AMES, Iowa — Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said Eric Hagg had the role of “eraser” on the final play of a wild Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.
And Hagg erased more than just Iowa State’s bid for an overtime upset.
The senior intercepted a two-point conversion pass on a fake extra point to seal a 31-30 win for the Huskers.
He wiped away a potential week of regret over a game NU had led by 14 points going into the fourth quarter.
And Hagg picked off ISU’s bid to unseat the Huskers as the team controlling its own destiny in the Big 12 North. Hours later, Texas Tech knocked off Missouri, giving NU a full-game cushion in the North.
“I don’t know exactly what fake they ran, but we kind of have Eric centered up over the ball and looking,” Pelini said. “He’s kind of our eraser guy. That’s why we put him there, because he’s smart, instinctive and athletic.”
Hagg’s play didn't go into the final statistics as an interception because it came on a conversion attempt. It was, however, about as meaningful as anything that happened on a day that Iowa State gave Nebraska all it wanted in the teams’ final Big 12 meeting.
“When we went into the overtime, I was just like, ‘Man, this can’t be happening to us,’” Hagg said.
It was all too real, even after Nos. 9 and 10 Nebraska (8-1, 4-1 Big 12) forged leads of 7-0 and 24-10 in regulation, then 31-24 in OT on a 19-yard run by I-back Rex Burkhead. But the Huskers stayed in survive-and-escape mode all the way to that final play.
Holder Daniel Kuehl, the Cyclones’ backup punter, popped out of his stance and rolled left as tight end Collin Franklin released off the line of scrimmage. Franklin was open, but Kuehl lobbed an ugly pass behind Franklin and Hagg closed fast.
“If we execute, game over,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. “And we’re the ones running into the end zone to celebrate.”
The Cyclones (5-5, 3-3) rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter before a noisy crowd of 51,159 by scoring twice with the wind.
They earned one touchdown with a 13-play, 75-yard drive. NU handed the other opportunity to them when Niles Paul fumbled on a kickoff and Deon Broomfield recovered on the Huskers’ 13-yard line.
“We had our opportunities to put it away and we didn't,” Pelini said.
The Cyclones capped their long march with Austen Arnaud’s touchdown on a quarterback sneak. Arnaud then tied it at 24-24 on a 14-yard scoring pass to Alexander Robinson, coming three plays after Paul returned a kickoff that he caught about 5 yards into the end zone.
“He was just trying to make a play,” Pelini said of Paul. “Nobody feels worse than he does.”
Iowa State forced back-to-back Husker punts and had a chance to go ahead, but Grant Mahoney missed a 55-yard field goal with 3:19 left to play. NU crossed midfield one more time, but Green’s third-down pass for Mike McNeill was tipped away by Leonard Johnson with 40 seconds remaining.
Nebraska’s offensive star was Burkhead, who ran 20 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Burkhead shared snaps at running back with Roy Helu. And with Cody Green starting at quarterback in place of the injured Taylor Martinez and Zac Lee, Burkhead also took a number of direct snaps out of the Wildcat formation, which the Huskers used extensively for the first time since the Holiday Bowl win over Arizona.
Burkhead started overtime with a 6-yard run out of the wildcat. Then he swept around end on a zone read and scored on a 19-yard run.
Arnaud answered with his third touchdown pass, a 9-yard throw to Jake Williams on first-and-goal.
But then Hagg intervened.
“I thought it was a gutsy call by Coach Rhoads,” Pelini said, “and our guy made a play.”
Ho-hum, right? Another Big 12 road win for the Huskers. Eight straight if you’re counting.
Green said that was all that mattered — and Nebraska likely will buy itself some more time in the Top 10 as it prepares for Kansas and Turner Gill.
“This was a great, great experience for us as a team ... to really go out there and show that we’re persistent and we’re not going to stop,” Green said. “And no matter what, we’re going to go and go and go. Eric’s play at the end of the game was amazing.”
Green, drawing his first start since midseason last year, completed 7 of 12 passes for 79 yards, including a 29-yard throw to Kyler Reed on third-and-12 that set up Burkhead’s 2-yard run for the 24-10 lead.
Pelini said Martinez (ankle) could have played in an emergency. Lee (hand) is day-to-day.
Green, who started two games a year ago, just enjoyed the moment.
“I was more excited than nervous, just because it’d been awhile since I've been on the field,” he said. “I was just excited to be out there with the guys again.”
|Yards per carry||3.3||4.5|
Nebraska is 86-17 all-time against Iowa State.
|Western Kentucky||Sept. 4|
|South Dakota State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 7|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 20|
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