EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — The way Taylor Martinez sees it, there isn't a team that can beat Nebraska if the Cornhuskers play the way they did down the stretch in this one.
Northwestern certainly couldn't.
Martinez threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns and Nebraska rallied to beat the Wildcats 29-28 on Saturday.
"We're the one that's stopping ourselves," Martinez said. "If we don't stop ourselves, no one in the country can beat us."
The Cornhuskers (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) rallied from 12 down to match the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in school history, taking a one-point lead when Martinez hit Ben Cotton with a 7-yard pass with just over 2 minutes left, and hung on when a 53-yard field goal attempt by Northwestern's Jeff Budzien barely missed wide right with 1:10 remaining. That kept Nebraska in the thick of the Legends division race after being blown out at Ohio State two weeks earlier.
The Cornhuskers can thank Martinez for that. He led them to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and completed all five passes on that last scoring drive, going 27 of 39 overall to help Nebraska rack up 543 yards of total offense.
"He really showed he's a leader, said Quincy Enunwa, who had 110 yards receiving. "He came out and made sure all of our heads were in the game."
Kenny Bell caught six passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Ameer Abdullah ran for 101 yards on a day when Rex Burkhead again hurt his troublesome left knee after a short run early on. It's a problem that surfaced in the season opener and forced him to miss the next two games. He also tweaked it against Ohio State.
Venric Mark led Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) with 118 yards rushing, including an 80-yard touchdown that made it an 11-point game early in the third. He also got shaken up after a short run in the fourth and spent the rest of the game on the sideline.
Trevor Siemian threw for two touchdowns but was just 15 of 35 for 116 yards. The Wildcats had three fumble recoveries but only seven points off them on the way to their second loss in three games.
"We didn't get first downs," said Kain Colter, who threw two passes, had three catches and ran for 35 yards. "The way we played today, it wasn't up to our standards."
They were also playing in a somewhat hostile environment even though they were at home, with Nebraska fans packing Ryan Field. They were so loud that Northwestern had to go to a silent count, but even so, things were looking good for the Wildcats until the closing minutes.
Quiet in the first half after rushing for 182 yards against Minnesota the previous week, Mark broke through a massive hole in the middle early in the third quarter on that 80-yard run, making it 21-10.
Martinez made it a five-point game when he ran it in from the 3 with just over a minute left in the third, the two-point conversion run failing. But Northwestern's Mike Trumpy made it 28-16 early in the fourth following a gutsy decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches at the 5. Colter bounced off the pack and spun for a 2-yard gain to keep the drive going, and Trumpy ran it in on the next play.
Nebraska quickly responded with an 80-yard scoring drive, Martinez's 8-yard pass to Taariq Allen capping the drive and drawing loud cheers from the large contingent of Cornhuskers fans. They were really roaring after Cotton caught the go-ahead TD pass, and so was he, for that matter. He stood in the back of the end zone and let one out as teammates mobbed him.
Northwestern still had one final shot, and Budzien nearly pulled it out for the Wildcats.
"I had all the confidence in Jeff, especially because there wasn't any wind," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Being at the 35, it was toward the top of his range, but I felt confident in his ability. It just went a little wide right, but he had plenty of leg."
As it sailed through the air, Nebraska linebacker Will Compton said he was "just in there staring." When it missed, there was a big sense of relief.
Only two other times had Nebraska rallied from 12 down — at Missouri in 2009 and at Colorado in 1966 — and the Cornhuskers sure were feeling good after this one, particularly given the way their previous game went. They had an off week to let that 63-38 loss at Ohio State stew, and they insisted they were still together and ready to move on. Coach Bo Pelini threw down the gauntlet by challenging them to win their remaining games, and they were feeling better after this one, even if they barely pulled it out.