After enduring so many heartbreaking defeats while the weight of the world seemed to push down on the football program, Nebraska finally found a measure of last-minute redemption Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. And it came in stunning fashion.
Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. connected with Brandon Reilly for the go-ahead touchdown on a 30-yard pass with 17 seconds remaining to help Nebraska upset No. 7 Michigan State 39-38 in Lincoln and derail the Spartans' bid for perfection.
Of course, what would a Nebraska game be this season without at least a small measure of controversy? On the game-winning throw, Reilly appeared to go out of bounds on his own while running a route down the left sideline. Referees, however, ruled that he was pushed out and therefore was eligible to be the first person to catch the pass. The touchdown sent Nebraska fans into hysterics and released a season's worth of pent up frustrations.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, who threw four touchdown passes in the game, tried to lead a last-gasp comeback. But his final pass fell incomplete as time expired with the Spartans at the Nebraska 41-yard line.
What the win means for Nebraska: Name a way for the Cornhuskers to lose, and they've found out how to do it this season. A Hail Mary against BYU. Poor clock management against Illinois. Not enough offensive juice for one more first down against Wisconsin. But on Saturday, the Cornhuskers exorcised some of those demons by finally winning a close game. Just when a bowl bid seemed all but impossible, Nebraska (4-6) at least has a chance with two regular-season games remaining, against Rutgers and Iowa.
What the loss means for Michigan State: After winning with one of the most remarkable finishes you'll ever see against Michigan, this Spartans team seemed destined to put together a magical season. Now, the dream of reaching the four-team College Football Playoff feels much tougher. All hope isn't lost, however. Michigan State has three regular-season games left, and the biggest game on the slate comes Nov. 21 against unbeaten Ohio State.
Player of the game: The honor belongs to Armstrong, who performed when it mattered most. Armstrong led two touchdown drives in the final minutes, and he simply couldn't be denied. He completed 19 of 33 passes for 320 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. But he also ran for two scores, including one that brought Nebraska within 38-33 with 1:47 left in the game.
Top play: Is there any other choice, really? The Armstrong-to-Reilly connection is a play fans in Lincoln will be talking about for quite some time. Maybe it can't erase the memory of all those crushing home losses this season, but it certainly might help ease the pain.