LINCOLN — Every Thursday, Northwestern wraps up football practice with the same play.
The Hail Mary. One long, desperate throw down the field into the end zone.
First it's the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense, then the second team offense challenges the first team defense.
“It's something we practice every Thursday,” Wildcats defensive end Tyler Scott said. “It's something we always focus on. It's the last play we do on Thursdays. They just went up and made a great play.”
That great play is one that Nebraska fans not yet born will be expected to commit to memory. Ron Kellogg's 49-yard Hail Mary heave that landed in Jordan Westerkamp's hands with no time left is the one Husker fans celebrated — and left the Wildcats wondering what else can happen to them.
“We've worked that play probably 20 times in practice this season,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We didn't execute. That's disappointing.”
What Northwestern didn't do was account for Westerkamp's whereabouts. He got behind the defense and cradled the deflected pass into his arms a yard deep in the end zone.
The 27-24 loss to the Huskers was Northwestern's fifth in a row, all in Big Ten games. The 4-5 Wildcats fell to Minnesota 20-17 and lost a 17-10 overtime decision to Iowa the past two weeks.
But there's little doubt this setback will sting the most.
“It was pretty quiet in there,” Wildcats running back Treyvon Green said of the Northwestern locker room. “A lot of people just want to be alone at this moment so they can process what just happened. I'm still processing it myself.”
There were plenty of positives about Northwestern's performance. The Wildcats led for much of the game, Green finished with 149 yards rushing on 19 carries, and the Northwestern defense only gave up two touchdowns before Kellogg's final, piercing strike.
“We just needed to make one more play,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Give credit to Nebraska, it was a great win by them. But we have to get healthy, that's the number one thing right now.”
Northwestern already was without running backs Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy before Stephen Buckley went down in the first quarter. Buckley suffered a serious injury to his left knee and went to a Lincoln hospital, Fitzgerald said.
Buckley was seen returning to the Northwestern sideline on crutches and his left foot in a boot for the final three possessions of the game. Northwestern had four other players knocked out of the game with injuries, including three on defense.
That's a big reason Fitzgerald was relieved that the Wildcats get a bye next week before hosting Michigan on Nov. 16 and Michigan State the following week.
“We need it,” Fitzgerald said. “Obviously it would have been a lot better with a win. We just have to keep grinding and keep going.”
Scott also had a big play of his own that most times would have sealed a victory for his team. He intercepted a pass by Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong and returned it 29 yards to the Nebraska 7-yard line.
But Nebraska's defense kept the Wildcats out of the end zone as they instead settled for a 21-yard field goal by Jeff Budzien with 1:20 remaining in the game.
“You can't ever think the game is over,” Scott said. “You have to go out there and execute. We've been in these battles all the time and we know they can go either way.
“I didn't think it was over, but I just thought it gave us a good chance to win. We came up unsuccessful, but everybody gave it their all.”
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