on 22 carries, while Porter pitched in 94 yards on 19 totes.

Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln next Saturday to take on Northwestern. The Homecoming game for the Big Red is set to kick off at 6:30 p.m. with live television coverage provided by the Big Ten Network.