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Frost, Huskers fall short in 33-28 loss to Colorado

Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez was having a stellar debut before leaving the game to injury in the fourth quarter.
Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez was having a stellar debut before leaving the game to injury in the fourth quarter. (Associated Press)

In a game that featured nearly every wild emotional swing imaginable, the Scott Frost era at Nebraska ended up one play short.

After falling behind to Colorado 14-0 out of the gates, the Huskers scored 21 unanswered points and led 28-27 deep in the fourth quarter. But NU couldn’t make enough key plays in what ended as 33-28 loss.

Adrian Martinez became the first true freshman quarterback ever to start a season opener at Nebraska, and he was electric in his debut. Martinez completed 15-of-20 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 117 yards and two more scores.

The game changed in the final minutes when Martinez was knocked out of the game with an apparent right leg injury, leaving walk-on Andrew Bunch under center to try and preserve the win.

After Colorado (2-0) scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 40-yard pass by Steven Montez, Bunch and the Huskers (0-1) couldn’t pull out any final magic on their final drive.

The first offensive drive of the Frost era got off to a great start in front of a sold-out crowd of 89,853, as the Huskers quickly marched 52 yards on seven plays down to the Colorado 23. But running back Greg Bell coughed up a fumble and CU recovered at its 13-yard line to end the drive.

The Buffaloes didn’t waste any time taking advantage, either, as Montez hit Jay MacIntyre for a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap an eight-play, 86-yard march to take a 7-0 lead.

Two plays into the Huskers’ second drive, Martinez fumbled it away to give Colorado the ball right back at the NU 24. After the defense forced a fourth-and-1 at the 3, Laviska Shenaut powered his way into the end zone to push CU’s lead up to 14-0.

Going back to Frost’s Central Florida team last season, the Knights had just three fumbles from running backs all year.

Desperately needing an answer, Martinez stepped up and answered the call. Facing a third-and-17, the freshman hit Mike Williams on a 19-yard completion to extend the drive.

Two plays later, Martinez took a keeper around the left end, burst down the sideline, and flipped over the goal line for a 41-yard touchdown run.

Those 41 yards were longer than any run Nebraska had all of 2017. It was also the longest by a Husker since Devine Ozigbo had a 42-yard rush vs. Tennessee in the 2016 Music City Bowl.

After a few traded punts, Nebraska got the equalizer on an 8-yard touchdown run by Ozigbo with 10:15 left in the second quarter. Ozigbo had eight carries for 26 yards on the drive, while Martinez again provided the spark with an incredible scramble and throw to Stanley Morgan for 19 yards to set up the score.

Two drives later, Bell broke loose for a 45-yard scamper up the middle to the Colorado 30. Martinez then put the finishing touches by waltzing into the end zone untouched for a 3-yard touchdown to give NU its first lead of the day at 21-14 with 2:24 left in the half.

The Huskers had a chance to slam the door going into the locker room, but Colorado converted a third-and-13 to move into Nebraska territory with 1:27 to go. A 16-yard run by Montez set up a 40-yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-17 at halftime.

The Buffaloes got the ball to start the third quarter and trimmed the lead down to 21-20 on a 35-yard field goal by James Stefanou. But Martinez made sure to take the momentum right back by hitting receiver J.D. Spielman on a 57-yard strike for a touchdown on the ensuing possession.

Montez answered by converting three straight third-and-long completions before finding MacIntyre for another touchdown pass from 8 yards out to get it back to 28-27 with 1:24 left in the third.

A drop by Morgan on what would have been a touchdown led to freshman kicker Barrett Pickering missing his first collegiate attempt wide right from 43 yards out.

The Buffaloes converted a big fourth down at midfield on a run by Shenault, but Stefanou missed a 37-yard field goal attempt to leave it at a one-point NU lead with 9:56 to play.

Nebraska gave the ball right back when Bell was stuffed on a fourth-and-one run at the CU 43, giving Colorado prime starting field position to try and take the lead with 7:16 to go.

But the Husker defense answered the challenge with a turnover of downs of their own to give the ball back to the offense at the 50 with 6:05 left on the game clock.

That’s when the Martinez’s inexperience returned, though, as he was intercepted by Nate Landman on the first play of the drive to again set up Colorado for the go-ahead score at the NU 32.

Stefanou came back onto the field after three plays for another attempt from 43 yards out, and the 31-year-old senior missed it again to keep the Huskers on top with 4:49 remaining.

Just when it seemed like the Huskers were set to grind down the clock and seal the game, Martinez had his right leg twisted while being tackled and was assisted off the field. Bunch came in to replace him, and the drive quickly stalled, resulting in a punt that gave CU another chance at its own 21 with 2:23 left.

Colorado moved the ball in Nebraska territory, but Ben Stille sacked Montez for a 9-yard loss and a CU false start set up third and 24 at its 45 with 1:18 left.

But a crushing personal foul penalty on Antonio Reed on what would have been an incomplete pass kept the drive alive. The very next play, Montez hit Shenault on a 40-yard touchdown strike to take a 33-28 lead with 1:06 to go after a failed 2-point conversion.

With Martinez still sidelined, Bunch drove NU into Colorado territory with a 16-yard pass with a 16-yard pass to Williams and a 25-yard completion to Morgan to the CU 21. A swing pass to Bell for five yards and two incompletions left Nebraska with just three seconds and one last play.

Bunch’s final heave to the end zone was batted incomplete, as Frost and the Huskers were handed a 33-28 defeat.

The Huskers racked up 565 total yards and 329 yards on the ground while holding Colorado to 44 yards rushing. But three turnovers, 11 penalties for 95 yards, going 0-for-3 on fourth down, and allowing CU to convert two of its three fourth downs ended up telling the game much more.

Nebraska returns to action next week when it hosts Troy for an 11 a.m. kick on BTN.