East Lansing, MI – Taylor Martinez found Jamal Turner all alone in the end zone with just six seconds left to lift No. 21 Nebraska past Michigan State, 28-24, on Saturday.
After trailing 24-14 for most of the fourth quarter, Martinez broke off a 35- yard touchdown run with just over seven minutes remaining to pull within 24-21.
The Cornhuskers' defense was able to force a Spartans' punt, but Nebraska could not convert on 4th-and-9 and gave it back to Michigan State.
The defense came up big for the Cornhuskers once again and the Spartans were forced to punt to give Nebraska (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) one last chance.
Following a touchback, Martinez connected with Quincy Enunwa down the right sideline for a 22-yard gain before hooking up with Kyler Reed for a 38-yard catch-and-run to put the ball on the Michigan State 20.
On a crucial 3rd-and-10, Martinez's pass fell incomplete, but the Spartans were flagged for pass interference to give the Cornhuskers a fresh set of downs at the MSU 5.
Martinez's pass on first down was incomplete, but the shifty quarterback found Turner all alone near the back left corner of the end zone for the win.
"It was a great call by Coach (Offensive Coordinator Tim) Beck. I can't believe that we won the game like that; I've been dreaming about this my whole life," Turner said. "It was the same play we called last week and I lost the ball in the lights and missed the touchdown, but Beck came back and called it this week and I was able to score the winning touchdown.
With the victory Nebraska takes over first place in the Big Ten Legends division. The Cornhuskers own the tiebreaker after defeating Michigan, which is also 4-1 in the Big Ten, last week.
"We think we're the best in the Big Ten; we're not going to be stopped. We're going to keep going until we accomplish what we want to accomplish, and that's the Big Ten Championship. It doesn't matter how much we're down by - 20, 30 points - we're going to keep fighting until we win the game," Turner said.
Martinez finished the game just 16-for-36 passing for 160 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, but it was on the ground where he really made a difference. He ran for 205 yards and two scores on 17 carries and Ameer Abdullah added 110 yards on 22 totes for the Cornhuskers.
Le'Veon Bell carried the ball 36 times for 188 yards and two touchdowns and Andrew Maxwell threw for 123 yards and a score despite completing just 9- of-27 passes. Darqueeze Dennard had two interceptions for the Spartans (5-5 2-4), who lost in November for the first time in eight tries.
"Tough game, very tough game, maybe one of the toughest games I've experienced here. I thought we had every opportunity to win the football game," Michigan State head coach Mike Dantonio said. "Whether that plays out on the field, whether that's some kind of way; I'm not sure how at times. We got them fourth-and-10 at the end of the game. The game's over if we stop them there with the first down, last series, game's over."
Earlier, Bell's 11-yard touchdown run gave Michigan State a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Bell started to his left, but cut it back to the middle, broke a tackle and lunged for the end zone.
The Cornhuskers came back to tie the game on their next drive when Martinez hit Abdullah with a 2-yard touchdown pass. Earlier in the drive, Martinez broke a 59-yard run down the right sideline but was stopped on the Michigan State 4. Abdullah was stood up on first and second down before Martinez tossed it to him in the flat for the score.
After Brett Maher missed a 30-yard field goal for Nebraska, the Spartans needed just four plays to take the lead once again at 14-7. Bell broke a 40- yard run up the middle, but a 15-yard penalty brought it back to Nebraska's 46. On the next play, Maxwell faked the handoff to Bell and delivered a strike to Tony Lippett for a 46-yard touchdown pass.
The teams traded punts before Martinez broke a 71-yard touchdown run to knot it up once again. Martinez took the shotgun snap and broke to his left, and Kenny Bell delivered a key block on the edge to give Martinez a clean lane down the sideline. The quarterback raced all the way to the end zone and the teams entered the break tied at 14-14.
Michigan State's opening drive in the second half stalled at the Nebraska 7 and Dan Conroy booted it through from 25 yards out to give the Spartans a 17-14 advantage.
Dennard picked off Martinez with just over three minutes left in the third and returned it 30 yard to the Nebraska 38. Eight plays later, Bell bulled his way in from 1-yard out to put the Spartans up 24-14.
Nebraska is 7-0 all-time against Michigan State ... The Cornhuskers outgained MSU 473-361 in total offense and 313-238 on the ground.