Jon Vedral runs for a first down on a fake field-goal in the second quarter as place-kicker Kris Brown watches.

Scott Bruhn/DN

How the North was won

Huskers down Buffs 17-12

By Trevor Parks Senior Reporter

After eight-consecutive breathers, the Nebraska football team put itself in a position to choke against Colorado on a gloomy afternoon Friday at Memorial Stadium. But with the Big 12 North Division title and a berth in the conference championship game on the line, the Cornhuskers overcame a 6-0 first-quarter deficit with a stingy defense to defeat Colorado 17-12. The Huskers used a touchdown on an interception return, a field goal and another score from their last available I-back to secure a 17-6 lead with 6:47 left in the first half. Then for the last 36-plus minutes of the game, the Blackshirts saved the day, allowing CU only two field goals and leading NU to its 36th-straight home victory before a season-high crowd of 75,695, which braved miserable weather conditions that included snow, sleet and rain. "It was a little tight," NU Coach Tom Osborne said. "It's kind of tough to play a good team and have that many turnovers and survive." By surviving the game, the elements and four lost fumbles, third-ranked Nebraska (10-1 overall and 8-0 in the Big 12) advanced to play Texas (7-4 and 6-2) in the first-ever Big 12 championship game, Saturday at 12:04 p.m. at the Trans World Dome in St. Louis. The Longhorns earned their spot in the championship game by slaughtering Texas A&M 51-15 on Friday in Austin, Texas. Colorado dropped to 9-2 and 7-1 and likely will play in the Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30 in San Diego. "It's a win, and we are happy about it," NU Defensive Backs Coach George Darlington said. "Most importantly, we're pleased about the poise of our team, because there were so many opportunities to crack." For the entire afternoon, Nebraska's poise kept it headed for a trip to the Gateway to the West. Leading 17-6, the Husker offense gift-wrapped several chances for the Buffaloes to take control of the game. Six times in the second half, CU entered Nebraska territory, coming away with only six points. Two of those possessions began on NU's side of the field -- the 39 and 24 -- following Husker fumbles. Jeremy Aldrich's third field goal of the game brought CU within eight points at 17-9 with 7:57 left in the third. Forty-six seconds later, Colorado linebacker Matt Russell recovered a DeAngelo Evans fumble at the NU 39-yard line. But the Blackshirts did not allow a yard, and the Buffs had to punt. Andy Mitchell's kick was downed at the NU 7, nearly leading to another Nebraska disaster. On second down and 8, Scott Frost's pitch fell to the ground, and Chris Dishman recovered the ball at the NU 4 amid a swarm of white Buffalo jerseys. With 12:49 remaining in the game, CU moved the ball 71 yards in seven plays and gained a first down at the NU 9-yard line when wide receiver Phil Savoy wrestled a Koy Detmer pass away from Nebraska cornerback Michael Booker. After three-straight incompletions by Detmer -- who threw for 226 yards but completed just 12 of 38 passes -- CU had to settle for a 27-yard Aldrich field goal with 8:46 to play, chopping the Husker lead to five points. Detmer's final two incompletions of that drive were broken up in the end zone by cornerback Ralph Brown. The true freshman broke up seven passes Friday, breaking Barron Miles' NU record of six set in 1994 against Kansas State. "We felt our backs were against the wall," NU linebacker Jay Foreman said. "There is a time in the game where you've got to come together like brothers and sisters out there and step up." The Nebraska family faced its biggest test with 7:59 left in the game. Frost was drilled by Hannibal Navies, forcing a fumble, which was recovered by Russell at the Nebraska 24. On a second-and-7 play, Detmer's pass was tipped by Booker, and Jamel Williams picked it off, returning the ball to the 19-yard line. After the Nebraska offense went three plays and out for the fifth time of half, CU had one final chance with 4:47 remaining. On third and 17, the Buffs picked up a first down on a Detmer 37-yard strike to Rae Carruth at the Nebraska 28-yard line. But the Nebraska defense stiffened, placing intense pressure on Detmer for the the next three plays. On fourth down, Williams flew untouched through the CU line, and Detmer flung the ball up for grabs before it fell to the turf, ending Colorado's final offensive possession. "As long as their defense didn't score on us, there was no way their offense was going to score a touchdown on us," said Husker rush end Grant Wistrom, who had a team-high 13 tackles, including two sacks. "We didn't have any fear, and we knew we weren't going to lose the ballgame." Finally with 2:53 remaining, the Nebraska offense awoke. At that point, the Huskers had only one second-half first down and 64 total yards. In the fourth quarter, NU had minus-1 yard of offense before picking up 35 on its final drive. Fullback Brian Schuster carried three times on the final drive -- all trap plays -- for 18 yards, picking up one first down as NU ran out the clock to seal the win. "The best thing we did offensively all day was the last drive, where we didn't give the ball back to them and we were able to hammer away," Osborne said. For the game, Nebraska out-gained CU 294 yards to 277 yards. "The defense came up with the stops that we needed," Frost said, "and it's a team game, so we are all out there playing for the same thing. The defense picked us up, and we picked them up in the end." In the beginning, Colorado marched the ball 52 yards in 10 plays on the opening series of the game, taking a 3-0 lead when Aldrich's first career field-goal attempt bounced off the crossbar and skipped through the uprights. It was the first time Nebraska had trailed since losing to Arizona State 19-0 on Sept. 21. Less than four minutes later, the Buffs capitalized on an Ahman Green fumble, which was recovered by Ryan Black at the NU 35. Aldrich then drilled a 40-yarder moments later to give a CU a 6-0 lead. The next time Colorado's offense took the field, Detmer's first down pass was tipped by defensive tackle Jeff Ogard near the line of scrimmage at the CU 16. Foreman picked the ball out of the air and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown, putting NU in front 7-6 despite the ineptitude of its offense, which had yet to gain a first down. "We always like to make something happen," Foreman said, "and it was my turn to make the big play." The Huskers extended their lead to 10-6 on a 30-yard field goal by Kris Brown with 12:46 left in the second quarter. Then Evans, who became NU's offensive workhorse because of a toe injury to Green and Damon Benning's ankle sprain, took over. No. 4 I-back Jay Sims (sore ankle) was also unavailable Friday, leaving NU with no depth behind Evans, who missed a day of practice last week because of a groin injury. Schuster, a fullback, was next in line to play at I-back, said Frank Solich, NU's running backs coach. But Evans, a true freshman from Wichita, Kan., held up. He rushed for 59 of his game-high 123 yards on a seven play, 78-yard second-quarter drive that he capped with a 7-yard spinning touchdown. The lone offensive touchdown of the game widened NU's lead to 17-6 with 6:47 left in the half. That was one of few bright spots for Nebraska's offense, which lost four of five fumbles -- three of which were inside its own 39-yard line -- and gained only 13 first downs. NU also hurt itself by committing 11 penalties for 70 yards. "Our defense did a great job of holding us in there," Osborne said. "We didn't have a great offensive day." Playing without suspended linebacker Terrell Farley, Nebraska threw a defensive loop at the Buffs. Mike Minter, who started the first 10 games of the season at rover, moved to the Will linebacker position. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Minter harassed Detmer all day, recording four tackles and breaking up one pass. Frost, who competed 6 of 14 passes for 56 yards and rushed for 32 yards, said the offense played well enough to win. "We were in that mode again where we were hurting ourselves," Frost said. "The turnovers kill you, and that let them back in the game. "We feel like we are playing good enough football to beat anyone in the country right now, and we are going to have a chance to prove that."
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