Martinez's late TD pass rallies Nebraska past Michigan State

Dana Gauruder, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez kept Nebraska in the game with his legs. In the closing seconds, he won it with his arm.
Martinez threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Jamal Turner with six seconds remaining, giving the Cornhuskers a 28-24 victory over Michigan State Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
Martinez rushed for 205 yards -- including scoring runs of 71 and 35 yards -- on 17 carries for Nebraska, which remained tied with Michigan atop the Legends Division, each at 4-1.
"We just keep fighting," Martinez said. "This is what champions do, just keep fighting."
Martinez was mostly ineffective as a passer, throwing three interceptions, but he delivered on the game-winning 80-yard scoring drive. Coach Bo Pelini trusted Martinez wouldn't make a mistake, despite Martinez's earlier giveaways and being out of timeouts.
"I knew they were going to blitz, but I decided to go for it right there," Pelini said. "Why go to overtime if you have a chance? I felt we had a pretty good rhythm going and trusted Taylor to make the right decision, and he did."
The Cornhuskers, who trailed by 10 earlier in the quarter, also rallied late in Big Ten wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern.
"I wish we could make it easier on ourselves," Pelini said. "I'm aging quick. I'm 44, but I don't know how old I am now. After the last couple of weeks, I feel like I've aged about 20 years."
Ameer Abdullah had his fourth 100-yard rushing game in as many starts for Nebraska, gaining 110 yards on 22 carries. Overall, Nebraska had 313 rushing yards. The Huskers were averaging a Big Ten-best 264.1 rushing yards, while the Spartans were the conference leaders in rushing defense at 91.2 yards per game.
The Cornhuskers (7-2), who joined the Big Ten last season, are 7-0 against Michigan State.
Le'Veon Bell powered for 188 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns for the Spartans (5-5). Andrew Maxwell threw a 46-yard scoring pass to Tony Lippett, but Michigan State has now lost four conference games by a total of 10 points.
"It's heartbreaking," Maxwell said. "The thing about it is: I feel we're getting better each and every week. I feel like we're making strides, we're getting there and unfortunately, a lot of these closer ones aren't going our way."
Dan Conroy's 25-yard field goal capped off Michigan State's first possession of the second half and gave it a 17-14 advantage. Bell's second touchdown of the game, a 1-yard plunge 40 seconds into the fourth quarter, pushed the Spartans' lead to 24-14. Darqueze Dennard's 27-yard interception return set up Bell's 10th rushing touchdown of the season.
Dennard denied the Cornhuskers once again early in the fourth quarter, picking off a Martinez pass at the Michigan State 3-yard line. The Cornhuskers converted the next time they had the ball, scoring on Martinez's 35-yard run along the right hash mark with 7:02 remaining to make it 24-21.
Dennard was whistled for pass interference in the end zone with 17 seconds left, giving Nebraska a first down at the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Martinez found Turner for his first career touchdown reception, near the left corner of the end zone.
"Just knowing we've been in that situation before," Martinez said, "we know we can't be stopped once we put our minds to it."
Both teams were penalized nine times, but Bell was particularly frustrated with the late call against Dennard.
"There (are) certain things we can't control on the field," he said. "Guys are going to throw flags, there's nothing we can do. I thought it was offensive pass interference. That's why I thought they threw it."
Martinez and Bell surpassed 100 yards rushing by halftime, which ended in a 14-14 tie. Martinez became the school's career total offense leader with 8,166 yards, breaking Eric Crouch's record of 7,915 yards.
Bell gave the Spartans a first-quarter lead when he charged up the middle for an 11-yard scoring run. Martinez's 2-yard touchdown toss to Abdullah with 2:07 left in the opening quarter tied it at 7-7. Martinez's 17th scoring pass this season was set up by his 59-yard run.
Lippett's first career touchdown reception, with 6:56 remaining in the half, put the Spartans back on top. He beat double coverage to haul in Maxwell's 46-yard pass.
Martinez evened the score with 3:11 left when he faked a handoff to Abdullah, cut to the right and raced untouched down the sideline on his 71-yard run.
NOTES: Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead missed his second straight game with a knee injury. Spartans safety RJ Williamson sat out with an ankle injury. . . . The Cornhuskers defeated the Spartans 50-10 in their only previous trip to East Lansing in 1995. . . . Nebraska plays its next two games at home against Penn State and Minnesota, while the Spartans get a bye before a home game against Northwestern. . . . Brett Maher's missed 30-yard, second-quarter field goal attempt was the Cornhuskers' first empty trip inside the red zone in Big Ten games this season.

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