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Wednesday, January 1, 1997

Nebraska Offense Rules 41-21


So much for the expected defensive battle in the 63rd annual FedEx Orange Bowl.

Offense ruled Tuesday night as sixthranked Nebraska used scoring drives of 71, 45, 74, 61, 76 and 55 yards to eventually pull away from No. 9 and 10 Virginia Tech 41-21.

The smallest Orange Bowl crowd in 50 years-51,212-watched from Pro Player Stadium. The following of Nebraskans also might have been the lowest in decades, with a reporter-estimated 3,000 to 3,500 dressed in red.

"I was scared to death when I came in here tonight," NU Coach Tom Osborne said. "People didn't just abandon us, but it was almost like everybody had jumped off the ship. I looked up in the stands and saw hardly anybody I recognized.

"I want to thank our coaching staff and players for really committing themselves in tough circumstances. At times, this almost felt like a non-game in terms of intensity and interest."

But Nebraska (11-2) found the energy to quiet 25,000 Virginia Tech fans and secure a fourth straight season with at least 11 victories, in part because of big performances from senior I-back Damon Benning and junior quarterback Scott Frost.

Benning, bothered by injuries throughout his career, took advantage of his status as one of NU's two healthy I-backs. He scored on third-quarter touchdown runs of 33 and 6 yards and finished with 95 yards rushing while earning most valuable player honors.

"It felt good being a co-captain and a senior to put the team in position to win," Benning said.

Frost also played well enough to be named MVP, Osborne said.

"That was by far his best game of the season," the coach said. "I thought Scott played great football."

Frost completed 11 of 22 passes for 136 yards. He also ran nine times for 62 yards, and scored Nebraska's final touchdown on a 23-yard scamper. And he led a turnover-free performance from the offense.

Frost, a frequent target of criticism this season, said his showing provided some vindication.

"There are still a couple of guys in that press conference that I'd like to take outside," he said. "But this feels good.

"We watched every game that Virginia Tech played on tape so many times that we almost knew every play. That paid off."

The work of Benning and Frost countered big showings from Virginia Tech quarterback Jim Druckenmiller and tailback Ken Oxendine.

Druckenmiller fired touchdown passes of 19, 6 and 33 yards and led an offense that gained 407 yards to Nebraska's 415. Oxendine ran for 150 yards and caught passes for 60 yards.

"Defensively, we gave up some plays," Osborne said. "But we made some plays when we had to."

One of the biggest came from defensive tackle Jason Peter in the second quarter.

Peter, after NU rush end Mike Rucker knocked the ball loose from Druckenmiller, scooped it up and romped 31 yards for a touchdown and a 17-7 Husker lead. Peter also had a sack that ended another drive for Virginia Tech (10-2).

In the third quarter, Nebraska increased its 17-14 halftime lead with a touchdown on its first possession.

Frost ran for 10 yards and passed for 10 to split end Jeff Lake before Benning took charge.

On fourth-and-one from the Tech 36, he slammed up the middle for 3 yards. Then on the next play, Benning took a delayed handoff and sprinted up the middle for a 33-yard touchdown and a 24-14 Husker lead with 9:54 to go in the third quarter.

"I'm really proud of the way Damon played," Osborne said. "He made a lot of plays that were really significant in the game."

But Virginia Tech didn't let Nebraska out of sight. The Hokies drove 80 yards in 12 plays to score.

Druckenmiller completed third-down passes of 10 and 19 yards to keep the march alive. Then on third-and-10 from the NU 33, Druckenmiller hit split end Cornelius White with a touchdown bomb over Husker cornerback Ralph Brown to cut the gap to 24-21 with 4:58 to go in the quarter.

But Nebraska kept the yardage meter moving on its next drive.

Benning's 23-yard kickoff return got NU started at its 39. After two first downs, Benning tried a halfback option pass to the end zone that drew an interference penalty from Tech. Two plays later, Benning scored from the 6 to put Nebraska ahead 31-21 with 20 seconds left in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Nebraska chewed up 76 yards in 13 plays to set up Kris Brown's 37-yard field goal for a 3421 lead with 7:52 left.

Another 55-yard drive ended with Frost's 22-yard touchdown romp with 3:24 to play.

"Offensively, we were very consistent," Osborne said. "I was really surprised that we moved the ball as well as we did because I thought Virgina Tech's defense was outstanding."

The Hokies entered the game allowing averages of 15.3 points and 316.1 yards a game.

In the first quarter, Virginia Tech took a 7-0 lead on its second possession.

From the NU 19, Druckenmiller faked a screen pass to the right before lobbing one left to fullback Marcus Parker. Husker linebacker Ryan Terwilliger pulled a hamstring trying to make the tackle, which helped Parker sneak down the sideline and into the end zone.

"I was just a couple of steps away from him," Terwilliger said. "I was moving in on him, and, 'Pop!' There it went."

Nebraska responded with a 71-yard drive, but had to settle for Brown's 25yard field goal.

Peter's 9-yard sack stopped Virginia Tech's next possession. Mike Fullman's 26-yard punt return set the Huskers up at the Tech 45.

In three plays, NU took the lead. Iback Ahman Green's first carry of the game went for 17 yards. Frost hit split end Kenny Cheatham with a 23-yard pass. Then Frost ran the option left and scored from the 5 for a 10-7 lead with 9:14 to go in the second quarter.

"Scott did a great job of running the option," Osborne said. "People don't realize how hard it is to run the option with precision and pass well and audible. We ask more of our quarterbacks than most people."

Virginia Tech surged to the Nebraska 39-yard line. Then the Blackshirts pushed back.

Weakside linebacker Octavious McFarlin nailed Druckenmiller for an 11-yard sack. Tech Coach Frank Beamer vigorously protested that his quarterback had thrown the ball away before the whistle. Then a 17-yard holding penalty created a third-and-37 at the Tech 33.

Druckenmiller tried an option pitchout, but Rucker's deflection led to Peter's fumble-return touchdown and a 177 lead with 3:36 to go in the half.

But Virginia Tech didn't crack. Druckenmiller's 20-yard pass to tight end Bryan Jennings and Oxendine's 39-yard gallop moved Tech to the Husker 21.

Five plays later, Druckenmiller lobbed a pass into the end zone for flanker Shawn Scales. NU's McFarlin appeared in position to intercept it, but Scales plucked it from McFarlin's hands to complete a 6-yard touchdown play with 19 seconds to go. That cut Nebraska's halftime lead to 17-14.

Osborne said the close score at halftime didn't worry him.

"Our plan was to play physical football and try to use some of our depth to wear people down," he said. "I thought in the second half we were able to do that."

The Huskers scored on all four of their full possessions in the second half. Frost said he was happy to keep the ball rolling.

"Our defense held us together so much this season that they kind of got worn out by the end," he said. "They are still the best defense in the nation as far as I'm concerned. I'm just glad we could do our part as an offense to pull out this win."

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