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5 Most Important Plays of 2013

Today’s post is inspired by the ESPY Awards, believe it or not.

Kevin Durant took home the ESPY for best male athlete, which is no surprise after winning NBA MVP earlier this year. However, it does beg the question – what is the distinction between best and most important?

While you won’t find many detractors from the thought that Durant was the most valuable player in the NBA, you’ll still find plenty of arguments that the prodigal Cavalier LeBron James is still the best player in the Association. So today, here’s a look back at Nebraska most important plays from 2013; a season that you could argue was a handful of plays away from becoming a sub-.500 year for Nebraska.

5. Tommy Armstrong to Quincy Enunwa for 99 yards and a touchdown.

Former left tackle Jeremiah Sirles gave us a rare candid glimpse in the trenches on Hail Varsity Radio, describing the tension on the line of scrimmage moments before the 99-yards bomb. Sirles jawed at the defensive lineman that Nebraska would be scoring a touchdown that drive. He nearly had to eat his words after an 8-yards sack fumble left Nebraska in a third-and-14 from its own 1-yard line. Then this happened:

Based on the way Sirles described it on Hail Varsity Radio, the look on the faces of the defensive linemen may have been more satisfying than the touchdown.

Before the near-safety, Nebraska held a 5-point lead. Instead of giving up two points and the ball, Nebraska grabbed a 2-possession lead that preserved Nebraska’s 9-win streak under Pelini.

4. Randy Gregory arrives with a pick-6 against South Dakota State

Gregory’s 33-yard interception return for a touchdown wasn’t a game-saver by any means. Despite the Jacks’ early surge to hang tough with Nebraska, the Huskers had long since run away with momentum and the score by the time Gregory scored late in the third quarter. Up until the South Dakota State game, Gregory had less-than-inspiring numbers in the first two game with just two solo stops and no sacks. He broke out with eight tackles in game three against UCLA, but entered game four against South Dakota State still sporting the less-than-desirable nickname “Sackless Wonder.” Not only did he get his first against the Jackrabbits, but he also showed us his completeness on this play:

Not only did the coaches trust him dropping back in coverage, but the athleticism he showed in a short 10 seconds was a frightening precursor for the rest of the Big Ten of what he was capable of.

3. Ameer Abdullah’s flying game-winner in the Big House

Another 9-win preserver happened with just about two minutes left on the clock. Both offenses were relatively anemic that day in Ann Arbor until Abdullah took an awkward option pitch/pass five yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The drive was clutch, the pass was solid. However, how many running backs in the country make this play with the game on the line?

Both players were at fault for the shaky option play; Armstrong was too deep and hesitated, while Abdullah stayed just a shade too far ahead. He makes up for it by hauling in the forward pitch and doing what he does best, handing the Wolverines their first home loss under Brady Hoke.

2. Kenny Bell goes 99 yards to the house and silences ‘Sweet Caroline’

After a dull 7-6 first half, Penn State took the lead quickly in the third after recovering a Nebraska fumble giving the Nittany Lions the ball on the Huskers’ 8-yard line. Those who were there remember what a bitterly cold night it was, looking like momentum might be the most powerful factor in the game. “Sweet Caroline” came on the PA at Beaver Stadium, and it was abundantly clear that momentum had switched to the home team. It didn’t last long, though:

“He gone.”

1. Ameer Abdullah sets the stage for the the Hail Mary Westerkatch

Nebraska wasn’t just losing to Northwestern, they were getting beat, straight up. No gimmicks; the Huskers just couldn’t keep Kain Colter contained. I was looking at Nebraska’s remaining schedule, looking for a game that Nebraska had a chance to win. By the looks of it, there were none. If the Huskers couldn’t beat Northwestern, how would they beat Michigan or Michigan State? Not only was it looking like a losing season, it was looking like I’d be covering a coaching search.

Down a field goal, Nebraska got the ball with fewer than 75 second on the clock and 83 yards to go. After Ron Kellogg took a worst-case-scenario sack leaving Nebraska in a 4th and 15, I wasn’t the only one who chalked the game up to a loss. Somehow, it looked worse when Kellogg dumped the ball to Abdullah six yards short of the first down marker.

Somehow, Abdullah willed that ball for every extra inch for the most important first down of the season. Everyone remembers the Hail Mary, but that stroke of luck wouldn’t have happened without Abdullah’s clutch factor.