GREEN BAY, Wis. — Footprints from Nebraska were found all over unranked Wisconsin’s 16-14 upset Saturday of No. 5 LSU.
What do you mean? Lincoln and Green Bay are 600 miles apart. And there are no players from the Cornhusker State on either roster.
Technically, that’s true. Spiritually, it was far, far different.
The presence of former Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, 22, who was killed in a car accident in Wisconsin in late July, flowed through his two placekicking friends — Wisconsin’s Rafael Gaglianone and LSU’s Colby Delahoussaye.
Both were intricately involved in the outcome of the first major-college game ever at famed Lambeau Field.
With 3:47 to play and UW trailing 14-13, Gaglianone trotted out to attempt a 47-yard field goal. Success would give the Badgers back the lead they had held most of the game — a contest that could have been a 28-7 UW win if not for three ugly turnovers.
The Brazil native, who got to know Foltz through kicking camps the past three summers, already had pounded through field goals of 30 and 48 yards in the second quarter.
On this one, Gaglianone’s contact wasn’t pure. But the ball fluttered over the crossbar to give UW a 16-14 lead.
“I knew Sam was with me on that kick,” Gaglianone said, patting his heart and showing me the red No. 27 and “SF” wristbands he wears. “It was good by about an inch. Sam had to have an eye out for me from above, holding back the winds a little bit for that one to go through.”
In the time remaining, LSU traveled 55 yards in five plays to get to the Wisconsin 30 as the clock ticked toward the one-minute mark. The goal was simple.
“We were setting up Colby for the game-winner,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
Delahoussaye also was a close friend of Foltz. In fact, he was in the back seat of the car that crashed, resulting in the deaths of Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler. Only when the flames of the wreckage tickled Delahoussaye’s legs did he regain consciousness enough to escape.
As he warmed up for a possible game-winning try from 45 to 50 yards, Wisconsin’s defense made sure he stayed on the sideline.
LSU quarterback Brandon Harris, under intense pressure from a UW blitz, threw an interception directly into the arms of Badger safety D’Cota Dixon, sealing the upset.
Delahoussaye wasn’t available for postgame interviews. But in pregame, he spent half of the warm-up period on the Wisconsin sideline, talking with Gaglianone about playing for the first time since the accident.
“It’s a pretty emotional topic,” Gaglianone said. “I’ve never been in a situation where some of your closest friends pass away.
“Kickers stick together. We know how hard it is what we do, and that we don’t get many opportunities. So we pray for each other to do well.”
The brotherhood of the position is part of why Gaglianone switched jersey numbers for the season from No. 10 to Foltz’s No. 27. The rest of it is to honor the type of person Foltz was.
Last year at Nebraska, Gaglianone kicked a 46-yard field goal with four seconds left to beat the Huskers 23-21.
“I’ll never forget hitting that game-winner and having the whole stadium hate me,” he said. “And across the field comes Sam, one of my biggest friends, with the biggest smile on his face and being genuinely happy for me.
“That’s when I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is really amazing.’”
Gaglianone drove to Nebraska for Foltz’s funeral. He has stayed in touch with the Foltz family — “They are so special” — and has learned the rest of the Husker fan base is genuine in its concern, too.
“I know a lot of people in Nebraska wanted me to make that last kick today,” he said. “Nebraska people have talked to me and been so positive.
“After every kick, I pointed to heaven and said, ‘This one’s for you, Sam.’ It’s going to be like that all season.”
At game’s end, Gaglianone joined his teammates in performing the “Lambeau Leap” into the Wisconsin student section. And he celebrated with his parents, who had flown in from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to attend.
“They were crying,” he said. “And I shed a few tears, too.”
But he spoke calmly and from the heart afterward.
“Tell the people in Nebraska that every day I put on this jersey is a blessing,” Gaglianone said. “Wearing No. 27 puts everything in perspective. It gives me energy when I’m down or tired, and it gives me peace not to worry.
“And it’s all because of what I learned from being around Sam.”
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