LINCOLN, Neb. – Ameer Abdullah's jaw-dropping 58-yard touchdown on a pass from Tommy Armstrong Jr. broke a tie with 20 seconds left and allowed No. 19 Nebraska to beat second-tier McNeese State 31-24 on Saturday.
McNeese State had erased a 10-point deficit to tie it 24-all with 4:21 to play. The Huskers' winning possession started with 1:14 left, and they were facing third-and-6 when Abdullah made the play of his career.
After catching a pass short of the first-down marker, he first made McNeese State's Bo Brown miss. Then he rammed into a pack of three Cowboys' defenders, bounced off Aaron Sam and zoomed past Brent Spikes on his way to the end zone.
Nebraska (2-0) improved to 11-0 all-time against FCS opponents and had never allowed one to come closer than two touchdowns. Coach Bo Pelini said this week that the Cornhuskers won't play anymore opponents from the FCS because of Big Ten scheduling policy.
Pelini and his team got all they wanted and more from the Cowboys (0-1), who had beaten their past two Bowl Subdivision opponents and looked primed to win for the first time in nine all-time games against teams from the Big Five conferences.
Armstrong passed for 242 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 131 yards and a TD. Abdullah, who ran for a career-high 232 yards a week ago against Florida Atlantic, was held to 54 yards on the ground.
But the senior was at his best at the end after freshman Alex Kjellsten's 24-yard field goal tied it 24-24 with 4:21 to play. Abdullah finished with three catches for 96 yards.
Nebraska, which amassed 784 yards against Florida Atlantic, wasn't nearly as sharp against McNeese State.
The Huskers led 21-14 at half and went three plays and out on four of their first five possessions of the second half. Armstrong had a touchdown nullified by offensive lineman Jake Cotton's tripping penalty.
The Cowboys had the Memorial Stadium crowd nervous after Daniel Sams, who was playing his first game since transferring from Kansas State, led most of a drive that pulled the Cowboys to 24-21. Sams hit Kent Shelby for 40 yards on third-and-long and ran 26 yards on a fourth-and-5 to the Nebraska 1. Quarterback Tyler Bolfing re-entered and went the last yard.
After forcing two straight Nebraska three-and-outs, the Cowboys got the ball back at their 5, and Bolfing drove them to the Huskers' 2. Bolfing had Dylan Long open for a short pass but Nate Gerry broke through the line and batted the ball down. Long was smothered for a 5-yard loss after taking a handoff on the next play, bringing Kjellsten on for the tying field goal.
Nebraska, already playing without star defensive end Randy Gregory (knee), lost two receivers to injuries. Kenny Bell left in the first quarter with a groin pull and was in street clothes for the second half. Jamal Turner was on crutches after tearing his Achilles' tendon in the second quarter.
The Huskers looked ready to break the game open early in the second quarter, driving from its 20 to the Cowboys 9. But Sam stepped in front of Armstrong's pass for Jordan Westerkamp at the 2 and returned it 98 yards to tie it 14-all. The only longer interception return against the Huskers was a 99-yarder by Minnesota's Gary Hohman in 1969.