By Tommy Rezac
Nebraska leads the Arkansas State RedWolves 27-26 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, NE.
Nebraska started the scoring early in the first quarter, taking advantage of a shanked punt by Arkansas State punter Cody Grace. The Huskers started their first drive at the RedWolves’ 37-yard-line and drove all the way to the 4, but came up just shy of a first down, allowing senior Drew Brown to convert on a 21-yard field goal, giving Nebraska a 3-0 lead with 9:53 left in the opening quarter.
Later in the first, the RedWolves’ defense forced its first three-and-out of the game, allowing sophomore punter Caleb Lightbourn to come in for the first time. Lightbourn had a booming punt of 54 yards, which was initially dropped by return man Blaise Taylor, but scooped right back up by Taylor and taken 63 yards the other way for a touchdown, giving Arkansas State its first lead at 7-3 with 5:07 left in the first quarter.
Nebraska hadn’t allowed a punt return for a touchdown by an opponent since 2005.
Nebraska redshirt freshman J.D. Spielman had an immediate answer, however, taking the ensuing kickoff 99 yards the other way for a touchdown, putting Nebraska back on top 10-7 with 4:53 to go in the opening quarter.
That was the first time Nebraska scored a touchdown on a kickoff return since Kenny Bell did against Penn State in 2013.
Arkansas State’s offense came to life after Spielman’s score, marching 87 yards down the field for a touchdown. Junior quarterback Justice Hansen found senior receiver Justice Hansen for a 29-yard strike down the sideline, giving the RedWolves a 14-10 lead with 2:12 to go in an already active opening quarter.
Nebraska answered the bell in just four plays. Tanner Lee hit Stanley Morgan on a 44-yard touchdown strike down the middle of the field, giving the Huskers a 17-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Huskers went up double digits when junior running back Mikale Wilbon found the end zone for the first time in his career on a 7-yard touchdown carry, putting Nebraska ahead 24-14 with 9:57 to go in the first half.
Arkansas State drove down to the Nebraska 9-yard line on the ensuing possession, but an interception by sophomore Tyrin Furgeson at the 1-yard line prevented the score.
The pick was Furgeson’s first of his young career.
The turnover, however, went against Nebraska’s favor, as sophomore running back Tre Bryant was tackled in Nebraska’s own end zone on the very next play, giving Arkansas State a safety, cutting Nebraska’s lead down to 34-16 with 7:00 to go in the second quarter.
The RedWolves drove 61 yards on 10 plays on the ensuing drive, making it a one-point game after a three-yard touchdown reception by senior tight end Blake Mack and point after by Sawyer Williams.
Nebraska led 24-23 with 3:45 left in the first half.
The Huskers got a little breathing room after a 41-yard field goal by Drew Brown with 1:02 left, but Arkansas State answered right back with a 39-yard field goal by Williams in the final three seconds of the second quarter.
Junior quarterback Tanner Lee had a solid first half as a Husker, completing 10 out of 14 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. Stanley Morgan led all receivers with four receptions for 92 yards and a score.
Hansen was quite impressive for the RedWolves, completing 26 of 34 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns. The RedWolves rolled up 289 yards of total offense, while Nebraska totaled 235.