LINCOLN, Nebraska – Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah turned a short crossing pass into a multiple tackle-breaking, miraculous 58-yard touchdown with 20 seconds to play as 19th-ranked Nebraska held off FCS No. 6 McNeese from pulling out the unexpected with a 31-24 win on Saturday on national television and in front of 91,082 in attendance.
Nebraska (2-0), who amassed 297 total offensive yards in the first half, was stymied to just 82 yards in the second half until Abdullah's 58-yard highlight reel score.
“First off, congratulations to Nebraska,” said McNeese coach Matt Viator. “They are a first class program and a first-class place. You have to give them credit. They found a way to win the game at the end. I'm really proud of our players to come in an environment like this.”
McNeese seemed to have put together a possible game-winning drive that started on its own 5-yard line with 10:27 to play and the Cowboys trailing 24-21, but an 8-yard touchdown run by Derrick Milton with 6:11 to play was called back after an illegal formation penalty was called. Then a facemask call against Nebraska gave the Cowboys a 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line but was unable to punch the ball in. Alex Kjellsten knocked down a 24-yard field goal to tie the game at 24-all with 4:21 to play.
McNeese (0-1), who has opened the last two seasons with wins over FBS teams, got the ball back with 2:40 to play but was unable to extend the chains.
It appeared the game would go into overtime with Nebraska facing a 3rd-and-6 at its own 42-yard line with 34 seconds to play when Abdullah took the short pass from quarterback Tommy Armstrong, bounced off of several tacklers, and sprinted for the game-winning score.
Nebraska finished the game with 437 total yards after piling up 784 yards last week against Florida Atlantic. The Huskers also ran for 195 yards after putting up 498 last week.
The Cowboys totaled 338 yards – 160 through the air and 178 on the ground.
Quarterbacks Tyler Bolfing and Daniel Sams combined to complete 12 of 26 passes for 160 yards. The lone interception came on the last play of the game with a desperation heave by Bolfing.
Sams led the team in rushing with 74 yards on 10 carries while Kelvin Bennett ran for 53 yards on 19 carries. Milton and Bolfing each ran for tds.
McNeese didn't led the sea of red in Memorial Stadium phase it as the defense held Nebraska on a 4th-and-1 on the first series of the game. That turned into a 10 play, 47-yard drive that was capped off by a 9-yard Milton score to give the Pokes a 7-0 early lead.
NU quickly came back and tied the game on a 40-yard pass from Armstrong to Jordan Westerkamp to tie the game at 7-7 with 6:44 to play in the first quarter. Abdullah then scored from 2 yards out to put the Huskers on top 14-7 with three minutes to go in the opening quarter.
Aaron Sam came up big early in the second quarter when he stepped in front of an Armstrong pass at the 2-yard line and returned it for a school record-tying 98 yards for a score and to tie the game at 14-14 with 10:08 to play in the half.
Armstrong gave Nebraska a 21-14 lead after a 1-yard plunge with 5:47 to play as the Huskers would take that lead into the locker room.
McNeese's defense dominated the second half and forced the Huskers into five 3-and-outs of their seven, second half series. NU went up 24-14 after a Drew Brown 31-yard field goal with 3:51 to play in the third quarter.
“Our defense did a tremendous job in the second half in holding Nebraska in check,” said Viator.
The Cowboys closed the gap to 24-21 after Bolfing dove in from 1-yard out with 13:45 to play in the fourth quarter. That play was set up by a remarkable 26-yard run by Sams as he dove for the pylon but was ruled out of bounds at the one-half yard line. Bolfing pushed his way in two plays later.
“The guys are down now,” said Viator of the team's reaction in the locker room. “There is no cheering in there. We are going to be fine tough. We will get them up as coaches, but you say it during the week, we are supposed to win. That is what McNeese is about.”
The Cowboys will open their home slate next Saturday at 6 against Prairie View in Cowboy Stadium.