Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

‘Bail Me Out’: Alex Henery’s Record-Setting Kick 10 Years Later

September 7, 2018
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Not much was said during that TV timeout 10 years ago on Nov. 28, 2008.  

Sophomore placekicker Alex Henery had been tasked with the improbable. Nebraska trailed Colorado 31-30 with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter. Henery faced a school-record 57-yard field goal to secure a lead. 

Make the field goal and the Huskers would likely punch a ticket to the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1. Miss it? Well, let’s say missing it was never an option. The kick was right there waiting for Henery. You know, if the TV timeout would ever end. 

“We stood out there on the ‘N’ for what felt like two hours,” Henery told Hail Varsity. “It was pretty quiet.” 

While Henery stood on the field with holder Jake Wesch and long snapper T.J. O'Leary, quarterback Joe Ganz stood on the sidelines watching. He was also waiting. 

Colorado had forced Nebraska into a fourth-and-25 situation at the CU 40. Ganz felt like he had blown it for Nebraska. He felt even worse about doing it on Nebraska's senior night. It was the two plays leading up to that fourth down situation that kept replaying in his mind. 

On second down, Ganz was given a play where he’d sprint out and throw it back to the tight end. 

“And I remember if there was a certain blitz that I was supposed to throw the route either way or throw it [away]. If it was another blitz, I was supposed to stop and look back because we had it protected and [I'd] try to hit Mike McNeill back across the other side of the field. The problem is that I screwed it up,” Ganz recalled. “I flipped the blitzes in my mind.” 

As Ganz turned around, a Colorado linebacker was right on top of him. That was that. 

Ganz knew he had to make up the distance on third down. Get 10 or 15 yards and Henery would be golden. Henery had the leg and the accuracy. Ganz just had to get him there. 

Colorado’s defense lined up in a Tampa 2 formation. It was exactly what Nebraska wanted, and the Huskers had the perfect play to combat it. Ganz had no doubt everything would go as planned. 

Except it didn’t. The pass was dropped, and Ganz watched the win slip from his grip. He couldn’t believe it. 

“I had prided myself on knowing and being a guy on the field that was reliable and was tuned into everything,” Ganz said. “I couldn’t believe I had messed up such a key situation. 

“I just remember going up to Alex and telling him, ‘Bail me out. Do it for the seniors.’ I just remember telling him to bail me out.” 

And so, the wait began.  

When the TV timeout finally ended, the whistle blew and the ball was snapped. On a cold November night, Henery’s 57-yard field goal snuck over the crossbars. Nebraska took a 33-31 lead. Memorial Stadium erupted. 

“When he made it, I found him on the sideline and I just thanked him,” Ganz said. “I just remember him turning and saying, ‘That was for you.’” 

*** 

When Bo Pelini reached the podium for his post-game press conference, the former Nebraska coach painted a picture about the decision to let Henery kick. Pelini had approached Henery about the possibility of kicking those 57 yards.  

All he wanted was reassurance. 

“I just wanted him to look me in the face and tell me he felt he had it in him. He kind of looked at it,” Pelini said that night. “Normally his range is around 52 [yards]. He looked at me and said, ‘I made it in warmups. I’ve been hitting it good.’ And I said, ‘All right let’s go.’” 

Henery and Wesch remember it happening a little differently, though. For Henery, he was trying to calculate the yardage. When Pelini first approached him on the sideline, he felt he could do it but he needed a little more time to evaluate. 

Pelini paced the sideline. He even stopped placekicker Adi Kunalic and asked him if he could make it. Kunalic nodded, but added little more beyond that. 

Pelini got on his headset. He needed to talk to John Papuchis, the Huskers’ special teams coordinator at the time. 

“Bo yelled, ‘JP, none of them know if they can make it,’” Wesch said. “JP goes, ‘Put Alex on the headset,’ so Alex gets on the headset. JP told him to tell Bo he could make the kick, so Alex says OK. He takes off the headset and goes to Bo, ‘I can make this.’  

“That’s how it happened, because Bo then put the headset back on and yelled, ‘Really f------ convincing, JP.’” 

Ganz couldn’t really hear the conversation taking place from where he was. He wanted to know the plan – kick or punt – but he wasn’t sure what the decision ultimately was. 

“I just kept asking, ‘Are we kicking this?’” Ganz said. “And then I saw them go out and I said, ‘OK, I guess we’re doing this.’” 

That’s when Ganz really noticed it. Henery standing at midfield, waiting. It was a striking sight, and the first moment he realized just how far away Henery was from the endzone. Ganz knew the sophomore had a strong leg, but 57 yards was an incredible distance. There also wasn’t much wind, and it was cold. 

Wesch hadn’t thought about the distance much either. He had been in Pelini's ear "chirping," as he called it, about letting Henery attempt the field goal. He knew it would be a 57 yard attempt. He just didn't realize how significant the distance would actually feel.

That was until he got on the field. As the TV timeout came to an end, he crouched down into his holding position. He looked back at the endzone and specifically the field goal posts. 

That’s when it hit him. They were really far away. Wesch took a deep breath and turned back to his kicker. 

“I looked at Alex and said, ‘You’re going to be a hero after this,’” Wesch said. 

 

*** 

Barret Pickering was only nine years old that November night in 2008. Growing up in Alabama, Pickering didn’t know much about Henery’s kick in Nebraska’s 40-31 win over Colorado. He knew it was record-setting. He’s also heard stories about how loud Memorial Stadium had gotten than night. 

Nebraska faces Colorado for the first time since 2010 on Saturday. Pickering was only 11 years old when the Huskers played their last Big 12 game. Eight years later, he’ll be a part of a Nebraska team reviving the rivalry between old Big Eight foes. 

On Wednesday, the Huskers’ freshman kicker watched Henery’s kick for the first time. As Henery stepped back and set his feet, the video paused.  

What would Pickering be thinking in that moment? 

John S. Peterson
Barret Pickering (left) talks with Damian Jackson before Nebraska's canceled matchup with Akron.

“Honestly I don’t even know if I’d be thinking," Pickering said. 

He’s right. Henery wasn’t. 

“In those moments, muscle memory takes over and you’re in the moment,” Henery said. “You don’t really think about what you’re doing.” 

As Henery’s foot connected with the ball, even Pickering could see it was a solid kick. You can’t hear the “thud” of a good kick over the TV broadcast, but he imagines it was there. Wesch confirms it was. 

“It was certainly a solid thud, so I knew he had hit it really well,” Wesch said. 

Ganz too. 

“The moment you heard it kicked, I knew it had a shot,” Ganz said. 

It's a bit crazy for Henery, Wesch and Ganz to revist in hindsight. It was crazy for them to live it in the moment too. Henery knows the record will be broken one day — maybe even by Pickering — but it's a memory he will forever cherish.

Because everything had to go right that night. From O'Leary's snap to Wesch's hold to Henery's kick, perfection was the only option. Add the high-pressure moment of winning or losing a game? It was bound to be memorable, no matter the distance.

“You’ll find longer field goals than that but they don’t always come down to, ‘If you miss this, we’re going to lose the game,'" Henery said. "So it was more the circumstance that made it ever better."

Pickering may not have been there that night in 2008 but he can imagine it. He prepares every day for moments like that of his own. 

As the replay of Henery’s kick ended, Pickering looked up to see a teammate watching along. Quarterback Adrian Martinez had joined. 

“What are we watching?” Martinez asked. 

After an explanation of Henery’s kick against Colorado 10 years ago, Martinez paused. 

“I don’t want it to ever be that close,” Martinez said.  

And then he looked his kicker right in the eye. 

“Although if we have to make a game winner at some point, I believe in you.” 

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