Lincoln – A gritty performance by Tommy Armstrong Jr., a divine second half by Devine Ozigbo and some big-time stops by Nebraska’s Blackshirt defense gave the Huskers a 35-32 win over No. 21 Oregon on Saturday at Memorial Stadium
With the victory, which came in front of more than 90,000 raucous fans in the Sea of Red of Nebraska’s NCAA-record 350th consecutive home sellout and an ABC national television audience, the Huskers improved to 3-0. The Ducks dropped to 2-1 on the season.
In an entertaining back-and-forth game that offered a little bit of everything, Nebraska rallied from a 13-point second-quarter deficit to take a 28-20 lead in the third quarter.
Oregon bounced back with back-to-back scores to take a 32-28 edge, before Armstrong’s fourth-quarter heroics. Along the way, Oregon’s decision to go for two after all five of their touchdowns, haunted Coach Mark Helfrich and the Ducks.
Nebraska won despite being outgained, 479-430 by the Ducks, including a 333-220 advantage on the ground. But the Big Red racked up 158 rushing yards in the second half with the legs of Armstrong and Ozigbo carrying the load.
Armstrong and Ozigbo played huge roles in the Huskers outscoring the Ducks 21-12 in the second half, including 7-6 in the fourth quarter.
Armstrong, who finished 17-for-33 passing with 200 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 16 carries for 95 yards and the game-winning score on the ground, made arguably his biggest play of the game when he hooked up with wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp for a 14-yard pickup on 4th-and-9 at the NU 14 late in fourth quarter. Westerkamp, a senior from Lombard, Ill., finished the day with three catches for 39 yards and two touchdowns.
After a four-yard run by Armstrong on the ensuing play, the senior quarterback from Cibolo, Texas, broke free for a 34-yard touchdown gallop that gave the Big Red a 35-32 win.
While the game ended with celebration, Armstrong started the fourth quarter by battling what appeared to be leg cramps that sent him to the sideline for an important third-down conversion attempt early in the period. The Huskers led 28-26 at the time, but Oregon scored on the ensuing drive to take a 32-28 edge with 10:25 left.
Oregon had a chance to take firm control after Armstrong was visibly affected by the weary legs on NU’s next drive, and the Huskers went three-and-out.
But the Blackshirts showed up big with a three-and-out of their own on Oregon’s ensuing possession to set up Nebraska’s game-winning drive that started with 7:32 left.
Ozigbo, who finished with 95 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, ran the first three plays of the drive for a total of 25 yards. Armstrong added 55 rushing yards on four carries and the 14-yard pass to Westerkamp to successfully engineer the drive to paydirt.
The Blackshirts came up big again on Oregon’s final drive, forcing a 4th-and-18 conversion attempt by Dakota Prukop and the Duck offense. Oregon hurt itself with a holding penalty to put the Ducks behind the sticks, and Freedom Akinmoladun came up with a big play when he hit Prukop in the pocket to force a fumble on 3rd-and-20. An Oregon offensive lineman recovered the fumble to give the Ducks one last play before a long flight home.
The Ducks failed and the Huskers took over, as Armstrong took a knee to seal the win and set off a wild celebration in the stands.
In an amazingly evenly played game through three quarters, the Huskers took a 28-26 lead to the fourth with both teams totaling 338 yards in the first 45 minutes.
Oregon took an early lead on a 20-yard touchdown run by Tony Brooks-James with 8:19 left in the first quarter to cap a 10-play, 65-yard drive. The Ducks decided to go for two and converted on a Charles Nelson run to take an 8-0 lead.
Nebraska answered with Armstrong’s 22-yard touchdown strike to Westerkamp, and the first of Drew Brown’s five PATs pulled the Huskers within 8-7 with 2:05 left in the quarter.
Brooks-James pushed Oregon’s lead to 14-7 midway through the second quarter with his two-yard run, but the Ducks chose to go for two again and Nelson’s pass failed to keep Oregon’s lead to seven.
The Ducks appeared to hit full stride on Taj Griffin’s 50-yard touchdown run that put them up 20-7 with 2:30 left in the half, but they chose to go for two again and Nelson’s run failed.
The two teams exchanged unsuccessful drives in less than two minutes to set up an Oregon punt with just over 40 seconds left. De’Mornay Pierson-El fielded Ian Wheeler’s 40-yard punt while being hit at the NU 36, and exploded for a 45-yard return. Five plays and several penalties by both teams later, Armstrong hit Westerkamp for a two-yard touchdown with five seconds left in the half to pull the Big Red within 20-14 heading to the half.
Penalties were a major factor in the game, and the Huskers won that battle against the Ducks. Oregon was penalized 13 times for 126 yards, while Nebraska was flagged seven times for 55 yards.
The Huskers, who opened the second half with the ball, built more momentum with Ozigbo on the ground to open the drive. The sophomore running back from Sachse, Texas, carried four straight times for 29 total yards to open the half. After Armstrong erupted for an 18-yard run, Ozigbo added a six-yard rumble to set up Armstrong’s 22-yard touchdown strike to Bryan Reimers. For Reimers, a sophomore walk-on out of Lincoln East High School, it was his first career touchdown on his first career catch.
Brown’s extra point gave the Huskers their first lead of the game at 21-20 with 11:41 left in the third.
The Blackshirts followed with a three-and-out in just one minute on the clock, and Ozigbo and Armstrong went on another march. Ozigbo carried six times for 18 yards capped by his seven-yard touchdown run with 6:13 left in the quarter.
Ozigbo’s fourth touchdown of the season came after Armstrong went 2-for-3 passing on the drive, including a 19-yard strike to Alonzo Moore and an 11-yard connection with Pierson-El. Moore finished the day with three catches for 37 yards
The momentum flipped in Oregon’s favor after Prukop connected with Nelson for a 25-yard gain on 3rd-and-27 from the Oregon 34 with just over three minutes left in the third.
Kani Benoit followed with a 41-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-2 from the NU 41 to cut Nebraska’s lead to 28-26, after another failed two-point conversion attempt by the Ducks.
Benoit, who finished with six carries for 100 yards, added a 46-yard run on Oregon’s next drive to help set up Brooks-James’ third rushing touchdown of the game and give the Ducks a 32-28 edge after a fourth straight failed two-point try.
Prukop, who finished 14-of-23 for 146 passing yards, added 19 carries for 87 yards in a losing effort for the Ducks. Nelson was Prukop’s favorite target, hauling in eight receptions for 80 yards.
The Blackshirts did not allow an Oregon touchdown pass on the day, snapping a Duck streak of 82 games with at least one touchdown through the air dating back to Sept. 4, 2010. It was the longest streak of its kind in NCAA history.
The Blackshirt secondary shut out Olympic sprinter Devon Allen on the day, while also limiting Darren Carrington to three catches for 36 yards.
Senior safety Nathan Gerry led the Blackshirts with nine tackles, including two for loss, and a breakup, while junior safety Kieron Williams added seven stops and a breakup.
Nebraska hits the road for the first time next Saturday when the Huskers open Big Ten Conference play at Northwestern. Kick-off between the Big Red and the Wildcats is set for 6:30 p.m. with a live telecast by BTN.