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The players and coaches didn't mind it, nor did the crowd. In fact, the fans embraced it.

A three-and-out on the first series of the game.

So Nebraska trotted out 10 players for the game's first punt Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The spot on the field normally held by Sam the Punter was empty.

This was supposed to be Sam Foltz's time to boom a punt high into the sky. This was supposed to be his senior season with the Huskers. But Foltz was killed in a car accident in July, leaving his teammates, coaches and fans stunned.

Saluting their fallen teammate, the Huskers took a delay-of-game on fourth-and-3. The Husker players and coaches on the sideline took a knee. Huskers on the field pointed toward the sky. Fresno State players clapped. The crowd erupted. The student section unveiled banners reading "Dream big," "Work hard," and "Stay humble" — phrases that Foltz lived by.

In a classy gesture, Fresno State declined the penalty.

Saturday's game had the typical first-game emotions for players and fans alike: Excitement, optimism and energy. But there was a somber feel, too.

Foltz's family was on the sideline before the game. Players and NU staff members came up to offer long hugs and well-wishes. Nebraska honored Drew Brown with the first Sam Foltz scholarship. As the crowd roared, Brown, one of Foltz's best friends, hugged Sam's parents, Gerald and Jill Foltz.

"It's just quite an honor to be able to award Drew with an honor that exemplifies what Sam was on and off the field," a teary-eyed Jill Foltz said.

Sam Foltz may be gone, but his presence was felt in a big way.

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Brown and fellow kicker Spencer Lindsay ran onto the field for pregame warm-ups holding a red No. 27 jersey. They draped it over the NU bench, where it will stay during home games.

Brown also led the Huskers out for the Tunnel Walk with Foltz's nephews, Max and Lane. The Foltz family was near the tunnel entrance to witness it.

When Sam Hahn, one of the Foltz honorary captains, introduced himself on HuskerVision, Hahn claimed to be from "Smalltown USA, DeWitt," a nod to his best friend.

Nebraska players also are wearing SF decals on their helmets this season.

"We have received tons of attention since the accident from across the nation," Jill Foltz said. "It's been overwhelming to receive the cards, the prayers, the gifts."

Going deep

* Any TV viewers see Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone on Saturday? Gaglianone, honoring Foltz by wearing No. 27 this year, kicked the game-winning field goal against No. 5 LSU. He pointed to his jersey after making the kick.

* How about a game ball to the student section? It came to play Saturday, packing the southeast corner of the stadium. When pouring rain began 90 minutes before kickoff, the students already in the stadium where jumping up and down to "Thunderstruck."

* Dwyane Wade and wife Gabrielle Union, an Omaha native, were on the sideline before the game. Wade was sporting a No. 3 Nebraska basketball jersey and taking photos. Nebraska men's basketball coach Tim Miles got one snapped with the former Miami Heat star.

* What a beautiful night for football.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsCG.

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