No. 2 Nebraska, 28-21
No. 2 Nebraska, 28-21
By BLAIR KERKHOFF - Staff Writer
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Players trudged dejectedly off the field. Fans quietly headed for the exit ramps. Cheerleaders cried. Scenes that unfold at the end of many college football games.
Except the cheerleaders wore red. The fans had corncob hats. The team was mighty Nebraska.
In an outcome that changes the balance of power in the Big 12, No. 18 Texas A&M; defeated the second-ranked Cornhuskers 28-21. It happened the way Nebraska usually dominates opponents...like the Aggies in last year's league championship game.
Such triumphs -- the Cornhuskers beat A&M; by 39 last year -- seemed distant Saturday. Nebraska's option had no energy, its vaunted interior lines got pushed around and the playing-calling left the Cornhusker fans shaking their heads.
Until the end, that is. Nebraska rallied, closing a three-touchdown gap to seven points. The Cornhuskers then took over at their 20 with two minutes remaining and a head full of steam.
But a completion that got the Cornhuskers to their 45 was wiped out by a holding penalty. Then quarterback Bobby Newcombe was intercepted moments later to seal the outcome and touch off a wild celebration scene.
The Aggies had much to celebrate. By ending Nebraska's nation's best 19-game winning streak, A&M; also ended its 0-10 skid against top-10 teams. The Cornhuskers lost their first regular-season conference game since Iowa State upset Nebraska in 1992, a span of 40 games.
The Big 12 bully got knocked off. The door is open for contenders, and Saturday the Aggies, 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12, looked as strong as anybody. A&M; mixed a big-play offense with a defense that negated Nebraska's quickness.
"No doubt about it," A&M; coach R.C. Slocum said. "This is the biggest win of my career. We beat a team that has done what no one else in college football has done."
On the other side, Nebraska, 5-1 and 1-1, had to deal with some rare emotions. The Cornhuskers are now 65-4 since 1993.
"Our players are down, they're hurt," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "They're not accustomed to taking a loss, a lot of those players have been on teams where they haven't had to accept this very often. It's tough on them right now."
Texas A&M; was the aggressor from the start. An 81-yard touchdown pass from a scrambling Randy McCown to Chris Taylor stunned the Cornhuskers. A 71-yard run by bullish back Ja'Mar Toombs, who has emerged since the suspension of D'Andre Hardeman, set up Dante Hall's 1-yard yard to give the Aggies a lead they never relinquished.
The Aggies' confidence swelled with each big play.
"After the first one I knew we could win it," McCown said. "We knew we had to execute some big plays to make it happen and we did. That relaxed us."
Nebraska didn't record a first down until its sixth series. Three weeks ago, the Cornhuskers rushed for 434 yards against Washington. Their 141 rushing yards Saturday gives them a two-game total, counting last weekend's victory over Oklahoma State, of a measly 214.
"They had great speed on defense, which made it hard to run the option," Newcombe said.
Nebraska got a first down on its first series in the second half, but it was followed by three straight sacks. The third was by Ron Edwards, who stripped the ball loose. Linebacker Warrick Holdman recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown and 21-7 lead.
Nebraska's chances looked most dim late in the third quarter when a fourth-and-2 play from the A&M; 10 ended when wingback Shevin Wiggins was dropped for a 4-yard loss on a reverse on the strangest, or at least most un-Nebraska-like of calls. Just a lost gamble, Solich said.
Who knows what would have happened if the Cornhuskers had cashed in there? But Nebraska recovered and got fourth-quarter touchdown runs by Newcombe and Joel Makovicka to set up the final dramatics. The Aggies caught a big break when the Huskers Eric Johnson was called for pass interference on a McCown third-and-15 incompletion.
Instead of forcing an A&M; punt from the 17 with 3:13 to play, the Aggies got to punt 73 seconds later from the 38, and all-America kicker Shane Lechler boomed it in the end zone.
Nebraska's final gasp started from the 20 and didn't reach midfield. The winning streak, the No. 2 national ranking and Big 12 supremacy had come to an end.