On this day: After winning FG, Gaglianone's bond with Foltz changed forever
The 2015 season was unfortunately full of gut-punch losses for Nebraska under first-year head coach Mike Riley.
The Huskers’ 23-21 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 10 was one where they truly managed to snatch defeat from the hands of victory.
After leading 14-0 at halftime and then 21-20 with the ball with just 1:26 remaining in the game, NU somehow managed to lose on a 49-yard field goal by Rafael Gaglianone in the final seconds.
However, what made that loss to the Badgers different from the others would tragically happen eight months later.
Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, who had become one of the Big Ten’s best at his position and was beloved by NU fans, was serving as a student instructor at the Kohl's Kicking Camp in Wales, Wis.
On July 23, 2016, he, former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, and LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye lost control of their vehicle driving home from the camp and struck a tree.
Foltz and Sadler were killed in the crash, while Delahoussaye survived with minor injuries.
The tragedy sent a ripple effect across college football, but it hit as hard with one player – Gaglianone – as anywhere outside of Nebraska.
The specialist community is about as close-knit as it gets in the game of football, and Foltz and Gaglianone had crossed paths many times during their paths to the Big Ten. The two quickly became close friends, and they always looked forward to reuniting on the field during the season and back up in Wales for the Kohl’s Camp.
After Foltz passed, Gaglianone knew he had to do something to honor his friend. After wearing No. 10 during his first two seasons at Wisconsin, the native of São Paulo, Brazil, permanently changed his number to 27 in remembrance of Foltz.
“Wearing 27 is just a good reminder that you got to be thankful for everything,” Gaglianone told Wisconsin reporters. “All the things that you do - to see the big picture. Yeah, sometimes you don’t have a great day in practice, but we’re still blessed to see another day. You’re still blessed talking to your parents at night. The little things.
“(Foltz) was such a great guy; I was so fortunate enough to get to know him. I just wanted to kind of spread the word and just give a reminder to be a better person off the field.”
Gaglianone drove to attend Foltz’s funeral in his hometown of Grand Island, Neb., where he was struck by just how many people his friend had impacted in just his 22 years of life. Nearly 2,000 showed up at Blessed Sacrament Church to pay their respects.
“It’s funny because he was a guy that was going to go to the (NFL) and was going to go pro, but that’s the last way people describe him," Gaglianone said. “That’s kind of where I want myself to be at too. It doesn’t matter what I do on the field. I just want to be that right dude off the field that people like.”
The legend of Andy Janovich was born
This game was scripted to near perfection for one of the ultimate Nebraska football stories.
With the Huskers trailing by six with less than four minutes to play, they turned back the clock and went to one of NU hallmarks of old with a fullback trap to a former walk-on from Gretna, Neb.
Andy Janovich took the handoff up the middle and instantly broke free from the Wisconsin defense and sprinted 55 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Nebraska took a 21-20 lead, and the Memorial Stadium DJ blasted the 1996 rap hit, “Let Me Clear My Throat” by DJ Kool to get all 89,886 in attendance jumping in the bleachers.
It was all set up to be a storybook ending, but then things once again completely fell apart.
Even after a 39-yard field goal attempt by Gaglianone bounced off the right upright with 1:26 remaining, the Huskers still couldn’t close out the win. Three runs failed to pick up the pivotal first down, and three UW timeouts got the Badgers the ball back with 1:03 on the clock.
A 23-yard pass set up Gaglianone for another shot to win it, and this time he drilled a 49-yarder with just four seconds remaining.
However, even though the game ended in a painful loss, that moment of joy and celebration after Janovich’s touchdown remains one of the most memorable moments of the past decade.
Janovich cemented himself as a Husker fan favorite, and he went on to further that brand when he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, where he played a successful four seasons.
Now with the Cleveland Browns, Janovich has been just as revered by his NFL coaches and teammates as he was as a Husker.
“Jano - love Jano. Jano, to me, if we had 22 Janos, we would be alright,” Broncos’ special teams coordinator Brock Olivo said back in 2017. “He’s tough, he never says a word and never complains. He just does his job. He’s the first one in the meeting every day. He’s on it X’s and O’s wise. He knows what to do, he’s tough, and he finishes.
“I love the guy if you could tell. He’s going to be a four-phaser for us. He’s a really good football player.”
A season of heartbreaks
Riley’s first season at Nebraska couldn’t have gone much worse, and it wasn’t just finished 6-7 for its first losing season since 2007.
What made 2015 so painful was how so many of those losses came about, and the weekly heartbreak the Huskers and their fanbase had to endure all year.
The defeat to Wisconsin dropped NU to 2-4 on the year. Those first four losses came by a total of 11 points, and all four were sealed on the opponent's final offensive play of the game.
The constant groin kicks definitely took their emotional toll on Nebraska’s coaches and players.
Guys like senior defensive end Jack Gangwish tried to keep a positive message after the latest letdown.
“Moving forward this week, the message is going to be, it’s another week, it is a new life, we still have goals,” Gangwish said.
But the weight of the situation was the most glaring in Riley himself. While trying to explain how his team let another victory slip away during his post-game press conference, Riley almost ran out of answers mid-sentence.
“I’m sorry for those guys,” Riley said. “We want to help them more … than ever in our lives, it feels like.”