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Northwestern fades away in final eight minutes, falls to Nebraska

1-7-00 Chicago Sun-Times Employee Toni Ginnetti.....SS

1-7-00 Chicago Sun-Times Employee Toni Ginnetti.....SS

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Updated: November 22, 2012 6:47AM

For nearly four quarters, Northwestern controlled enough in its game Saturday against Nebraska to hold a lead and optimism.

But the Cornhuskers negated it all in the final eight minutes with two dramatic scoring plays and one last failed field-goal attempt by Northwestern.

In the end, Nebraska’s 29-28 victory at Ryan Field came down to being “one play short,’’ Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

“Down the stretch, we just didn’t make one more play we needed to make,’’ he said. “I thought we battled and gave ourselves the chance to win, but down the stretch we just didn’t make that one more play we needed to make.

“There were two balls we had in our hands during their last couple of drives that led to the [last] touchdown. It was a tough outcome.’’

The Wildcats’ last two-minute drive came close to saving the day, the offense driving down field to put junior kicker Jeff Budzien within 53 yards of a game-winning field goal. But the kick went wide to the right, leaving Nebraska with just over a minute to kill to secure the victory.

The Cornhuskers (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) avenged last year’s upset defeat at the hands of Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) and their victory was just as dramatic.

Nebraska trailed 21-16 as the fourth quarter began but engineered a comeback that equaled the largest fourth quarter comeback in school history.

The architect was junior quarterback Taylor Martinez, who completed two touchdown passes in the final six minutes.

Northwestern twice stopped attempts at two-point conversions, but still fell short.

Before the end, the Cornhuskers had led just once, when they scored a 27-yard field goal with 11:21 remaining in the first quarter.

NU came back with a scoring pass from sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian to freshman Dan Vitale with 1:35 left in the first.

Siemian played quarterback for most of the game while tandem partner Kain Colter played receiver. The pairing was working, with Siemian completing 15 of 35 attempts for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Colter had 14 carries for 35 yards and three receptions for 17 yards.

Siemian rang up his second touchdown pass just before the half on a 26-yard strike to sophomore Tony Jones.

The second half opened with the day’s most dramatic play, an 80-yard touchdown run by junior Venric Mark that helped push the Wildcats lead to 21-10. The Cats played for drama in the fourth quarter as well when Fitzgerald opted to go for a fourth-and-one play inside their 10-yard line.

Colter’s push from the quarterback spot was good, and moments later, he handed off to junior Mike Trumpy for a three-yard score.

“I felt we needed touchdowns more than field goals,’’ Fitzgerald said.

At the time, it seemed a solidifying play.

But Martinez took control, engineering an 80-yard drive that ended with an eight-yard scoring pass to Taariq Allen, exciting the vast sea of Huskers fans among the crowd of 47,330.

“I knew their defense wasn’t going to be the same as last year,’’ said Colter, who was central to last season’s upset victory in Lincoln. “We just didn’t make some plays.

“The fashion we lost is disappointing because we controlled most of the game, but we still have all our goals in front of us,’’ he said.

That would include winning the conference championship, though this loss to a Legends Division rival will make that more difficult.

“It’s a tough outcome,’’ said Fitzgerald, whose squad was the first in the Big Ten to be bowl-eligible. “It’s a tough pill to swallow but it’s reality when you don’t make some plays.’’

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