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Mon, 02 Jan 1995

An Unbeatable Finish
Schlesinger Caps Rally With 2 TDs

Lee Barfknecht

Throughout his 22 years as head football coach at Nebraska, Tom Osborne has stressed that it's the journey each season that stirs his juices, not the destination.

True to form, Osborne barely smiled early Monday morning as the final seconds ticked away in the top-ranked Huskers' 24-17 comeback victory over Miami in the FedEx Orange Bowl - a win that broke NU's seven-game bowl losing string and should lead to his first national title when the final polls are released Tuesday.

But when Osborne closes the door to the film room and reviews the 60-minute roller-coaster ride Nebraska (13-0) took through Orange Bowl Stadium to lay claim to staying No. 1, quarterback Tommie Frazier predicts his coach might cut loose a little.

"He's the type of person who doesn't show his feelings," said Frazier, who came off the bench in the fourth quarter to lead two touchdown drives in the final eight minutes.

"But I guarantee you that once it sinks in for him, you'll see a couple of tears and a smile."

Osborne saw his team trail 10-0 into the second quarter and 17-9 into the fourth before starting a comeback in the most difficult place to win in college football.

Before an Orange Bowl-record crowd of 81,753 - including an estimated 20,000 dressed in red - the Huskers marched 40 yards in two plays for a tying touchdown and 2-point conversion with 7:38 to play and then stormed 59 yards in seven plays for the winning touchdown with 2:46 left.

The touchdown maker both times was fullback Cory Schlesinger, who rumbled 15 and 14 yards to the end zone.

"This feels so good," said the senior from tiny Duncan, Neb. "This is what we have been working for all year, and it happened."

Miami, which had won 62 of its past 63 home games over 10 years, had one last gasp.

But roverback Kareem Moss intercepted quarterback Frank Costa's desperation pass with 1:01 to play, capping a sterling fourth-quarter effort by the Nebraska defense.

In the final 15 minutes, the Blackshirts marched Miami 35 yards backward in 16 plays. That helped NU to a final total yardage advantage of 305-277.

"The defense really squared up at the end," NU offensive tackle Rob Zatechka said. "They proved they are one of the best defenses in the country by stopping Miami when it counted."

Despite the stirring comeback and powerful story lines - the defensive effort, Frazier coming back from a 98-day layoff to be named Nebraska's most valuable player and the Huskers' use of the option play at the end to win - Osborne played it carefully when talking about finishing No. 1 in the polls over Penn State (12-0), which beat Oregon 38-20 on Monday in the Rose Bowl.

"I really feel national championships are great," he said. "I don't know that we've won it yet, but I suspect that we've got a chance.

"I told Joe Paterno I wouldn't do any lobbying, and I'm not going to. I don't think Joe will, either. Because it is a ballot box issue, I've tended to have a little more of an even keel on these things.

"If they give it to us, we'll be very grateful and certainly take it home. If they don't, I'll understand that, too. But I'll always be proud of the way we played."

Things looked bleak for Nebraska early in the fourth quarter after a turnover turnaround.

With NU trailing 17-9 and Miami facing fourth-and-3 at its 43, the ball was snapped over Miami punter Dane Prewitt's head. As the ball rolled back to the UM 10, Prewitt kicked it out of the end zone. Instead of forcing a safety with that move, Miami was penalized for an illegal kick and Nebraska took over the ball at the UM 4.

On the next play, NU quarterback Brook Berringer rolled right and tried to hit tight end Eric Alford deep in the end zone. But Miami safety Earl Little made a leaping interception to stop the Husker threat.

But the Huskers didn't quit. The defense stopped Miami on three downs twice. After the second of those stops, NU got the ball back at the Miami 40 following Prewitt's 37-yard punt.

In two plays, Nebraska scored with Frazier back at quarterback. I-back Lawrence Phillips bolted 25 yards on the option play - the longest run against Miami this season - and Schlesinger followed with a 15-yard touchdown run.

Frazier then hit Alford with a 2-point conversion pass to tie the game 17-17 with 7:38 to play.

The Blackshirts held Miami without a first down again, and Nebraska got the ball back after a punt at its 41.

On third down, Frazier broke an option play for 25 yards to the Miami 27. He broke another for 6 yards and a first down. Then Schlesinger bolted 14 yards for a touchdown, and Tom Sieler kicked the extra point for a 24-17 NU lead with 2:46 to play.

Miami defenders had taunted Nebraska all last week about not being able to run the option play because of the Hurricanes' team speed.

"But Frazier is a special athlete," Osborne said. "He can make things happen. He really gave us some things there we needed at the end.

"He wasn't feeling very good. He had a cold today. I wasn't sure how much he could play. But he's a competitor."

Frazier started the game, but was pulled after the first two series. He threw a wobbly interception in the first quarter that killed an NU drive.

So why the change of quarterbacks at the end?

"I just felt like it was time for Tommie," Osborne said. "It was a gut feeling.

"I was prepared to go the rest of the game with Brook. But Tommie had fresh legs."

Frazier said he used his fresh legs to great advantage at the end.

"We felt really comfortable on the last two drives," he said. "We knew their defensive line was tired, and that's the heart of their defense.

"Their guys were bent over exhausted. They gave me an opportunity to run, and that's what we did."

Frazier finished with 31 yards on seven carries, Phillips 96 yards on 19 carries and Schlesinger 48 yards on six carries.

Berringer did his part, too, completing 8 of 15 passes in the middle two quarters for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Osborne said the hard work Nebraska put in throughout the year since an 18-16 Orange Bowl loss last year to Florida State paid off in the fourth quarter.

"We felt if we could be close going to the fourth quarter that we had an excellent chance," he said. "It looked a little bleak when we had the great opportunity with the turnover at the 4-yard line.

"But fortunately the defense held, and we kept getting the ball back. And our conditioning really paid off."

Despite showing little outward emotion after the game, Osborne said he was pleased and grateful to win.

"I'm a person who puts a lot of emphasis on my faith," he said. "I don't talk about it much, but I would like to express my thanks to God and to the players and the character they had."

Three times in the past - in the seasons of 1981, 1983 and 1993 - Osborne and Nebraska have lost a shot at a national title by losing in a bowl game.

So is the monkey finally off Osborne's back?

"That's always been a national media perception," he said. "We've lost some bowl games, and that's when most of you guys see us.

"But we have won a few big games up there. So I guess I haven't felt it so much. But the more you win, the more that's expected of you."

Miami led 10-7 at halftime and added five points to its lead in the third quarter. UM started the second half like it did the first - with a score.

The Hurricanes used fullback James Stewart's 13-yard run and Costa's 14-yard pass to split end Jermaine Chambers to get into NU territory.

Then on second-and-9 at the Husker 44, Costa read a Nebraska blitz and dumped a pass in the flat to tailback Jonathan Harris.

Harris eluded NU's Moss, cut back up the middle of the field and raced past free safety Tony Veland and linebacker Troy Dumas, then continued across the field and outran cornerback Barron Miles to the end zone for a touchdown. Prewitt's extra point put the Hurricanes up 17-7 with 12:02 left in the third quarter.

A 15-yard penalty on Miami for celebrating the TD and I-back Damon Benning's 29-yard kickoff return set Nebraska up at its 49. But the Huskers went three downs and out.

The field position gained, however, helped set up a score. Miami, starting at its 14, was pushed back to the 4 on an illegal block and personal foul penalties.

With the Hurricanes lined up in a five-receiver formation, NU outside linebacker Dwayne Harris sacked Costa in the back of the end zone for a safety. That brought NU back to 17-9 with 11:35 to go in the third quarter.

But on the ensuing free kick, Benning bobbled the ball and was stopped at the NU 25. After one first down, NU had to punt.

The Blackshirts forced Miami to punt, and NU took over at its 7.

The Huskers drove 72 yards with Berringer hitting wingback Abdul Muhammad for gains of 16, 19 and 13 yards. But on second-and-3 at the Miami 31, Berringer and backup I-back Clinton Childs missed connections on handoff and UM linebacker James Burgess recovered at the 36.

That fumble and Berringer's interception on the next possession had Osborne worried.

"It's not very often you can go minus-two in turnovers at Miami and win," he said. "But our players showed great resolve."

To open the game, Miami held Nebraska on three plays, forced a punt and scored on its first possession.

The Hurricanes converted twice on third down when Costa completed passes of 10 and 18 yards. An offside penalty moved UM to the NU 15. Costa then completed another third-down pass inside the 10, but it was called back because of offensive interference.

When the drive stalled one play later, Prewitt kicked a 44-yard field goal - his 14th straight without a miss and longest of the season - to give Miami a 3-0 lead with 7:54 to go in the first quarter. The deficit was Nebraska's first in seven games, dating back to the second quarter of a win over Oklahoma State on Oct. 8.

The Huskers responded by driving from their own 10 to the Miami 41 with seven running plays, a pass and a penalty. Then Frazier tried to go deep.

But while backpedaling under pressure he threw off balance and into double coverage, allowing Miami cornerback Carlos Jones to jump in front of Muhammad for an interception at the UM 3.

The poor field position didn't bother the Hurricanes. They produced their longest scoring drive of the season - 97 yards - in five plays.

Costa completed passes of 17 and 43 yards before finding Trent Jones with a swing pass out of a backfield. The tailback eluded NU linebacker Ed Stewart at the line of scrimmage and free safety Eric Stokes near the goal line to complete a 35-yard touchdown play.

Prewitt's point-after kick put UM up 10-0 with nine seconds left in the first quarter. That was the Huskers' biggest deficit since trailing Wyoming by 14 points in the first half Oct. 1.

Berringer entered on Nebraska's next series. The Huskers gained one first down before UM tackle Warren Sapp's 12-yard sack ended the drive.

Two penalties stuck Miami in a hole on its next possession, leaving the Hurricanes with fourth-and-22 at the 12. NU's Moss returned Prewitt's 40-yard punt 12 yards to the UM 40.

In five plays, Nebraska scored its first touchdown against Miami in three Orange Bowls.

After four runs, Berringer faked a counter sweep left, rolled right and found tight end Mark Gilman with a 19-yard touchdown pass. Sieler's PAT brought the Huskers back to 10-7 with 7:54 to go in the half.

Neither team threatened in two possessions each after that, allowing Miami to keep its 10-7 lead at half.

Nebraska was outgained 198 yards to 127 in the first half. But the Huskers' 102 yards rushing was more against Miami than in the past two games vs. the Hurricanes when NU ran for 80 and 82 yards.


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