LINCOLN, Neb.-- Lincoln - In arguably the most exciting season-opening game in Nebraska football history, BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum's 42-yard Hail Mary pass to Mitch Mathews on 4th-and-3 as time expired gave the Cougars a 33-28 win over the Huskers on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Playing in front of the NCAA-record 341st consecutive sellout with 89,959 fans at Memorial Stadium, Nebraska built a 28-24 lead heading into the fourth quarter of Mike Riley's debut as the Big Red's head coach to end the Huskers' 29-year season-opening win.
In a back-and-forth game, the Huskers led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter, but trailed 24-14 at at halftime after BYU scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter.
Nebraska answered with 14 points of its own in the third to take the lead behind the strong play of junior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. in the first and third quarters. Armstrong, who finished with his second career 300-yard passing game, completed 24-of-41 passes for 319 yards with three touchdowns for the game. In the opening quarter, Armstrong went 10-for-12 through the air for 156 yards and a pair of scores. After completing just 3-of-15 passes in the second, Armstrong rebounded to complete 8-of-11 passes, including seven straight at one point in the third quarter.
In the fourth, the Huskers were unable to convert on the ground on a pair of 3rd-and-1 runs to slow their momentum, but Armstrong led Nebraska into field goal position on its final drive with less than a minute left. Sophomore place-kicker Drew Brown missed wide left from 41 yards to keep BYU within one. It was Brown's second missed field goal of the game, as he misfired from 40 yards out at the end of the first half.
The Huskers also were hurt by penalties early the game, committing 12 penalties for 90 yards in the game - but none in the fourth quarter.
Mangum, who made an appearance on one drive in the first half, took the field on each of BYU's final three drives of the game in place of starting quarterback Taysom Hill for the Cougars. Hill was unable to put points on the board on BYU's first four drives of the second half, before leaving the game midway through the fourth with a season-ending foot injury, according to BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhal.
Hill finished with 268 yards passing and one touchdown, while completing 21-of-34 passes. He also threw an interception. Hill also led the Cougars on the ground with nine carries for 72 yards and two rushing touchdowns to finish with 340 yards of total offense.
But it was Mangum who made the game's two biggest plays, beginning with his 38-yard completion to Nick Kurtz on 4th-and-1 midway through the fourth quarter. That conversion set up Trevor Samson's 35-yard field goal with 7:57 left to pull BYU within 28-27 and give the Cougars their first points of the second half. It was Samson's second field goal of the game, joining a 42-yarder with 5:42 left in the first half that gave BYU a 17-14 lead.
Kurtz led the BYU receivers with five catches for 123 yards, but it was Mathews that made the game's biggest catch to close the game. That play began with one second left on the clock at the NU 42, as the Cougars elected not to try a 59-yard game-winning field goal against a stiff south wind at Memorial Stadium. Mangum bought time by rolling out to his right before heaving it toward the same end zone that NU's Jordan Westerkamp hauled in a Hail Mary against Northwestern as a freshman two seasons ago.
Kurtz leaped high for the ball and came down on his back on the goal line with the ball across the plane to give BYU the first season-opening win by a visitor against an opponent Nebraska since Florida State defeated the Huskers, 17-13, in Lincoln on Sept. 7, 1985.
Westerkamp produced plenty of highlights of his own for the Huskers on Saturday. The junior wide receiver notched his fourth career 100-yard receiving game, hauling in seven catches for 107 yards including a spectacular touchdown run after a short pass to open the scoring for the Big Red on the season. Westerkamp took a wide receiver screen from Armstrong on the left side and ran into the hands of several Cougar defenders. However, Westerkamp bounced off the would-be-tacklers and retreated beyond his own 20, before reversing his field and racing toward the Husker sideline and the corner of the end of the zone to paydirt.
BYU answered that score with a three-yard Hill touchdown run with 2:50 left in the quarter, before Armstrong connected with Alonzo Moore on a 22-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left in the opening period. Moore finished with three catches for 48 yards on the day, including a 19-yard catch to set up his touchdown. He also rushed two times for 24 yards in the game.
Hill and the Cougars controlled the second quarter, beginning with a 21-yard Hill touchdown run to tie the game at 14 with 13:13 left in the half. After Samson's first field goal gave the Cougars the lead, Hill connected with Mathews for a 15-yard passing touchdown to push BYU's edge to 24-14 heading to the half. At that point, Hill was 16-of-22 through the air for 225 yards.
Nebraska started with the ball in the second half but could not get rolling and on NU's first punt of the half, Sam Foltz was hit after his punt and knocked out of the game.
BYU began driving before junior linebacker Nate Gerry made the biggest defensive play of the game for the Big Red by leaping high and hauling down his sixth career interception. Gerry returned the interception 43 yards to set up Nebraska's first touchdown of the second half - a 10-yard burst by Terrell Newby - to cut the Cougar lead to 24-21 with 10:39 left in the third.
Newby led Nebraska's rushing attack with 43 yards on 10 carries, while Imani Cross added seven carries for 36 yards.
The Blackshirts shut down the Cougars on the next two drives to set up an eight-play, 62-yard march capped by Armstrong's nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Trey Foster with 5:31 left in the quarter. It was Foster's first career score and allowed Nebraska to retake the lead at 28-24 for the first time since early in the second quarter.
Joshua Kalu led the Blackshirts with nine tackles, including eight solos and two for eight yards lost, while freshman linebacker Dedrick Young notched seven stops. Gerry, Josh Banderas and Aaron Williams each contributed six tackles.