Nebraska walk-on kicker Pat Smith became a Husker hero as he made the game-winning field goal in overtime as the Huskers overcame self-inflicted mistakes to beat Penn State 23-20.
Nebraska led Penn State 7-6 at the half, with the lead coming because of a missed PAT by Nittany Lion kicker Sam Ficken. Those from the future would have nodded at the kick bouncing off the crossbar as a sign of foreshadowing. Those in the present weren't so lucky, and were destined to spend the rest of the game clenching their couch cushions.
The Huskers had 198 yards at half, while Ameer Abdullah ran for 69 yards. It wasn't without effort, as Penn State frequently stacked the line daring those boys from the plains to run through a tough front seven. Nebraska's young quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr left the game early with an apparent ankle injury to be replaced by fifth year senior and hail mary-throwing savior Ron Kellogg III.
With Kellogg in the game and the threat of a running quarterback mostly removed, Nebraska moved to more of an air attack as Kellogg went 11-for-13 and 113 yards and a touchdown in the first half. The Huskers seemed to have the upper hand in offense, but after one 84-yard drive, premier back Abdullah fumbled at the goal line, a fumble that was recovered by the foes in blue.
Nebraska's defense had a hard time stopping running back Zach Zwinak, whose hard running made difficult tackling for the boys in red. Zwinak had 14 carries for 68 yards at half and would finish with a grinding 35 runs for 149 yards.
The second half was a back and forth battle for lack of first down conversions by both offensive squads. Nebraska would finish 3-of-17 on moving the marker while Penn State converted 2-of-14.
Penn State appeared to take the upper hand when frosh quarterback Christian Hackenberg scored on a roll out run-pass option and scrambled untouched seven yards into the end zone, making the score 13 blue - 7 red.
Nebraska's "bro with the fro" Kenny Bell would take the ensuing kickoff 99 yards back to flip the lead back to the boys in red, Bell hesitating at first, then finding an opening and finally making a move that left the Penn State kicker flailing with futility at air. The score was then 14-13.
Husker kicker Pat Smith, a walk-on, would add a 39-yard field goal late in the third quarter to make the game 17-13.
The lead would flip again when Hackeneberg found his big tight end Jesse James (not to be confused with the bank robber, history might note that the bank robber wasn't 6'7" and 257 pounds), who rambled down the sideline, refusing to go out even though pushed by Husker defender Cory Cooper, normally a very reliable man. The play James made was for 46 yards and the touchdown, making the score 20-17 and the red boys blue.
The Huskers battled back, however, and it appeared that Abdullah had scored on a 62-yard run, but it was called back because an illegal block, or a late hit, hitting too hard, or whatever it was that might have had that man in stripes throw the flag. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini was particularly incensed on call, jawing at the referees with angry Pelini going at them as only he could.
Nebraska stayed with the drive, at one point got to the goal line but an ill-fortuned false start moved them back. On a third down play, quarterback Kellogg was belted badly at the goal line, not making it in and fumbling because of the hard hit. The Huskers recovered, kicker Pat Smith made a 19-yard field goal to tie the game at 20 apiece.
Kellogg would finish the game 20-for-34 for 191 yards and that touchdown from the first half.
Both teams had a chance, but the game moved to overtime. On it's first possession, Penn State failed to make a first down and kicker Ficken missed the field goal. Nebraska got the ball on it's first possession and while the red men couldn't score a touchdown, Smith became a hometown and statewide hero, knocking home a 42-yarder to win the game.
The game was played in the elements. It snowed. It was cold. It was very windy and the in end a young man with his foot prevailed glorious.
Other notes of glory:
Kenny Bell's 99-yard kickoff return was the fifth-longest in school history and the first since Abdullah had a 100-yard kickoff against Fresno State in 2011.
Abdullah had 25 carries for 147 yards, moving his season total to 1,483 yards to sixth on the Nebraska single-season rushing list. He has the most rushing yards in a season since Jammal Lord in 2002. Abdullah's career rushing total now stands at 2,770 yards, 11st on the career rushing list at Nebraska.
Boy, that Ameer Abdullah fella sure is swell.