Lincoln – Anthony Grant rushed for a career-high 189 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries to power Nebraska to a 38-17 win over North Dakota in Nebraska’s home opener at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Playing in front of the NCAA-record 383rd consecutive sellout in Lincoln with 85,590 red-clad fans in attendance, Grant starred on the ground, while fellow running back Ajay Allen added 58 yards on 11 carries including a game-sealing touchdown from 14 yards out with more than six minutes left in the fourth quarter to make it 31-17 Big Red.
The Cornhuskers, who held on North Dakota downs on the ensuing drive, rolled up 244 rushing yards for the game, while quarterback Casey Thompson completed 14-of-21 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns, including a five-yard scoring strike to tight end Chancellor Brewington on Nebraska’s final offensive play with 2:07 left to close out a 38-17 victory.
Trey Palmer led the Husker receivers with four receptions for 82 yards, including a highlight reel 35-yard catch early in the third quarter to convert a crucial third down to help set up Nebraska’s first touchdown of the final quarter.
Palmer’s catch helped ignite an 11-play, 89-yard drive that culminated with Allen’s 14-yard touchdown run. The game-sealing drive followed an explosive Big Red march to close out the third quarter that was capped by Grant’s 46-yard touchdown run to give Nebraska a 24-17 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Nebraska jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, getting a defensive stop to open the game before marching 87 yards in eight plays over just 2:19, capped by Grant’s 19-yard touchdown run with 6:46 left in the first quarter.
The defenses controlled the rest of half until North Dakota’s final drive, a methodical 16-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 6:51 and resulted in a one-yard Tommy Schuster to Adam Zavalney touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining before halftime.
North Dakota out-gained Nebraska 173-147 in total yards in the first half by running 16 more plays than the Huskers. Schuster completed 16-of-22 first-half passes for 88 yards, while the Fighting Hawks added 85 yards on 18 carries, including 38 yards on five carries by Bo Belquist.
Casey Thompson completed 7-of-9 passes for 84 yards in the half for the Huskers, including two completions each to Marcus Washington (31 yards) and Palmer (16 yards). Grant led the Big Red ground game with eight carries for 50 yards, as the Huskers managed 63 yards on 15 carries in the half.
Prior to North Dakota’s first-half scoring drive, Nebraska misfired on a 37-yard field goal attempt that could have given the Big Red a 10-point lead. Ernest Hausmann and Luke Reimer both led the Huskers with six first-half tackles, while Isaac Gifford pitched in five stops.
Nebraska took the momentum instantly in the third quarter with a five-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with Thompson’s 19-yard touchdown strike to tight end Nate Boerkircher. It was Boerkircher’s first career touchdown catch and it gave the Big Red a 14-7 lead just 1:48 into the second half.
The Blackshirts then made a big play when Garrett Nelson forced a fumble by Schuster on the ensuing drive. The offense turned the North Dakota miscue into points five plays later with Timmy Bleekrode’s 46-yard field goal to put Nebraska on top 17-7 with 8:36 left in the third quarter.
However, Nebraska’s two-score lead was short-lived, as Isaiah Smith ripped off a 63-yard run on North Dakota’s ensuing drive. Marques Buford Jr. made a touchdown-saving tackle at the NU 6, and added a touchdown-saving breakup in the middle of the end zone three plays later, but the Fighting Hawks still cut Nebraska’s lead to 17-10 on a Brady Stevens 23-yard field goal with 5:52 left in the third.
On Nebraska’s next drive, UND linebacker Wyatt Pedigo changed the complexion of the game with his first career interception, which set the Fighting Hawks up at the NU 8. Two plays later, Tyler Hoosman burst into the end zone with the game-tying touchdown. A Stevens extra-point made it 17-17 with 4:22, before Grant, Thompson, Palmer and Allen took over to help the Huskers close the game with 21 straight points.
While Grant finished with 139 rushing yards in the second half alone, Smith led North Dakota with 104 yards on 10 carries for the game. Hoosman added 41 yards on 10 carries of his own, as the Fighting Hawks put up 175 rushing yards as a team for the game. UND finished with 306 total yards, including Schuster’s 131 yards on 24-of-37 passing.
Nelson and Isaac Gifford led the Husker defense with eight tackles apiece, while each notched a tackle for loss. Nelson added a sack and a breakup to go with his forced fumble. Luke Reimer pitched in seven tackles, while Myles Farmer and Ernest Hausmann contributed six tackles each.
Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln next Saturday to take on Georgia Southern. The game is set to kick off at 6:30 p.m. with live television coverage provided by FS1.