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October 31, 1999
Newcombe's Punt Return TD Called 'Big Momentum Shifter'
BY MITCH SHERMAN
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

Lawrence, Kan. - Nebraska football players rarely agree, to a man, about any single subject after a game.

Following Saturday's 24-17 comeback victory over Kansas, not a Husker could be found who didn't answer immediately when asked about the most important play of the game - and perhaps the season - to date.

"Bobby Newcombe is a great player," NU rover Mike Brown said. "What more can I say? Great players make great plays. He was all over the field tonight, but that punt return was huge. He is a special player. Any time he touches the ball, it could be six."

Brown and many others referred to Newcombe's electrifying 86-yard punt for a touchdown with 2 minutes, 14 seconds to play in the third quarter. The score shocked Nebraska out of a eveninglong daze and put the Huskers up 10-9, their first lead of the day.

Although Kansas later came back to tie the game at 17 and NU needed a 49-yard TD pass from Crouch to Newcombe in the final minutes to win 24-17, the punt return clearly turned momentum in the Huskers' favor. It also helped the Huskers avoid losing a second straight game after last week's loss at Texas.

With Texas A&M and Kansas State awaiting over the next two weeks, a loss Saturday could have been deadly, the Huskers said.

"It was such a big momentum-shifter," nose tackle Steve Warren said. "Right at that time, we needed a big play. He is the type of guy we look for to give it to us."

Said I-back Dahrran Diedrick: "He came through for us. That was the biggest play of the game."

Newcombe, a 6-foot. 195-pound junior from Albuquerque, N.M., took the 48-yard kick from Joey Pelfanio between the hashes at the 14-yard line. He broke through a pack of defenders quickly and raced to his right up the east sideline. With about 40 yards left, Newcombe showed the kick of speed for which the Huskers have waited since his return this fall from reconstructive knee surgery after last season.

Ralph Brown made the final block, of Pelfanio, near the 20-yard line, and Newcombe scooted around the punter and into the end zone. The shot of energy on the NU sidelines was immediately evident, Receivers Coach Ron Brown said.

"I feel great for Bobby," Brown said. "He really wanted to have a big game. The thing I told him was not to force things. It looked out there like he was being patient, waiting for his moment to strike. You never know when it's going to come. He's made big plays on and off this year, but tonight he was finally able to 'get off,' as the kids say."

Newcombe also caught four passes, including the game-winner with 3:24 to play, from Crouch Saturday. It marked by far Newcombe's most productive game since he moved from quarterback to wingback following the Huskers' second game of the season in early September.

His 30-yard reception to the Kansas 36-yard line early in the fourth quarter gave Nebraska another scoring chance with the game tied at 17. But five plays later, Josh Brown's 43-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left.

So Newcombe said he and his offensive teammates stayed composed. After another KU punt, the Huskers took over at their 26. Five plays into the drive, Crouch dove for a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-1, taking Nebraska to the KU. That's when Crouch and Newcombe hooked up for the final time.

Newcombe shook past a covering Jayhawk linebacker near the 10-yard line, and caught the pass nearly in stride from Crouch. Split end Matt Davison, who led NU with six catches Saturday for 108 yards, delivered the final block that allowed Newcombe to score.

"I had a lot of great blocks tonight," said Newcombe, who also caught touchdown passes against Missouri and Iowa State this year. Newcombe's last punt return for a score came during his true freshman year in 1997 against ISU, a 53-yarder. "The coaches wanted to put me into the game a little bit more in the second half. I always want to get the ball when I came help the team.

"I'm just glad I was able to do that tonight."

Nebraska trailed 9-3 after two quarters Saturday. Of Newcombe's 200 all-purpose yards Saturday, 172 came in the third and fourth quarters. He had a 29-yard punt return in the first quarter that led to another unsuccessful field-goal attempt, from 41 yards.

On the day Coach Frank Solich announced Newcombe's move to wingback earlier this season, Newcombe said his heart remained at his former position. Asked Saturday if that had begun to change, Newcombe nodded in agreement and said he'll do whatever is best for the team.

"My heart is with this team," he said.


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