LINCOLN — Just before the first snap of his Nebraska career, the Wahoo Neumann graduate wanted to know which running back would be out there beside him.
It’s me and you, said the Boone Central graduate.
And in that moment, quarterback Noah Vedral and running back Wyatt Mazour shared a look. They didn’t say much, but there stood the football dreams of a couple of diehard Husker fans who had made their names on grass fields all over small-town Nebraska.
“We were both (Class) C-1 players,” Mazour said. “That was pretty cool.”
Said Vedral: “The chance to share the field with him was unbelievable.”
NU didn’t get a bye week. Instead, in its 45-9 rout of overmatched Bethune-Cookman — a replacement team for the canceled season opener — Nebraska got a back-to-the-future moment. NU’s early dominance and 38-3 halftime lead paved the way for a throwback fall afternoon of sunshine, smiles and Husker fans sticking around to see if their favorite backup or native son got a snap on the Memorial Stadium stage.
Matt Jarzynka did. The defensive lineman from Loup City recorded a sack in the fourth quarter that brought NU captain and close friend Mick Stoltenberg to tears. Afterward, reporters surrounded Jarzynka.
“That’s my entire life’s goal accomplished right there,” said Jarzynka, who wore a hat bearing the name of his family’s farm. “Getting to play at Memorial Stadium and get a sack on top of that, too.”
Chris Walker got on the stage. So did Fyn Anderson, Damian Jackson, Vaha Vainuku, Hunter Miller, Katerian Legrone, Miles Jones, Reid Karel, Eli Sullivan, Simon Otte and more. Some are Nebraskans, some aren’t. Some are at the beginning of their careers. Some are near the end.
It didn’t always look pretty in the second half. Mazour, who has played on special teams all year and a few games at running back, fared best with 55 rushing yards. Vedral, granted eligibility two weeks ago by the NCAA, ran for a 20-yard touchdown but otherwise shook off some rust, completing 2 of 9 passes for 29 yards and an interception.
Coach Scott Frost, quarterback in a national title season filled with blowouts and backups, couldn’t suppress a smile as he was asked what it meant for so many to see the field Saturday.
“Those are the type of kids that I played with. They’re the type of guys that make up the fabric of this program,” Frost said. “We want more of them. We want more of them contributing. But any time one of those kids is out there, it’s a little extra special to me.”
Their entry into the game also served the purpose of saving the legs of the starters, who have played eight straight weeks. Next weekend’s opponent, Ohio State, had the weekend off to prep for the Huskers.
“Physically, it was important for us to put the game away so that the guys could play 30, 35, 40 snaps and be done,” Frost said.
Mission accomplished. In an impressive first quarter, Nebraska (2-6) carved up BCU (4-5) with a brisk tempo — often 12 to 15 seconds between plays — and a balanced attack. Martinez would throw quick, short passes to JD Spielman and Stanley Morgan to stretch the Wildcats horizontally. Then Nebraska would follow with a Devine Ozigbo or Maurice Washington run against the soft underbelly of Bethune-Cookman’s defense. NU rattled off touchdown drives of 65, 76 and 69 yards in the first quarter. None lasted longer than 2:26.
Those drives were sandwiched around Nebraska’s first punt return for a touchdown in four seasons when Spielman returned a straight, long punt 77 yards for a score. He darted first between two blocks, then cut hard to his right before traversing the full width of the field back to his left, a cross-country run under a warm sun.
Frost offered a deadpan quip when asked what went right on the return. “We blocked everybody,” he said.
In front of 88,735, the Husker defense forced two first-half turnovers — Peyton Newell’s interception off Ben Stille’s helmet and a Deontai Williams fumble recovery after nickel back JoJo Domann forced a fumble.
Stoltenberg, who returned after missing a month due to injury, said starters were motivated to play well so backups could get their chance in a game. Given the rest of NU’s schedule, Saturday seemed like Nebraska’s best chance — perhaps its only chance — to empty the sideline. Linebacker Mohamed Barry — who racked up 11 tackles before leaving the game — said the backups had been honing their craft with Friday scrimmages and deserved a reward.
Offensive backups played before most of the defensive backups did, and the No. 2 offense struggled with three punts and an interception. Frost said Vedral, who started his career at Central Florida and then followed his coach back to Lincoln, made some mistakes and didn’t get a ton of help. But the 36-yard touchdown drive — set up by a bad punt — is one Vedral won’t forget.
First, Mazour converted a third-and-2 with an 8-yard run. After Vedral missed Andre Hunt on a pass, he faked to Mazour, kept the ball around right end and followed receiver Jaron Woodyard’s strong block down the sideline. Around the BCU 5 — when the Wildcat defender hadn’t fallen for his stutter-step move — Vedral knew he’d have to dive for the score. He just hoped he hadn’t stepped out of bounds.
Officials signaled touchdown, and Vedral’s winding road back to Nebraska had six points at the end of it. The son of former Husker tight end Mike Vedral — and nephew to three more former Huskers — called the moment “surreal.” He still couldn’t quite believe it after the game.
Frost had his own winding road back to Nebraska as a player. He knew the feeling.
“When I was little ... all I could think about was scoring as a Husker,” Frost said. “And it’s been kind of a weird path for him to get there, but it was great to see him dive into the end zone at Memorial Stadium.”
Mazour said the program’s trajectory is up — toward days when more kids like him and Vedral are on the field throughout the season, and not just on a late October afternoon when a bye week turned into a throwback game.
“As you can see, now our offense is rolling, our defense played well today,” Mazour said. “It’s only up from here. For those Nebraska kids, I know personally being one, you really want to help the program turn it around, and now it’s the time.”
|Yards per carry||3.5||6.8|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against Bethune-Cookman.
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Sept. 15|
|Ohio State||Nov. 3|
|Michigan State||Nov. 17|
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