Ryan Hilinski threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns to help Northwestern rally to a 31-28 win over Nebraska in Saturday’s season opener in Ireland.
Northwestern handed the Cornhuskers their seventh straight loss since last season and added more pressure on beleaguered coach Scott Frost, who took the blame for a missed kick that changed the game’s momentum in the third quarter .
“I made that call so it’s on me,” Frost said of the kick in play after the Huskers took a 28-17 lead. “At that point in the game, I thought all the momentum was on our side. I thought if we got it, we could end the game.
“You can’t really predict them to score 14 in a row and we’re bashing after playing well to start the second half in attack. Again these are excuses. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t make the call.
The Wildcats finished with 528 yards and got some revenge after their humiliating 56-7 loss to the Huskers last October. Nebraska hasn’t won since.
Nebraska was looking for a rebound season with an overhauled offense after a 3-9 season, but the team and its many fans who made the trip returned home bitterly disappointed.
Quarterback Casey Thompson had a big game in his Huskers debut, throwing for 355 yards, but a fourth-quarter error cost him dearly. Cameron Mitchell intercepted Thompson’s pass and returned it nearly 40 yards. Six plays later, Evan Hull pitched it from the 4th to give the Wildcats a 31-28 lead. Hull finished with 22 carries for 119 yards.
Xander Mueller had a pass that bounced off the hands of receiver Wyatt Liewer with 1:27 remaining and the Wildcats sealed the win.
Anthony Grant rushed for two scores in the third quarter, including one from 46 yards to put the Huskers ahead 28-17. He ran it from 3 yards on the previous drive to put Nebraska ahead after the Wildcats entered halftime with a 17-14 lead. Grant had 19 carries for 101 yards.
North West coach Pat Fitzgerald called the kick in play “a huge momentum move” in the game.
“We went down and hit,” he said of Cam Porter’s 3-yard touchdown run on a straight snap to close the gap to 28-24.
The Huskers had built a 14-3 lead after Thompson threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to compatriot Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda and then hit him from 1 early in the second quarter. Garcia-Castaneda finished with 120 yards on four receptions.
But Hilinski capped a terrific first half by finding Donny Navarro in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard strike to give the Wildcats a 17-14 lead with 25 seconds left at halftime.
Earlier, Hilinski hit a Raymond Niro III wide open on a play pass for 41 yards.
After Niro’s touchdown, Nebraska was driving again when linebacker Greyson Metz snatched the ball from Garcia-Castaneda after a 24-yard completion on the northwest 11-yard line.
ALL ABOUT WINNING
Frost was asked about his future as a coach given the losing streak: “You have to win in this business to keep your job. It’s like that. I love Nebraska, I love the state of Nebraska. We have to rectify the situation. »
He said he would not consider quitting: “Absolutely not. … I will fight with the guys, as long as I can fight.
Hilinski credited the offensive line with protecting him — he wasn’t fired.
“When I can sit out there and be patient with the ball, and see the field, as a quarterback, that’s the best feeling,” he said. “Today I felt so calm in the pocket. I felt like I saw the whole pitch.”
Northwestern: The Wildcats appear to have found a quarterback in Hilinski, who completed 27 of 38 passes.
Nebraska: No more questions for Frost. The Huskers lost all of their single-digit games last season, and now another one. Despite the two interceptions, Thompson made big plays. On their first scored drive of the third quarter, he rushed a left on a third-and-8 and threw a pass to Garcia-Castaneda for 58 yards.
Concession stands handed out free beer at one point during the game when they lost internet connection at the stadium. Aviva Stadium is cashless, they have chosen not to turn away thirsty fans. Ronan McGowan said he waited 40 minutes in long queues and missed parts of the game: “They did the right thing.”
Nebraska hosts North Dakota on Saturday in the first of four straight home games, including a game against Oklahoma on Sept. 17.
Northwestern is out next weekend and hosts Duke on Sept. 10 in the first of three straight games at Ryan Field.