Ask Jeremiah Sirles what the celebration was like in the locker room. He’d love to tell you. He really would.
“I was having a panic attack actually, so no, I can’t,” the Husker senior offensive tackle said. “I was in the locker room with my head in a bag.”
You must understand: The big man is claustrophobic. And if you're claustrophobic, being the guy at the bottom of Nebraska’s celebratory dog pile was not a good place to be.
“I was one of the first ones down there,” Sirles said. “So I was covering up, and it just kept getting heavier and heavier, then my helmet popped off.”
Oh, it was terrible under there. And it was so great.
“It was worth it.”
And Sirles had not overstated it when he said later: “That’ll be remembered in this place forever.”
Nebraska defeated Northwestern 27-24 on Saturday afternoon when a final prayer was answered, a 49-yard touchdown pass from Ron Kellogg, apparently tipped near the goal line by a Wildcat defender before falling into the arms of Jordan Westerkamp in the end zone.
The explosion within the stadium occurred before the official could even put his hands to the air.
“It was a roar that ...” Husker coach Bo Pelini said, searching for the words to describe the jolt of noise. “It kind of reminds me of the Colorado game (in 2008). It was very similar.”
Kellogg had his own description.
“It sounded like thunder.”
As the thunder echoed, the quarterback provided an image that long will be replayed in these parts. The walk-on who provided the walk-off took off his helmet and ran like a crazy man in the other direction.
“Insane,” Kellogg said. “People are asking me if I know what I did, and I still don’t know."
As his players rushed the field, Pelini stood there with a look of astonishment.
“I saw Westy kind of flash and then I saw the crowd react, and when I looked down and the referee put his arms up, I was a little bit in disbelief. Pretty cool.”
Up in the press box, offensive coordinator Tim Beck was in tears.
“I just broke down, man. I just broke down,” Beck said. “I’m happy for them. It just wears on you, it just wears on you. Everything wears on you here. It’s tough. All you can do is the best you can do.”
On the field, defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski found John Papuchis. “You've got to be kidding me, man,” he told the Husker defensive coordinator.
Kaczenski just started laughing. Papuchis, it seems, had called the touchdown just before it happened.
The two started staring at the HuskerVision screen. “I wanted to make sure we were in,” Kaczenski said.
Kaczenski wanted confirmation. He got it — from Bo’s son Patrick Pelini.
“It’s a touchdown, Coach,” Patrick said.
It was the first touchdown of Westerkamp’s career, a football he’ll probably still have when he's an old man.
“I kept it. I held on to it,” the redshirt freshman said. “It will probably go home.”
It will be referred to by most as a Hail Mary. The Huskers call the play Geronimo.
Kellogg, who had been ineffective in two prior series, came in with 1:14 left, the ball at the Nebraska 17-yard line.
Northwestern had just grabbed a 24-21 lead after an interception thrown by redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong, who flashed potential in the option game but was spotty throwing the ball, completing 15 of 29 passes for 173 yards with three interceptions.
It was Nebraska’s defense, after giving up 21 points in the game’s first 19 minutes, that won the day. It stopped Northwestern on 11 straight possessions and held the Wildcats to a field goal on that last drive, which started just 7 yards from the NU end zone.
If not for a 25-yard interception return by defensive end Avery Moss, the Huskers would have been scoreless in the second half before the final drive.
“We went back and did the basic things we know how to do,” defensive back Ciante Evans said.
The Husker offense, meanwhile, couldn’t finish drives, with critical holding and chop-block penalties early in the fourth quarter stalling two possessions in Northwestern territory.
Armstrong’s late interception, thrown right into the arms of Northwestern’s Scott Tyler with 2:25 left, proved most costly.
“That told me there, he’s not seeing the field real well,” Beck said. “But he was running well. He was running our offense well, and we had some drives where he was on the money. ... But when we got into a drop-back game, Ronnie’s better at the drop-back game. ... He’s just done it longer than Tommy.”
Two key plays came just before Kellogg’s game-winning throw.
Ameer Abdullah, who rushed for 127 yards, saved the day on a fourth-and-15 play. He caught the ball several yards short of the sticks, but willed his way, with a lunge, for 16 yards.
“We had two guys with him 4 yards short and their guy fought harder to get the first down,” said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Then, just one play before the final play, Quincy Enunwa dropped a pass at about the Northwestern 35. Had he caught it, the Huskers likely would have attempted a long field goal to tie the game.
“I’ve never been happier to drop a ball," Enunwa said.
The final throw sailed 55 yards, off Wildcat hands and into the Husker vault of memories.
Michigan is next, then Michigan State.
But that talk can wait a day. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy the moment, take it in, realize you’ll tell your grandkids about this scene.
After he emerged from the bottom of the dog pile, Sirles walked off the field with tears in his eyes.
He might as well have spoken for a state when he said: “I have nothing left in the tank. I’m exhausted right now.”