Photo Credit: John Peterson

Play of the Game: Chris Kolarevic’s Game-Sealing Interception

November 25, 2022

For many other programs, a stop on a final drive to silence a comeback effort might not feel so monumental.

On paper, the Huskers holding on was the easy expectation. They led 24-0 in the second half, and it was still a three-score game at 24-7 with under nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Their defense had put up a number of solid showings in recent weeks. On top of that, the opponent was a team with one of the worst offenses in the country, missing its top tight end and starting quarterback.

Even with the deficit reduced to 24-17, Iowa had 65 seconds to go 75 yards without a timeout. If Alex Padilla’s fourth down pass was caught by a Hawkeye over the middle of the field, they probably still would have had to go over 60 yards with the clock running. A touchdown would only tie the game to send it to overtime as well, barring a two-point conversion attempt. The winning team coming out of that situation on top should be routine.

But of course, Nebraska still had reason to worry until the end. The Huskers lost eight one-score games last year, many of them including mishaps in advantageous situations. That year was capped off with a loss to Iowa where the Hawkeyes scored five times in the last 16 minutes just to turn a 21-6 deficit into a 28-21 win.

These occurrences happened less often after Scott Frost’s firing this season, but Nebraska still blew double-digit leads in two of its last three losses. Going into today’s game, Iowa had won seven straight over Nebraska, including a few pulled out in the final minutes. All of this, plus the Hawkeyes’ need to win today to clinch the division title, gave plenty of justification for being concerned about another collapse.

Chris Kolarevic’s fourth-down interception brought finality to a late-game Husker win, making it necessary to pick as Play of the Game.

The linebacker recalled postgame that he played his second ever game of college football at Kinnick Stadium. That was when he was a redshirt freshman at Northern Iowa in 2018. Kolarevic led the Panthers with 15 tackles in that game, although it was a loss.

“I was an 18-year-old kid, feels like forever ago,” he said. “But I got a lot of déjà vu, a lot of memories coming up from this game, so it was really amazing to end a career on a play like that.”

It’s hard to overlook Trey Palmer for this honor, as his 87-yard touchdown started off scoring in the game and highlighted his 165-yard, two-touchdown performance. He was undoubtedly key to the win, breaking Nebraska’s single-season receiving yardage record in the process, and I feel bad about not picking him.

Nebraska’s defense had a number of chances to close out the game prior to the final blow, too. Quinton Newsome dropped an interception before Iowa kicked a field goal, one that would have essentially sealed the win a bit earlier. He couldn’t haul in another on the next drive, although the extra clock taken off and field position caused by the turnover on downs made it work out.

That’s not to take away from what the defense did accomplish. A pair of first-half strip-sacks — one by Newsome — set the Huskers up in Iowa territory twice, and those possessions ended in 10 total points. Those might be more individually impressive than Kolarevic’s interception too in this discussion, and contributed mightily to the 24-0 lead being built up.

But in all Nebraska’s collapses, the impressive plays that gave the team an advantage tend to disappear from view once the advantage is on the brink of collapse.

The football being secured in Kolarevic’s hands and his subsequent trip to the ground secured the fact that Nebraska’s 2022 season wouldn’t end with an unbelievable losing outcome — which, in this moment, turns out to be just as unbelievable.

“This season feels like it’s lasted a really long time,” Kolarevic said. “It has. When that zero ticked off, it was like, elation to have a win, elation to just finish it in this way with these guys, to have this be the last memory with this team, it felt really amazing.”

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