LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Clayton Thorson sneaked into the end zone on fourth-and-1, and Northwestern’s defense came up with a big sack and pass breakup in overtime for a 31-24 win over Nebraska on Saturday.
The Wildcats (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) became the first Football Bowl Subdivision program in history to win three consecutive overtime games. They beat Iowa 17-10 two weeks ago and Michigan State 39-31 in triple overtime last week. They also clinched bowl eligibility for a third straight year.
“I think our guys have some confidence in close games,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I could see the look in their eye in overtime – we’re going to win the game.”
Northwestern scored the tying touchdown with 5:32 left in the fourth quarter, and after Thorson’s pass to the end zone was broken up on the final play of regulation, the Wildcats got the ball first in overtime.
The Cornhuskers (4-5, 3-3) kept Thorson out of the end zone on third-and-goal from the 1. Northwestern chose to go for the touchdown rather than kick a field goal, and Thorson got into the end zone on the next play with a push from Trey Pugh.
On Nebraska’s possession, freshman defensive tackle Samdup Miller sacked Tanner Lee on second down for a 10-yard loss. After Lee hit Tyler Hoppes for 8 yards to set up a fourth-and-12, Kyle Queiro broke up a pass intended for JD Spielman.
“We’re obviously disappointed in our finish,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “It felt like there had been some good football and then it felt deflated right through and into the overtime. The defense did their best after giving up some yardage early in the overtime to keep them out. It went to fourth down and we didn’t quite get it done.”
Justin Jackson ran 31 times for 154 yards and a touchdown, and Thorson threw for 243 yards for the Wildcats, with Macan Wilson catching five balls for 107 yards. Thorson was just 19 of 35, including 8 of 18 in the second half, and was intercepted twice.
“I definitely didn’t have my best stuff all day,” Thorson said, “but I kept battling. It’s a team game.”
Devine Ozigbo had 72 yards on 23 carries for the Huskers. Lee passed for 225 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted three times.
Marcus Newby ran back his first career interception 49 yards for a touchdown to give Nebraska the lead early in the third quarter, and Drew Brown’s 23-yard field goal put the Huskers up 24-17.
The Wildcats did next to nothing offensively in the second half until they went 84 yards in 13 plays after Godwin Igwebuike made a diving interception at his own 16.
Clayton Thorson hit Flynn Nagel for 20 yards on a third-and-9 and Jackson ran 2 yards to convert a fourth-and-1 before Thorson went 7 yards untouched for the tying touchdown.
Northwestern: The Wildcats have won four straight after an 0-2 start in Big Ten play, and they’ve won three of four meetings in Lincoln since the Huskers joined the Big Ten. Queiro had two interceptions and a couple huge pass breakups.
Nebraska: Lee had shaken off the interception bug the last month, but his three picks against Northwestern gives him 13 for the season.