All this week the Hail Varsity staff will be selecting its Best of 2018 in multiple categories across any sport the Huskers played in 2018. It’s way to remember the year that was, but also some of these selections may have notes of the future for Nebraska athletics and we’re all thinking at least a little bit about the future right now, right?
First up, Play of the Year . . .
Erin Sorensen: My “best play” of the year goes to Adrian Martinez’s diving (also: somersault) touchdown against Colorado.
Why? Well, I have a couple of reasons.
First, it cut Colorado’s 14-point lead in half and put the Huskers on the board for the day. Second, the 41-yard run was Martinez’s first touchdown of his Nebraska career. Not a bad way to kick things off, right?
Let’s make it even better, shall we? That 41-yard touchdown run was also the longest by a Nebraska quarterback since Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s 42-yard touchdown run on Sept. 6, 2014. It was no surprise that Martinez drew rave reviews from all over even despite a Nebraska loss.
Nebraska ultimately lost that matchup with Colorado, 33-28, and Martinez was injured later in the fourth quarter. But his play up until then, including that touchdown run, immediately highlighted his potential and why he was the first recruit Scott Frost called after being hired at Nebraska.
He ended the season with 224 completed passes on 347 attempts (good for a 64.6 percent passing percentage) and 17 passing touchdowns (to eight interceptions). He also racked up 2,617 yards in the air. On the ground, he added another 629 yards and eight touchdowns. And it all began with that first 41-yard touchdown run in Nebraska’s second attempt at a season opener in 2018.
Jacob Padilla: Let’s flash back to Nov. 2. The Nebraska volleyball team had lost five of its last seven matches, all against top-10 teams, and next up was the Huskers’ biggest Big Ten rival: Penn State. The Huskers took a 19-16 lead in the first set, and what followed was one of the longest rallies of the season featuring several amazing plays, but my favorite one was the hustle by senior libero Kenzie Maloney.
Here’s the full rally:
The entire sequence is amazing, but Maloney’s effort deserves special recognition. Penn State took a big swing and Mikaela Foecke couldn’t quite control it well enough to pass it. Instead the ball ricocheted over to the Nebraska bench. Maloney didn’t give up on the play, however, tracking it down and crashing into the bench to keep the ball alive.
“Coach was saying, ‘Stop, stop, stop’ and I was like, ‘go, go, go!’” Lexi Sun said. “And then she got it and I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go!’”
“She was stuck in that chair for a while,” Lauren Stivrins chipped in. “That just goes to show the type of player Kenzie is. She goes all out for this team and I think a lot of girls can learn from watching her play.”
Sun got the ball over the net, then Foecke dug the next ball while Maloney was still trying to untangle herself from the chairs. The rally went on, and both sides took some big swings. There was an overpass for Nebraska that the Huskers couldn’t capitalize on and a couple of free balls that Penn State failed to take advantage of.
The ball changed sides 13 times. There were 40 contacts and a handful of block touches. The rally lasted 52 seconds. It was a senior in Maloney who kept the play from ending almost before it began and it was a freshman in Callie Schwarzenbach who ended the play with a solo stuff for the point.
Nebraska went on to win the match in five sets, and that was the turning point of the season as the Huskers went on to make it all the way to the championship match.
That play is a perfect encapsulation of what Maloney meant to this team as well. It showcased the athleticism, the hustle and the instincts that made her such an effective libero for the Huskers the last two seasons. She’ll be missed both for her leadership and for plays like that one against Penn State.
Brandon Vogel: I don’t know why this play stuck with me through all of the thousands of Nebraska plays I watched in 2018, but that it did made it an easy choice. It’s fairly simple, as far as plays go.
Trailing 20-3 at the half at Wisconsin, Nebraska faced a second-and-10. Suboptimal, but a sign of how things had gone to that point for the Huskers at Camp Randall Stadium. They had hung with the Badgers early, forcing field goals instead of touchdowns, but couldn’t make it pay off resulting in the three-score halftime deficit.
But when Adrian Martinez hooked up with JD Spielman on a 75-yard touchdown on the second play of the second half, there was hope for the Huskers again.
— Nebraska On BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) October 7, 2018
I’m guessing that this routhe, an “in-and-up,” is something the Nebraska coaches noticed as a vulnerability in the first half. Wisconsin gives a lot of room to Spielman in the slot –– baffling, really –– and his route running ankle-breaks Badger safety Scott Nelson, giving Spielman a little separation and nothing but open field ahead.
But Martinez still has to make the throw. A true freshman in his second road start (but most-hostile road environment) hangs in the pocket, points his foot right where he wants the ball to go and throws a pass with absolutely impeccable touch. It lands right in Spielman’s midsection and it’s off to the races from there.
Nebraska played Wisconsin to a 21-21 stalemate in the second half, which resulted in a mostly comfortable 41-24 win for the Badgers, but this play foretells a lot of what I think we’ll see in 2019. Good play design, great technique (on multiple fronts) and a long touchdown that, if a team isn’t already down 17, will result in a lot of wins.
Greg Smith: There is one play that will certainly stick with me for quite a while. When Matt Jarzynka, a senior defensive lineman from Loup City, Nebraska, sacked Bethune-Cookman’s starting quarterback, David Isreal. The reaction from his teammates was incredible, perfectly summed up by senior captain Mick Stoltenberg’s quote about Jarzynka after the game.
“He’s worked his ass off every single day and didn’t complain once,” Stoltenberg said. “He’s given all he’s had to this program and for him to get out there and make that tackle for loss, that was awesome. Just all the Nebraska kids watching the game, for them to see that and realize that if you’re in this state and you love football, you can play here, you can get on the field, you can make the most of your opportunity.
"That kid epitomizes what Nebraska is about.”
The aftermath of that play was neat to see unfold as well as Jarzynka became something of a celebrity and the coaching staff wanted his family farm’s hat. That Monday after the game he still couldn’t believe what was happening.
“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Saturday," Jarzynka said. "It’s just crazy. I’m getting all sorts of texts and words of congratulation. It’s overwhelming to see the support for me that I didn’t even know existed until now.”
That Jarzynka’s one sack may have never happened if not for a cancelled season-opener against Akron will stick with me for a long time.