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Play of the Game: Kanawai Noa’s Touchdown Catch

September 15, 2019

“I’ve got a lot of faith in Kanawai. The ball doesn’t seem to be finding him right now, so we’ve got to make it happen.”

That was Scott Frost after Nebraska’s week two loss to Colorado in Boulder.

Through the first two games, California grad transfer wide receiver Kanawai Noa, who caught nearly 100 balls during his time in Berkley, had barely been targeted and did not have a catch. That changed in Week 3 against Northern Illinois, however. As Frost said, they made it happen.

Kanawai Noa’s 27-yard touchdown pass just before halftime is this week’s Play of the Game.

Leading 23-5 with less than a minute to play in the first half, Nebraska forced a Northern Illinois punt. The Huskers’ drive started at their own 13-yard line with 44 seconds on the clock. Instead of being content to head into halftime up three scores (the same kind of lead the Huskers had at halftime against the Buffaloes), Nebraska went for the kill shot.

The Huskers moved right down the field with gains of 9, 8, 13 and 30 yards in just over 30 seconds of game time. On first-and-10 from the Northern Illinois 27-yard line with 11 seconds to work with and no reliable kicking game, Adrian Martinez dropped back and went for it all.

Nebraska had Noa split out wide to the right with two interior receivers running up the seam. The inside guys drew the safety toward the middle of the field, leaving Noa isolated with the quarterback. Martinez read the defense and decided to give his guy a chance to make a play, and that’s exactly what Noa did.

The cornerback is actually in pretty darn good position, but Noa goes up over the top of him and takes the ball away. As he rips the ball out of the air and away from the defender, Noa turns his body towards the sideline. His momentum carries him out of bounds and the official on the field called it an incomplete pass. However, a review showed that Noa’s left foot came down in bounds just before his right foot touched the sideline, and in college football all it takes is one foot.

The officials reversed the call on the field and ruled it a touchdown. The extra point gave the Huskers a 30-5 lead heading into the locker room.

“Regardless of how much time is on the clock, or any point in the game, I am always confident in our guys and Coach Frost,” Martinez said. “That is something we practice all the time and we had three timeouts, so I felt great going out there. I thought we could score, and I think that was a big moment for us, getting a score there at the end of the half.”

The last time Martinez took a shot downfield to Noa—toward the end of regulation against Colorado—it got picked off. But Martinez went right back to him against Northern Illinois and it paid off.

Noa finished with three catches on six targets for 51 yards and the touchdown. He made his first reception as a Husker on the first drive of the game as Martinez found him for a 17-yard gain that moved the Huskers into the red zone. Nebraska had to settle for a field goal on that drive, but the Huskers still got points out of it making them the first team this season to score on Northern Illinois in the first quarter. Noa also caught a pass in the second quarter for 7 yards, and on the following play Maurice busted off a 60-yard touchdown run.

“Kanawai's one of my favorite kids,” Frost said. “It's hard to get him to say anything but he's a grown up. He's a pro about how he comes to work every day. He got hurt a little bit in camp and he missed a bunch of time and I think that's gotten him out of rhythm, and that happened with a few of our offensive guys. We're starting to slowly find a rhythm, including Kanawai. I think we played with better pace and tempo today. I thought the execution was a little better and the more the guys on offense play together, the better that'll be.”

Nebraska needs receivers outside of JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson to emerge, and Noa is the most accomplished receiver on the roster outside of Spielman. If he’s starting to find his place in this offense and if Martinez is starting to build some chemistry with him, it could mean big things for an offense that had struggled more often than not through the first two weeks. The touchdown was far from a gimme, but Noa made the play and sent the Huskers into the locker room riding high.

That’s why Kanawai Noa’s 27-yard touchdown is this week’s Play of the Game.

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