LINCOLN — Jack Stoll had just taken a hit to the knees and limped off the field as the Nebraska punting unit came on. The tight end was riding a stationary bike on the sideline moments later when he received the best kind of painkiller.
Interception, Lamar Jackson. Stoll was part of the sellout Memorial Stadium crowd that erupted.
“Hey, trust me, I’ve taken plenty of shots like that,” Stoll said. “It feels a lot better when somebody goes out there and makes a play like that and we win a game.”
Jackson’s pick led to the game-winning drive that culminated in a Lane McCallum field goal. But teammates were buzzing just as much afterward about the senior defensive back snagging the errant Aidan Smith pass for the game’s lone turnover.
Running back Dedrick Mills grinned proudly that he had predicted the interception to the defensive backs before Northwestern’s final series. Jackson ran over to Mills afterward shouting, “You said it! You said it!”
“You gotta call it before you see it,” Mills said. “So that’s what happened.”
Jackson’s fellow defensive backs were more critical. Cam Taylor-Britt chased his first comment — “He bobbled it” — with praise for how the cornerback came through in a clutch spot. Dicaprio Bootle, a corner, joked that the position group expected more.
“Ultimately, he won us the game,” Bootle said. “But I just told him next time he get that thing, he gotta score with it. He gotta take it where it needs to go instead of just being indecisive. But that’s my boy — it’s all love.”
‘Bang-bang miss’ by refs?
The first question asked of Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald in his postgame press conference was if he believed pass interference should have been called on the interception by Jackson with one minute remaining in the game.
Fitzgerald didn’t mince words.
“It looked like from my vantage point it wasn’t very good,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a bang-bang play, and it was a bang-bang miss, it looked like to me.”
Jackson’s interception gave the Huskers the ball, and quarterback Noah Vedral led the offense on a 42-yard drive in 57 seconds that put the ball at Northwestern’s 7-yard line with three seconds to play.
After Fitzgerald called three timeouts, McCallum connected on a 24-yard field goal as time expired to give Nebraska the 13-10 victory.
Fitzgerald said he would have liked to have an option on that no-call now available to NFL coaches and ask for a pass interference review. He also was bullish on how he thought the replay call would have gone.
“It’s a big play in the game,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d like to be able to throw a red flag. Wouldn’t that have been cool? I probably would have won that.”
McCallum iced, but stays cool
The icing didn’t work.
Northwestern had three timeouts to call before the 24-yard field goal by McCallum, a walk-on, and Fitzgerald used them all, prolonging the time between McCallum’s first setup and when he finally booted it through the goalposts.
McCallum said Fitzgerald’s attempt to ice him only made him calmer. Nebraska nose tackle Darrion Daniels said the icing decision made him laugh because the Huskers spend “clutch periods” in practice trying to make sure kickers have a hard time kicking field goals.
“In practice we put a lot more pressure on them,” Daniels said. “We literally get in his face and we keep pushing the ball back, so it’s just one of those things where we practice it. I was just laughing because I’ve seen him do it.”
Nebraska has struggled kicking field goals all season, though.
“I knew he was going to make it,” Daniels said.
When McCallum hit the ball, he wasn’t so sure. He thought, “Oh, crud.”
But the ball cleared the crossbar, and Nebraska secured its first at-the-gun field goal win since an overtime victory at Penn State in 2013.
Kicker or defensive back?
Taylor-Britt knows McCallum not as a kicker, but as a fellow defensive back.
“That’s Lane Train,” Taylor-Britt said of McCallum, who is actually a safety — at least until becoming an emergency kicker. “We believe in Lane Train.”
Defensive backs love pressure, Taylor-Britt said, and that’s why McCallum knocked in that field goal.
“We love pressure. He’s a DB at the end of the day, he’s got the heart of a defensive back,” Taylor-Britt said.
And what made that field goal so much sweeter was the fact Northwestern won on a field goal last year, a 34-31 heartbreaker in Evanston.
“That’s big-time for us to beat them the same way,” Taylor-Britt said.
Domann admires the moxie
JoJo Domann couldn’t help himself.
A Nebraska official pointed to a spot for Domann to stand to talk to the media, but with the energy of an 11-year-old at his own birthday party, Domann ran away to see McCallum on the podium.
“Wow, man, that’s crazy. That’s so cool,” Domann said to himself.
He took a deep breath and stood in front of a breakfast bar for a horde of media to close in.
“He didn’t wake up this morning thinking he was gonna hit the game-winner today,” Domann said of McCallum. “Four weeks ago he was just breaking in his boots again starting kicking. So that’s huge for him. That’s big-time. I’m happy for the kid.”
Domann did watch the kick sail through the uprights to give Nebraska the 13-10 win. Caleb Tannor, Jackson and Mohamed Barry all said postgame that they were too nervous to watch.
Domann knew it would go in.
“Last week was tough, man, that’s (Ohio State) a really good team and we didn’t put our best foot forward,” Domann said. “We needed that. No doubt. We needed a win. We take it one game at a time from here on out. We needed a win and we got a win. Team effort. Really happy right now.”
Third-quarter slump again
Nebraska officially has a problem in the third quarter. The Huskers were flat in the third quarter at Colorado, struggled at Illinois and, against Northwestern, struggled despite having the ball first to start the second half.
NU got the ball and went three-and-out. After a Husker punt, Northwestern put together its best drive of the day, a six-play, 58-yard touchdown march that tied the game 10-10. It was similar to Nebraska’s third-quarter start at Illinois, in which NU got the ball, punted and immediately allowed a touchdown.
“We need to address this. We haven’t played well coming out of halftime in a few games,” Frost said. “I don’t know whether to line ’em up and scrimmage for a couple plays before the second half or what to do.”
» Northwestern came out of halftime a new team. Aidan Smith and the Wildcats cruised right down the field to tie the game at 10 early in the third quarter. Smith had 64 rushing yards. But after that rushing touchdown, Nebraska locked in and shut him down on the ground.
“I think we did a good job on that, and confusing them and sometimes they think they had us, and that they’d have the edge but the linebacker is there or sometimes the outside linebacker or sometimes the corner,” Barry said. “So we was just confusing them and that’s what happened they start getting yards on that play.”
» Nebraska special teams continued a trend of infractions with a pair of penalties Saturday. Braxton Clark was called for a block in the back (10 yards) on a punt return and Jeramiah Stovall was flagged for a false start (five yards) on a third-quarter punt. The penalties push Nebraska’s total to 12 for 87 yards in the last three games.