Surely, most fans wearing scarlet and cream at Memorial Stadium were thinking it was just a matter of time before the ninth-ranked Cornhuskers took control of this game.
The Wildcats wouldn’t let it happen, hanging on to upset Nebraska 28-25 for their first win over a top-10 opponent in two years.
“A great program win for us,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “To come on the road and put together our most complete game of the year. ... Not perfect. Not a work of art. There are some things we can correct.”
The critiques can wait, though.
Second-string quarterback Kain Colter ran for two touchdowns and passed for another as Persa cheered him on from the sideline.
Just as important, a defense that had been allowing 32 points and 432 yards a game held up its end.
“We got beat. It’s that plain and simple,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “They outplayed us, they outcoached us. What are you going to say? They won the football game. They deserve it. I give Northwestern a lot of credit. We didn’t respond.”
The loss to the 17-point underdog Wildcats (4-5, 2-4) dropped Nebraska (7-2, 3-2) into a second-place tie with Iowa and Michigan in the Big Ten’s Legends Division. Michigan State moved into sole possession of first place with its win over Minnesota.
The win was Northwestern’s first over a top-10 team since a 17-10 road victory over then-No. 8 Iowa on Nov. 7, 2009.
Persa injured his left shoulder in the second quarter when he was slammed to the ground by defensive end Eric Martin. Persa tried to play a couple more series, but he was on the sideline with his left arm in a sling after halftime.
Colter, who typically shares playing time with Persa at quarterback, took all but four snaps in the second half. He ran for 58 yards and completed four of six passes for 115 yards.
“I feel like we could really go into this game and make a statement,” Colter said. “We had a great week of practice, came into the game with a great game plan and a lot of focus. We just went out there and executed. We really wanted this game.”
Jeremy Ebert caught six passes for a career-high 147 yards and went over the 2,000-yard mark for his career on an 81-yard touchdown play that put the Wildcats up 21-10 early in the fourth quarter.
After the Huskers had pulled to 21-18, Colter scored from the 1 with 1:34 left to finish a 13-play, 66-yard drive that chewed more than 7 minutes off the clock.