"You've got to tip your hats to Bo [Pelini] and his young men," a disappointed Fitzgerald offered. "They battled back and made the plays."
When Mike Trumpy crossed the goal line with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Northwestern was feeling confident, holding a 12-point lead. Some Nebraska fans even began filing out of Ryan Field.
All the Wildcats needed to do was execute. They failed, while Nebraska did not waver against adversity.
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez offered Northwestern a chance to secure a victory, throwing an errant pass toward the hands of linebacker Damien Proby, but all he could do was deflect it. Linebacker Damien Proby reached for the pass but was unable to haul in the football.
The Cornhuskers had new life, while the Wildcats would soon be on life support.
"When you have a chance for turnovers and you miss it, the football gods strike you with some lightning," said Fitzgerald.
And lightning indeed did strike, zapping the momentum Northwestern once held. Martinez led the Cornhuskers down the field, capping a 10-play drive with a touchdown pass to receiver Taariq Allen.
Again, Northwestern failed to execute its offense. The Wildcats were held to three plays on the proceeding drive, killing just 1:45 off the clock. Nebraska took the field with plenty of time to use and high confidence.
Martinez completed each of his five passing attempts and led the Cornhuskers to the go-ahead touchdown, a seven-yard score to tight end Ben Cotton.
"Everyone knew we were going to score a touchdown," said Martinez. "We could feel it in our guts and throughout the offense. We knew once we had the chance, we were going to score again."
Northwestern had a chance to respond, trailing 29-28 with 2:08 on the clock. Quarterback Trevor Siemian led the Wildcats to the Nebraska 36 yard line. With a chance to take the lead, kicker Jeff Budzien missed a 53-yard field goal wide right.
"I felt confident in his kick, his distance, and his ability to make that kick," said Fitzgerald of Budzien's attempt. "It just went wide right. It had plenty of leg."
NU had one final gasp, but faced desperation backed to its own 18 yard line. A heave by Kain Colter down field fell to the turf and ended the game.
"We didn't execute and didn't make plays when we needed to make plays," said Colter of the loss.
It's a tough pill for the Wildcats to swallow. They now sit in the backseat of the Legends Division standings, while Nebraska is driving.
"Were going to have to flush this one quickly and get back at it," said Fitzgerald. "We've got big games left. That's the way we've got to look at it."
· The 12-point fourth-quarter comeback is the largest in Nebraska football history.
· Northwestern has issues in its secondary. Cornerback Nick VanHoose injured his right arm and did not return. He wore a sling on the injured arm. In addition, cornerback Quinn Evans was helped off the field following the game. No updates on either player's status was provided.
· Quarterback Kain Colter was fairly silent, one year following a breakout performance against the Cornhuskers. Colter tallied just 35 rushing yards and completed one pass in the entire game. Trevor Siemian struggled in the passing game, completing 15 of 35 passes for just 116 yards.
· The Wildcats return to action on Saturday, Oct. 27, facing the Iowa Hawkeyes at 11 a.m.