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KU comes close but falls 24-17 to NebraskaKU comes close but falls 24-17 to Nebraska

By BOB DUTTON - The Kansas City Star
Date: 10/31/99 00:01

LAWRENCE -- Kansas nearly turned a week of brave talk into an evening for the ages.

But at crunch time Saturday night, the Jayhawks' seasonlong bugaboo -- a porous pass defense -- betrayed them again and cost them a chance for their first victory over Nebraska since 1968.

The Cornhuskers prevailed 24-17 when wingback Bobby Newcombe found a gaping hole in the KU secondary with 3 minutes, 24 seconds remaining. The result was a 49-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Eric Crouch.

Just one play earlier, Crouch barely kept the Nebraska drive alive by sneaking for a first down on fourth and inches near midfield.

It was that close. That exhilarating. But also that frustrating and that unsatisfying for the Jayhawks.

"I don't think anybody is content with being close," KU quarterback Dylen Smith said. "We knew we could come in here and win the game. Going into the fourth quarter, I knew we were going to win.

"Things just didn't go well at the end, and time ran out on us."

The Jayhawks, 3-6, outplayed No. 8 Nebraska, 7-1, for much of the game. Their oft-maligned defense regularly stuffed the Huskers' potent attack -- particularly in the first half, which ended with KU on top 9-0.

But this is Nebraska. Thirty years of domination die hard. When it mattered, the Huskers made plays. They jump-started their offense with some great punt returns, including an 86-yard touchdown sprint by Newcombe that gave them a 10-9 lead late in the third quarter.

"Motivation was the key," said Newcombe, who moved to wingback from quarterback earlier in the season. "We went back out there (in the second half) with a lot of drive and fire."

The Huskers needed every bit of it. Even after they pushed out to a 17-9 lead, they still had to withstand a KU counterpunch that sent the game into the closing moments tied 17-17.

"This is a big relief," Nebraska free safety Clint Finley said. "We are lucky to come out with a win."

In contrast, Kansas was left with a lot of what-ifs and if-onlys.

KU took a 2-0 lead with 5:02 left in the first quarter when Matt Jordan blocked Dan Hadenfeldt's punt in the end zone and the ball ricocheted over the end line for a safety.

The two points were the first scored by the Jayhawks against Nebraska in three years and provided them with their first lead over the Huskers since 1993.

Kansas then shut down the Nebraska attack for three more three-and-out possessions before gaining possession at its own 21 with 12:07 left in the half.

Smith engineered a seven-play, 79-yard drive that culminated in a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Hurst.

Smith was five for five to five different receivers on the drive, passing for 68 yards. On the touchdown, his scramble bought time for Hurst to gain separation from linebacker Tony Ortiz. Smith then zipped a perfect pass for the score.

As effective as Smith was at times, the first half belonged to the KU defense, which held the Huskers to just 69 yards in 28 plays.

But Nebraska took control in the second half, scoring first on Josh Brown's 31-yard field goal before Newcombe's return put the Huskers on top with 2:14 left in the third period.

Nebraska finally discovered its offense after another solid punt return, a 21-yarder by Joe Walker to the Huskers' 47. Nebraska took just six plays to cover the remaining 53 yards.

Crouch ran the final 8 yards on an option around the left side for a touchdown that boosted the Huskers to a 17-9 lead with 12:09 left in the game.

It seemed like a good time for the Jayhawks to roll over. Instead, Smith and Michael Chandler combined for a 77-yard touchdown just 25 seconds later. The same combination then clicked for a two-point pass and, that quickly, Kansas was back even at 17-17.

There it stayed until...

"Somehow, Newcombe got free," Kansas defensive end Dion Johnson said. "That really hurt us."

To reach Bob Dutton, Kansas reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4352

All content 2000 The Kansas City Star