LINCOLN, Neb. — Normally, I pick out a few plays and put out a poll on Twitter to determine the Play of the Game. However, I felt like there was only one correct choice in today’s game – the fourth-and-one conversion at the 4-yard line that set up Terrell Newby’s go-ahead touchdown run.
Up until that point, Illinois was in control of the game. The Illini led 16-10 and their defensive line was shutting down the Husker offense. Nebraska finally put together a drive starting midway through the third quarter that stretched into the fourth before stalling inside the 5-yard line. On third-and-2, Nebraska ran a stretch run to the left for Newby that was stuffed after 1 yard, leaving the Huskers with a decision. Kick the field goal and cut the deficit in half, or go for it and risk getting nothing.
For the eight time this year, Mike Riley chose to go for it.
“I knew we’d get it,” Riley said. “No, the way that game was going I just thought ‘we better do this right now’ because I felt the more confidence we gave them the worse it was. We kept giving them life throughout the game, and I didn’t want to do that one more time.”
The Huskers sent in a heavy package and senior running back Terrell Newby ran behind his right guard Corey Whitaker, who was starting in place of an injured Tanner Farmer. After struggling to get any sort of push up front for much of the game, the Huskers gained just enough ground to let Newby fall forward close to the marker – so close the officials needed the chains.
The measurement showed that the Huskers had made it by about an inch, a decision that withstood a challenge by Illinois Coach Lovie Smith.
“It’s a game of inches,” Newby said. “They called it, and I just did everything I can to try to stretch the ball out. It’s a game of inches, and we had one right there.”
Riley wasn’t too anxious while the officials reviewed the play, knowing it was going to be tough to overturn.
“I think we got it by a little,” Riley said. “They measured it, didn’t they? I’ve been through a lot of those in my life. I’ve talked to officials about that, that’s their toughest review right? That idea. I actually felt pretty decent about it. I was ready because I thought ‘OK the worst thing that happens here is that we’ve got them backed up, and we’ve just got to stop them and get the ball back.'”
On the next play, Newby ran off left tackle and went into the end zone untouched to put the Huskers up 17-16. After a drive that spanned 18 plays and 10:42 of game time (the most for the Huskers since 2005 and the longest since at least 2000), to come away with anything other than seven points would have been a failure for Nebraska.
That conversion completely changed the tone of the game. The Huskers took control and never relinquished it. Nebraska added three stops and two more touchdowns to seal the victory.
One inch was the difference between victory and defeat, and that is why Nebraska’s conversion on fourth-and-1 early in the final period is the play of the game.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.