Do you think that Matt O'Hanlon felt bad about the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after his third (and game-clinching) interception?
He hurled the ball as far as he could, along with a season's worth of frustrations, not caring any more about the extra penalty yards (in a evening littered with yellow laundry) as he did about the hateful words directed at him from a legion of Internet critics.
For one night, the local boy made good.
The cacophony of criticism reached its zenith following the Virginia Tech game in which he missed his assignment and had to get on his horse to make a tackle that only delayed the inevitable. Lost in the aftermath was the fact that O'Hanlon tried to atone for his error and sacked Tyrod Taylor on the very next play. In the end, it didn't matter.
What followed was perhaps one of the poorest displays by Husker fans since the inception of the Internet. Vindictive (and sometimes personal) attacks popped-up from every corner of cyberspace. Not just for his gaffe against the Hokies, but for all the mistakes he had ever made in his career. Post after post appeared on countless message boards, calling out the safety because he was "slow", because he "sucked", even because he was "white".
It's unfortunate because Matt O'Hanlon is exactly what countless young Nebraska boys aspire to be while playing catch among the falling leaves on every Saturday in autumn. You see, O'Hanlon is a former walk-on in the Nebraska football program, the only starter on the Huskers' defense to come from such humble beginnings.
O'Hanlon, a homegrown Husker, has wanted to play for Nebraska since he was six years old. In high school, he was a team captain for Bellevue East. During his time with the Chieftains, he helped his team reach the state playoffs twice and played quarterback, running back, corner back, free safety and special teams. Even though he earned several accolades for his athletic endeavors, he wasn't offered a scholarship from a Division I team. Instead, he was offered a scholarship from South Dakota's D-II program, but his heart wasn't in it; he wanted to be a Husker.
This is a player whose will to "keep going" is a vow to his childhood friend, Andrew Pawlak, who died of Wegener's disease. A player who has had twin knee surgeries, a player who carries a gold keychain with the date he made the team inscribed on its surface. Matt O'Hanlon is a true inspiration who went from being a security guard at a Target to swatting down a pass against Clemson to preserve the Huskers' 2009 Gator Bowl win.
This is not to say that his game against Oklahoma was perfect. A fourth-quarter defensive holding penalty against him could have been catastrophic. But it wasn't.
Also he wasn't the only defender to make this improbable win against the Sooners possible. With the offense struggling to break out of its continued lethargy, the task of keeping the Huskers in the game fell once more to the Blackshirts. Cody Green, making his second start at quarterback, was pulled in favor of Zac Lee, who benefited from a 22-yard interception return from Prince Amukamara to throw a one-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Hill. It would be Nebraska's only trip to the endzone. A fragile Roy Helu Jr. rushed for 138 yards, although the vast majority of that total came on three of his twenty carries and he had a costly fumble in the Sooners' redzone.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska front four disrupted things at the line of scrimmage, tipping passes and keeping the heat on OU signal-caller, Landry Jones. Jared Crick added to his school-record five sacks from last week against Baylor and Ndamukong Suh blocked yet another field goal. Linebacker Phillip Dillard added an interception and a sack of his own, the Tulsa native perhaps having something to prove against the preeminent program of his home state.
In the end though, it was Matt O'Hanlon's night. A night of redemption. With twelve tackles (a career best) and three interceptions (the last effectively ending the game), he silenced the peanut gallery for a least a week, hopefully forever. Those who might have thought that his unsportsmanlike conduct foul was just another boneheaded O'Hanlon play, it wasn't. It was a spontaneous release of years of frustration and determination. That and a cue for all the O'Hanlon haters to leave their keyboards and go back to their armchairs.