Another Husker heartbreak in 23-20 OT loss to Spartans
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Another Husker heartbreak in 23-20 OT loss to Spartans

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Leading by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Nebraska was on the cusp of pulling off by far the biggest win of the Scott Frost era at No. 20 Michigan State.

Instead, the same inexplicable blunders that have defined the past four years turned Saturday night from a season-changing upset victory into yet another gut-wrenching 23-20 overtime defeat.

Adrian Martinez totaled 307 total yards and two rushing touchdowns, while NU’s defense held the Spartans to just 36 yards and zero first downs of offense in the second half.

But a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown by Michigan State and an overtime interception led to a 21-yard walk-off field goal by Matt Coghlin in OT.

The first half was a series of blunders from both teams in all three aspects of the game.

Marquel Dismuke intercepted Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne on a deep heave at the NU 18-yard line on just the fourth snap of the night.

Then, on Nebraska’s third offensive play, Martinez was sandwiched by two Spartan defenders and sent to the locker room with an apparent injury.

The Blackshirts looked to have gotten a third-down stop on a Deontre Thomas sack on the next series, but Thomas committed a personal foul for slamming Thorne to the turf. Michigan State still couldn’t do anything with it, as it was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 from the NU 25 for a turnover on downs.

Logan Smothers took over for Martinez on the next drive and led Nebraska down to the Spartan 40, but back-to-back false starts ended the threat and forced a punt.

In all, the first quarter featured a combined two turnovers, four penalties, four punts, and six first downs.

Things picked up less than a minute in the second quarter, though, as Michigan State struck first with a 35-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass from Thorne to Jayden Reed to make it 7-0.

Nebraska fired back with a highlight-reel scramble by Martinez for 45 yards, and a late hit penalty on MSU spotted the Huskers down at the Spartan 9-yard line. Another false start killed the drive from there, and NU had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Connor Culp.

Michigan State answered with a 41-yard kickoff return by Tre Mosley that set up a 26-yard field goal of its own from Matt Coghlin on the following possession.

But the Huskers responded with a nine-play, 75-yard march that ate up four minutes and ended with a 12-yard touchdown run by Martinez to tie it up at 10-10 with 4:20 left in the half.

The Spartans wasted no time reclaiming the lead as Thorne hit Connor Heyward for a rumbling 34-yard pass that led to a 27-yard kick by Coghlin.

With 1:03 left in the half, Nebraska got the ball and quickly moved to midfield with a chance to tie it up going into halftime. Instead, MSU sacked Martinez on back-to-back plays, and then William Przystup shanked a seven-yard punt that spotted MSU at the Husker 46 with 16 seconds still on the clock.

Luckily for NU, Coghlin’s 44-yard try as time expired was blocked by Cam Taylor-Britt to leave it at a 13-10 halftime deficit.

Nebraska got the ball to start the second half and churned out a 14-play drive that lasted 5:50, but it again couldn’t get the ball into the end zone and was left with a 28-yard field goal by Culp to tie it up.

The Huskers ended up running 27 plays to Michigan State’s six and out-gained MSU 122-13 in the third quarter, but they could only muster three points.

Then, on the second play of the fourth quarter, Martinez was strip-sacked by Jacub Panasiuk, and the Spartans recovered NU 45. But the Blackshirts came up with yet another three-and-out stop to avert a potential disaster.

When NU’s offense got the ball back, it made sure to capitalize. A three-yard touchdown run by Martinez capped off an 11-play, 80-yard drive that took up five minutes and gave the Huskers their first lead at 20-13 with 7:29 remaining in the game.

The Blackshirts quickly forced a fourth-straight three-and-out, but Nebraska’s offense had to punt it right back after only taking two minutes off the clock.

That’s when Michigan State’s special teams came up big again, as Jayden Reed took the punt 62 yards to the house to tie the game with 3:47 to go.

After the teams traded three-and-outs and punts, Nebraska got the ball back at its own 20 with 47 seconds. But Martinez was sacked, and NU decided to burn the clock and send the game into overtime.

The Spartans won the coin toss and elected to defend first. Three plays later, Chester Kimbrough picked off Martinez at the 16-yard line and nearly took it back to a walk-off touchdown return before finally being tackled at the NU 22.

Kenneth Walker III, who was bottled up all night, broke a 23-yard run down to the two on MSU’s first offensive play of overtime, and Coghlin sealed the game with a 21-yard field goal.

Walker, who entered the game as the Big Ten’s leading rusher at more than 160 yards per game, was held to 61 yards on 19 carries, including just 37 yards in regulation.

Nebraska will look to bounce back at home next week against Northwestern. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CT.