Down in a Blaze(r) of glory
By TOMMY HICKS
Register Sports Reporter
LINCOLN, Neb. -- As they walked toward the entranceway to the visitors' lockerroom off the steamy artificial surface of Tom Osborne Field in Memorial Stadium, UAB's tired, weary players were greeted by something surprising -- applause from the opposing fans.
Many Nebraska fans, dressed all in red as is the custom, stood and applauded the UAB team as it made its way off the field, the greeting another custom here but also an appreciation for the Blazers' efforts.
The final score read 38-7 in favor of the heavily favored home team, just another in a string of 44 straight home victories and 16 consecutive wins for the defending national champion. Yet, the game felt closer than the final outcome. In fact, it was closer than the final outcome.
UAB, entering its third season as a Division I-A member and a year away from full-fledged membership in Conference USA, played the Cornhuskers close for the better part of three periods Saturday before fatigue and Nebraska's superior talent, size and numbers pushed the game out of reach.
Using 17 fourth-quarter points, No. 4-ranked Nebraska claimed its second win of the season while dashing the Blazers' upset hopes before the 222nd consecutive sellout crowd here.
Still, close wasn't good enough for UAB head coach Watson Brown, even if the opponent was Nebraska, even if the game was a "moral" victory.
"That is not a victory, but that is a compliment to these kids," Brown said.
"It's real fine line (between victory and having some success against a highly ranked opponent). I don't want these guys to feel like that's a victory though, because it's not. I'm disappointed we lost, especially to be where we were and to have it end up 38-7.
"We made some mistakes and Nebraska capitalized on those mistakes. It wasn't a win and we have to realize that. We have the big part of our season coming up. We've got three straight home games (Tennessee Tech, Kansas and Southwestern Louisiana) and our season will be made the next few weeks."
UAB (0-1) came out strong, limiting Nebraska to just seven points in the first period and just 21 points at halftime. The third touchdown came on a fourth down-and-1 play that was good for an 11-yard scoring run by quarterback Eric Crouch with nine seconds remaining.
A 3-yard Joel Makovicka run and a 15-yard Crouch pass to Sheldon Jackson provided Nebraska two touchdowns, but UAB used a 2-yard run by Ortavious Miles with 3:45 left in the first half -- capping a 16-play, 80-yard drive that used up seven minutes and 35 seconds -- to trim the score to 14-7.
Deep into the third period UAB was still hanging around, advancing the ball to the Huskers' 11 yard line trailing 21-7. But two consecutive false start penalties and a pass interference penalty moved the Blazers back to the Nebraska 36. An illegal procedure penalty moved them back more and UAB ended up having to punt instead of cutting into the Huskers' lead.
Nebraska then took possession and marched 77 yards in 14 plays for a 27-yard field goal by Kris Brown that started the 17-point fourth period. The Huskers owned the game the rest of the way.
"We didn't come in here and back down," Brown said. "(The players) came in here and kept their poise. They didn't give the game away. They played (Nebraska) as hard as they could play and they stayed with them physically and didn't back away as I think a lot of teams do when they come in here. I give our guys a lot of credit for composure, toughness and effort.
"We just weren't good enough. We fought them, but they didn't make enough mistakes. Nebraska didn't give us anything. They kept their poise and we would move it a little bit and they finally wore us out. They know what they are doing and that's why they are a great team.
"I think that once you get somebody in the fourth quarter that is supposed to kill you, the heat is on them. That doesn't mean that Nebraska won't get it done, but it does put the pressure on them. I thought if we could get that one in (touchdown when UAB reached the 11) we had ourselves a dogfight. We lost our poise. It got loud and we didn't have it. ... That's where we were just about out of gas. We had some guys who were worn out and we had substituted all we could."
A 59-yard run by Crouch and a 63-yard pass from Monte Cristo to Tracey Wistrom ended UAB's chances. Brown said the 11-yard scoring run just before the end of the first half and the Blazers' missed opportunity at the Nebraska 11 were the game's two biggest plays.
In all, Nebraska piled up 444 yards, 236 on the ground, while UAB collected just 210 total yards but managed to eat up big chunks of time much of the game with its triple-option attack.
UAB will take a week off before entertaining Tennessee Tech at Legion Field on Sept. 19. Nebraska (2-0) travels to California next Saturday.
© 1998 Mobile Register. Used with permission.