LINCOLN, Neb.--One of the key ingredients for any successful quarterback is the ability to be cool under pressure. But on Saturday in Lincoln, Northwestern's Kain Colter completely redefined that notion of cool.
Colter was leading the Wildcats' down the field for what turned out to be the game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' stunning 28-25 upset of the No. 9 Huskers. Northwestern was in the red zone, clinging to a 21-18 lead, and facing the roar of the 317th consecutive sellout in the history of Memorial Stadium, 85,115 voices strong. With just a few minutes left, this series would determine the outcome of the game.
If all college football games are pressure cookers, the Wildcats were in the blast furnace of a steel plant.
After a timeout, the Wildcats were lined up for the next play when the PA system blasted some funky hip-hop song from the loudspeakers. Colter, who was in the shotgun and waiting for one of the biggest snaps of the game, started dancing to the music. He began to bob his head and move his feet from side to side. Then his hips, shoulders and elbows got into the act.
This was one cool Cat. If you have to pick a player to lead you to a win in a tension-filled moment, pick the guy who is dancing before the snap.
When the referee's whistle blew, Colter immediately got back into character, instantly transforming himself from dancer to quarterback. A few plays later, he ducked into a pile and broke the plane of the goal line for the touchdown that sealed the most improbable of victories for team in purple.
Co-defending Big Ten champion Ohio State had gone into Lincoln and built a 27-3 lead but still couldn't come out with a win. Neither could Michigan State, which went into Memorial Stadium with a No. 9 national ranking and a 6-1 record just last week.
Northwestern, though, at just 3-5 and in the midst of a painfully disappointing season, did hold on to become the first Big Ten school to beat the Huskers at home in a conference game. And Colter was the biggest reason why.
Colter made big play after big play after taking over as the starting quarterback after Dan Persa was sidelined in the second half after suffering a soft tissue injury to his left shoulder in the second quarter.
It was Colter who hit Jack Konopka over the middle on a trick play to give the Wildcats a touchdown on their first drive of the third quarter. And after that was called back because Konopka was ruled to be an ineligible receiver downfield -- a potentially devastating reversal of fortune -- it was Colter who fired a 23-yard bullet to Drake Dunsmore in traffic on the very next play to the Nebraska 3-yard line. Colter then scored the touchdown by laying out on an acrobatic dive to the pylon to push the Wildcats' lead to 14-3.
After Nebraska cut the lead to 14-10, it was Colter who delivered a perfect strike to a streaking Jeremy Ebert for an 81-yard touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 21-10 fourth-quarter lead and turning Memorial Stadium into the Lincoln Public Library.
And it was on that final touchdown drive where Colter drove the final nail through the Big Red's coffin.
After a Nebraska touchdown and two-point conversion cut NU's lead to 20-18, the Wildcats went on a 13-play, 66-yard drive that ate 7:20 off the game clock. The drive itself was surprising enough for a team that had been losing leads in the fourth quarter all season. But to top that, the Wildcats ran the ball on every one of those 13 snaps, pounding the ball right into the teeth of Nebraska's defense, and knocking those teeth out.
Colter carried the ball himself on seven of those 13 plays. With the game on the line, Northwestern didn't want anyone but No. 2 handling the rock. On third-and-1 from the Nebraska 18, they called a quarterback draw and Colter was stuffed for no gain. On fourth-and-1 they ran an option around right end, and Colter cut inside for four yards and the critical first down.
And after the Wildcats got down to the 1, they called Colter's number twice in a row so that he could get the deciding score.
In all, Colter accounted for 229 of Northwestern's 469 total yards and three of the Wildcats' four touchdowns. He wound up with a game-high 115 yards passing, a game-high 57 yards rushing and 57 more receiving.
After the Cats' had closed out their win, the Northwestern players and coaches went to the southwest corner of the end zone to sing Go U Northwestern to their fans. After they were done, head coach Pat Fitzgerald didn't go into the tunnel but stood around for an extra minute or so.
He was waiting for Colter, who was conducting an interview on the field. When Colter was finished he jogged to the tunnel, and when he saw Fitz he increased his speed, and the player and coach both leaped for one of those mid-air body slams.
They hugged briefly and Colter immediately made a dash to the locker room. It was time for him to do some more dancing.