Lightbourn had tough job on opening punt
LINCOLN — Nebraska lined up with 10 men and no punter to honor Sam Foltz on its first punt of the game Saturday. The whole team took a knee on the Husker sideline. There were misty eyes and tears throughout the stadium.
And then a player who planned on kicking some punts in practice and observing Foltz during his first season in the program had to trot out and punt the ball.
Freshman punter Caleb Lightbourn said he almost cried before that first punt.
“I was just glad to get the ball off and get my college career rolling, and just doing it for Sam,” Lightbourn said after the game, a Sam Foltz 27 hat on his head. “The whole game was for Sam, and this whole season is going to be for Sam.”
Lightbourn is from Washougal, Washington, and was ranked the No. 7 high school punter in the nation by 247 Sports.
Foltz died in July in a car accident. He always told Lightbourn to just do his best, and don’t change what you’re doing.
Lightbourn has been meeting with the athletic department’s sports psychologist to help with the grieving process, and for advice on how to stay calm.
He earned the starting job in a competition with walk-on Isaac Armstrong, who was selected from a tryout last fall.
Lightbourn averaged 36.2 yards on four attempts Saturday, with a long of 43. His first punt was his worst, going just 29 yards. His second was blocked, but he got better as the game went on.
“The first punt, obviously, wasn’t very good,” Lightbourn said. “I didn’t really think of it that way. I just tried to get it out as fast as I could and I didn’t really worry about it too much, because I knew regardless of how the punt was going to come out I was still going to have people backing me.”
Targeting talk: For the third straight game, the Huskers had a player ejected from a game for targeting. This time it was sophomore linebacker Luke Gifford, who drew a flag for a hit on Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil on a third-and-13 play.
“Luke’s went to the head, that was their (the referees’) explanation,” Mike Riley said.
NU sophomore defensive back Aaron Williams also had a hit late in the game that was reviewed for targeting. He was not ejected, which was important since he would have had to sit out the first half of next week’s game had he been.
Asked about the targeting rule as a whole, Riley said, “I think we all understand the emphasis. I think probably it’s up to us to figure out what they’re going to call and help our kids. And then it’s up to the kids to avoid that. If indeed Luke went to the head, that’s our fault, that’s our deal.”
Darlington runs for two: Nebraska switched up its special teams, spreading the players out on the line on PATs, and it worked for a two-point conversion run by Zack Darlington in the fourth quarter.
Darlington, the Huskers’ holder, kept the ball and ran for the conversion.
He got an unsportsmanlike penalty when he spun the ball on the turf after the score. It was his first time in the end zone since high school, when his senior season was cut short after one game because of concussions.
Darlington spent his first two seasons at NU as a reserve quarterback, before switching to receiver during this spring.
NU special teams coach Bruce Read said the Huskers had put that play, and a few others, in for Foltz during spring football.
“It was developed for (Foltz) because he’s such a good athlete,” Read said. “He’s so fast and he could run and throw and do everything. We just kept it going when Zack took over as the holder. He allowed us to do that. We were looking at a couple of guys who maybe wouldn’t have panned out. He’s an ex-quarterback and a pretty good athlete. He’s been good back there. It’s been a pretty seamless transition with the holding.”
Husker debuts: Huskers making their first career starts included offensive tackle David Knevel, offensive guards Sam Hahn and Tanner Farmer, defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg, safety Kieron Williams and Lightbourn.
True freshmen making their Husker debuts included Lightbourn, defensive backs Lamar Jackson and JoJo Domann and running back Tre Bryant.
This and that: Nebraska won its 18th consecutive night home game at Memorial Stadium and improved to 44-5 all-time in home night games. ... Senior defensive end Ross Dzuris had a career-high two sacks. Dzuris had 2 1/2 sacks last year. ... Nebraska’s 80-yard scoring drive in the first quarter was the Huskers’ longest in terms of yards since a 91-yard, game-winning drive against Michigan State last season. The drive consumed 6:25. Last season, Nebraska had just three scoring drives of 6:25 or longer and just five scoring drives that took at least 6:00. ... NU did not commit a turnover, the first time the Huskers did not turn the ball over since a win at Minnesota last season.