BLACKSBURG, Va. - Zac Lee stood at the 18-yard line with his hands on his hips, staring blankly at the scoreboard while hoards of maroon-clad fans ran by him.
After watching what had just happened right before his eyes, Lee, like every other Nebraska player, coach and fan, was speechless. In the span of roughly two minutes, Lee and the rest of the Huskers saw what should have been a benchmark victory crumble into a devastating 16-15 loss to No. 13 Virginia Tech Saturday at Lane Stadium.
Lee had no words for what happened then, and he didn't even attempt to try and explain it to reporters after the game. Considering he was dealing with emotions gut-wrenching enough to make him sick, no one could blame him.
Despite having the ball at Virginia Tech's 23-yard line or closer on six different drives, Nebraska managed just five field goals from kicker Alex Henery. In fact, NU had the ball inside the 10 on three of those drives, including one that went all the way to the Hokies' 2-yard line.
With no touchdowns to show for their effort, Tech's Tyrod Taylor was able to make a huge play with 1 minutes, 11 seconds left in the game when he hit Danny Coale on an 81-yard pass down the sideline to NU's 3.
Three plays later, Taylor found Dyrell Roberts in the back of the end zone for the eventual game-winning touchdown.
Head coach Bo Pelini did his best to sum up how the Huskers dominated the higher-ranked Hokies for nearly all four quarters but still walked away empty handed.
"It was a hard fought game," Pelini said. "In the end, we had plenty of opportunities to put that football game away and we didn't do it. They made the play at the end. I take my hat off to them. End of story. You all watched the game."
On the stat sheet, it was a blowout victory for Nebraska. The Huskers ran all over the usually stingy Hokie defense to the tune of 207 yards, including a career-high 169 yards on 28 carries.
Lee didn't have his best day by any means, but managed the game well enough to lead the Huskers into potential scoring opportunities. It was just a matter of not finishing when it counted.
Unfortunately for Nebraska, the numbers on the scoreboard were all that mattered in the end.
"We lost the game," senior wide receiver Menelik Holt said of the offense. "They gave us plenty of chances to put it in the end zone. We got it all the way down into the red zone, and we didn't put it in. It's our fault, and that's something that we certainly going to carry on our shoulders indefinitely."
The toughest drive to swallow came at the end of the third quarter, when the Huskers marched all the way down to the Virginia Tech 6-yard line and appeared to go up 19-10 when Lee found tight end Mike McNeill over the middle for a touchdown pass.
However, the play was negated by a holding penalty, pushing NU back into a second-and-16 situation. The next play, a false start penalty made it second-and-21.
Holt then dropped a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone, and another holding penalty on the following play pushed the Huskers back into second-and-goal from the 31-yard line.
It wasn't over then, either, as another false start made it third-and-36 and pushed Nebraska out of Henery's field goal range. The Huskers ended up punting on the drive.
"It's tough," McNeill said. "Obviously it sucks. I thought Meno had one after that. Just the fact that we didn't score on that drive and just the fact that we fought so hard and lost, it's tough. It just sucks."
With the loss, Nebraska has now dropped 17 straight games to top-20 teams on the road, moving them one game ahead of Duke for the longest active streak in the nation.
It was a game that the Huskers might not ever forget, but also one they have to try and erase from their memories as quickly as possible.
Lee may not have been able to find words to describe what happened Saturday night, but senior linebacker Phillip Dillard probably summed it up about as good as anyone could have.
"There's only two ways you can go - you can either go up or you can go down," Dillard said. "This team's going to choose to go up, and we're going to keep fighting and we're going to keep proving ourselves, because it's not over.
"It's a long season. I believe in my teammates, and everyone else should. Regardless of whether we won or lost, you saw the fight in us. That's something you didn't see in us for a long time."
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