Oregon Nebraska Football

Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (4) scores the go-ahead touchdown Saturday while defended by Oregon defensive back Khalil Oliver during the second half of a game in Lincoln.

LINCOLN — Tommy Armstrong, chugging along on wearied legs, ran through the scrum of Oregon defenders with his eyes toward the end zone.

With a dive, he reached the ball past the goal line, and then sprang up to hug his teammates while the Nebraska faithful roared.

The designed quarterback draw play put the Huskers ahead over the No. 22 Oregon Ducks 35-32 with 2:29 left in Saturday's game.

Then the Blackshirt defense — with 90,000-plus fans inside Memorial Stadium and likely more watching the nationally-televised game from their living room behind them — bowed up and stopped the Ducks on a fourth-down try on their last possession to seal it.

Thus delivered the moment that the NU program had needed for a long time: a premier win that perhaps changes its perception around college football.

It's hard to believe that the last time the Huskers beat a ranked non-conference opponent in Lincoln was just a few days before 9/11 when they beat Notre Dame in 2001.

And, if he wanted, Nebraska coach Mike Riley could take it as personal vindication, as he was beaten by Oregon both on the field (4-10) and off (Nike money) during his years at Oregon State.

But he won't. That isn't the narrative he wants.

"I don't want to talk about this to much. It's about this team," Riley said. "I came to Nebraska and I'm coaching this team. This game is about this Husker team. And what it means for us is a lot. Now we're 3-0 going into the Big Ten Conference and I think that's a big deal."

Armstrong also had a similar statement in his post-game presser.

"You know, we really weren't there for everything with Oregon State and Oregon. But he's here, he's at Nebraska," the quarterback said. "It's one of those things that we always look forward to, playing a great team like Oregon and just being able to prove to everybody that we're willing to work our tails off to win games."

The sequence that ascended Nebraska was its final offensive push — an 11-play, 80 yard adventure that began at the 7:32 mark and drained just over five minutes of precious game clock.

"We just said, 'Let's put this on our shoulders,'" offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "It's nothing against the defense or anybody, we just had confidence in what we were doing. We felt like we had to go down there and score and win the game."

And for all that it was, it almost wasn't.

In what has been an all-too-familiar scene of late — maybe even the past 15 seasons — Nebraska botched a snap on the third play of the drive and fumbled the ball away to the opponent at a critical moment.

But the turnover was negated thanks to, of all things, a false start penalty that occurred before the play. There's been a lot of crazy things that's happened on Tom Osborne Field, and the Sea of Red celebrating a Husker penalty is up there.

The drama was only getting started.

Cethan Carter was wide open down the center of the field but dropped a pass on a 3rd-and-9 play from Nebraska's 48, forcing the team to have to gamble on fourth down trailing 32-28.

Carter was hurt on the play, and the injury timeout gave Riley time to ponder the situation. He could punt and pin the Ducks deep, and rely on his three timeouts. But there wasn't a guarantee that Nebraska would get the ball back, with ample time, either.

"I did not want to give Oregon a shot to win the game right then. They're a good offensive team, and we had done pretty well defensively, but they had moments where it didn't look like we could stop them, and we couldn't afford that," Riley said afterwards. "We couldn't afford to wait there and see what might happen. I thought we'd just go ahead and go get it." 

When it matters most, Langsdorf said, the ball has to go to wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp.

So, of course, it was he who hauled in a 14-yard bullet from his roommate Armstrong to keep the drive alive.

"I was super comfortable with the play call and was ready to go. The line gave Tommy plenty of time to make the throw," Westerkamp said.

"We had Westerkamp on a couple of hook routes early, but this time we had him run a little dig route instead," Langsdorf explained. "The nickel covering him was really good, but Westerkamp ran a great route and got open and made the play of the game. We needed something in the clutch and we had to go to the guy we trusted the most."

Then it was Armstrong, who had battled leg cramps most of the second half, that did the rest on his own on the 34-yard keeper — an image that will go down in Husker lore.

"He told me he was good, so I told him I was going to keep running him," Langsdorf said. "We had the numbers we needed on that play. He did a great job on that first cut to run and score. I honestly didn't think he'd take it for a touchdown run, but it was just a heck of play. He just gutted it out."

Added Riley: "(Tommy) made some big plays. Just good, clutch football."

Armstrong joked afterward that he drank whatever he could to relieve his leg cramps — namely Pedialite, Gatorade, pickle juice and water — but that his legs "felt like Jell-O, honestly."

"I was just trying to get to the end zone," he said of his touchdown run. 

As Riley addressed the media, there was a noticeable blood stain on his white Nebraska polo. It wasn't his, he said. Perhaps he got it during the team's raucous locker room party during one of many big bear hugs.

"I'm so proud of them. Boy, I love the fight," the coach said. "Just the fact we were able to keep our poise so well and come back and make the plays to win."

A win that will likely be remembered as the turning point of the Big Red.

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