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Nebraska's Game-Winning Catch That May Never Have Been
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Nebraska’s Game-Winning Catch That May Never Have Been

November 16, 2018

Mention Brandon Reilly’s name alongside Michigan State and most Huskers and Spartans fans will immediately think of one specific moment in time. It was Nov. 7, 2015. There were 23 seconds left on the clock between Nebraska and then-No. 7 Michigan State at Memorial Stadium. The Spartans led 38-33

Former Huskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong dropped back, launching a big throw to his left down the sidelines. Reilly, a junior wide receiver for Nebraska at the time, made his way to the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown catch.

After the officials ruled that Michigan State cornerback Jermaine Edmondson had forced Reilly out of bounds, the touchdown was good. Nebraska won 39-38, improving to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in Big Ten. The win — and in a way the catch too — kept Nebraska’s bowl chances alive that year. 

Yet, it could have all been much different. Armstrong’s pass was actually never intended for Reilly. 

“I was actually supposed to be on the other side of the field, but I had to play guard and Stan was on that side,” Reilly told Hail Varsity. “I kind of joked that Stan would get his fame later, so I told Stan to go to the other side.

“I wanted that and it ended up working out pretty well.”

Morgan laughs about Reilly’s catch now. Sure, it was originally supposed to be his. He even jokes that Reilly “bullied him out of it.” He doesn’t mean it seriously, though. Morgan has a lot of respect for Reilly. There’s also something to be said about the bond between Morgan and Reilly, which is something Morgan has now passed on to the younger wide receivers on the current Nebraska team.

“You just got to wait your turn,” Morgan said. “I do that to these guys sometimes, it's a play. I know it's going to come out, I move them to the outside a little bit. That's what [Reilly] did to me, just being that big brother. It's like big brother, little brother.

“He got to take it, pulling me out of it. It was funny though.”

Even Reilly finds the last-minute decision to trade with Morgan a little funny today.

“I like to look back and laugh at that,” Reailly said. “Obviously, the way he's been with his career, he's one of the best ever [at Nebraska].”

Reilly wasn’t wrong about Morgan’s future at Nebraska when he made the decision to switch with him in 2015. Morgan was only a freshman wide receiver at the time, but the numbers he’s put up since have been impressive. Heading into the final two games of Nebraska’s season, Morgan is once again on pace to become Nebraska’s first 1,000-yard receiver in a single season. He’s at 856 now. He fell short of the mark by only 14 yards in 2017.

Plus, Reilly has always seen Morgan as a team player. Even when he’s not making catches, he’s celebrating the guys that are. For Morgan, supporting his teammates is an easy thing to do. That’s why it was easy to support Reilly that night in 2015.

“In that moment, that's my big bro,” Morgan said. “He worked hard for that.”

As for Reilly, he’s continuing to work hard to make his NFL dreams a reality. He was previously with the Buffalo Bills, but a rib injury led to his release. As he started working out for teams, another injury (this time to his leg) delayed things a little further.

“It was very unfortunate,” Reilly said. “I wanted to say, ‘Why me? Why now?’ You can't do that, you just got to keep moving on.”

Reilly has been rehabbing at Nebraska, working to get healthy. Teams continue to call, so it seems like only a matter of time until he’s back in the NFL. Until then, Reilly plans to be at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

And who knows, maybe Reilly will see history repeat itself against Michigan State. Except this time, maybe it will be Morgan who calls off a younger player in favor of a better route.

It would only be fitting.

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