Northwestern sends Huskers to 7th straight loss

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5: 07 PM ET

  • ESPN News Service

DUBLIN — Ryan Hilinski threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns to help Northwestern rally for a 31-28 victory over Nebraska in Saturday’s season opener in Ireland.

Northwestern handed the Cornhuskers their seventh consecutive loss going back to last season — all coming by single digits — and added more pressure on embattled coach Scott Frost, who took the blame for a failed onside kick that changed the momentum of the game in the third quarter.

“I made that call so that’s on me,” Frost said of the onside kick after the Huskers took a 28-17 lead. “At that point in the game, I thought all the momentum was on our side. I thought if we got it, we could end the game.

“You can’t really foresee them scoring 14 straight and us sputtering after we played well to start the second half on offense. Again those are excuses. If I had (to do) it over, I wouldn’t make the call.”

The Wildcats finished with 527 yards and gained a measure of revenge after their humiliating 56-7 loss to the Huskers last October. Nebraska hasn’t won since then.

The Cornhuskers are the first major-conference team in the AP Poll Era, which goes back to 1936, to lose seven straight games by single digits, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Nebraska was looking for a bounce-back season with a revamped offense following a 3-9 season, but the team and its many fans who made the trip are headed home bitterly disappointed.

Quarterback Casey Thompson had a big game in his Huskers debut, throwing for 355 yards, but a fourth-quarter mistake was costly. Cameron Mitchell intercepted Thompson’s pass and returned it almost 40 yards. Six plays later, Evan Hull ran it in from the 4 to give the Wildcats a 31-28 lead. Hull finished with 22 carries for 119 yards.

Xander Mueller picked off a pass that bounced off receiver Wyatt Liewer‘s hands with 1: 27 to play and the Wildcats sealed the win.

Anthony Grant rushed for two third-quarter scores, including a 46-yarder to put the Huskers ahead 28-17. He ran it in from 3 yards on the previous drive to get Nebraska in front after the Wildcats went into halftime with a 17-14 lead. Grant had 19 carries for 101 yards.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald called the onside kick “a huge momentum swing” in the game.

“We went down and punched it in,” he said of Cam Porter‘s 3-yard touchdown run on a direct snap to close the gap to 28-24.

The Huskers had built a 14-3 lead after Thompson threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to fellow transfer Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda and then punched it in from 1 early in the second quarter. Garcia-Castaneda finished with 120 yards on four receptions.

But Hilinski capped a terrific first half by finding Donny Navarro at the back of the end zone for a 6-yard scoring strike to give the Wildcats a 17-14 lead with 25 seconds left in the half.

Earlier, Hilinski hit a wide-open Raymond Niro III on a play-action pass for a 41-yard score.

After Niro’s touchdown, Nebraska was driving again when linebacker Greyson Metz ripped the ball from Garcia-Castaneda after a 24-yard completion to the Northwestern 11- yard line.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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