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Nebraska runs over UT, 31-21

By Mike Strange
News-Sentinel sports writer
Jan. 3, 2000

TEMPE, Ariz. - The details were a little different, but the bottom line was all too familiar.

In a rematch of the Orange Bowl two years ago, Nebraska used its muscle to subdue Tennessee 31-21 Sunday night in the Fiesta Bowl.

The No. 3-ranked Cornhuskers (12-1) set the stage for a national championship run in the 2000 season by jumping on the No. 6 Vols (9-3) early and pounding them late.

Just when Tennessee made a strong move to get back in the game in the third quarter - cutting a 17-0 deficit to 17-14 -- Nebraska punched out consecutive touchdown drives of 96 and 99 yards to salt away the victory.

Quarterback Tee Martin, who launched his career in the fourth quarter of a 42-17 beating by the Huskers two bowls ago, ended it on the same field where he led the Vols to a national championship last season.

This time, the happy ending belonged to Nebraska, and its legions of Big Red fans who dominated the crowd of 71,526.

"This is a very physical football team, they believed in one another and I think that showed tonight," second-year Nebraska coach Frank Solich said.

Martin threw one touchdown pass, and his favorite receiver, Cedrick Wilson, threw one of his own.

Donté Stallworth was on the receiving end of both passes. Travis Henry's 4-yard run accounted for UT's other score.

The Huskers rushed for two touchdowns, got a rare one in the air and a fourth from Bobby Newcombe's 60-yard punt return.

"It's hard to spot a very fine football team 14 points and win," UT coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I'm very proud of our kids. I don't think we quit. It just wasn't to be.

Tennessee looked like it was going to be on the wrong end of a Nebraska stampede until its first touchdown at the end of the first half and another early in the second.

Martin's 9-yard TD pass to Stallworth closed the halftime deficit to 17-7.

Nebraska's Dan Alexander fumbled the first snap of the third quarter and UT's Dominique Stevenson recovered at the Huskers' 25.

Four plays later, Henry scored. All of a sudden, the would-be rout was 17-14.

After forcing a Nebraska punt, the Vols had a shot at taking their first lead, but Leonard Scott couldn't hold on to a Martin bomb into the end zone.

Moments later the Huskers took over at their 4 after a David Leaverton punt. Quarterback Eric Crouch converted third-and-13 with a 17-yard pass to tight end Jon Bowling and after that, the Vols were on their heels.

Another tight end, Aaron Golliday, finished the 96-yard drive with a 13-yard TD pass from Crouch to make it 24-14.

Leaverton's next punt was even better, backing Nebraska to its 1. However, as the third quarter turned into the fourth, the Huskers were blowing the Vols off the line in a 99-yard drive.

Correll Buckhalter's 2-yard touchdown run made it 31-14 with 12:01 left.

The Vols stopped the bleeding with a 10-play scoring drive.

The TD came on a trick play. From the Nebraska 44, Martin took the snap and fired a lateral pass to Wilson, who then heaved the forward pass to a wide-open Stallworth for the touchdown.

The deficit was down to 31-21 with 7:25 to play.

But it wouldn't shrink any further. The Huskers ran out the clock against a tired UT defense without letting the Vols' offense touch the ball again.

All told, Nebraska rushed for 321 yards to only 44 for the Vols.

Tennessee passed for 267 to 148 for the Huskers. Martin bowed out by hitting 19 of 34 for 223 yards and was intercepted twice in the first half.

UT's first seven possessions of the game resulted in four punts, a missed field goal and two interceptions.

Finally, just as it was looking like a scoreless half for the Vols, the eighth possession struck paydirt.

First, the defense had to keep Nebraska from going into the locker room up 21-0.

The Huskers hit a 46-yard pass play to the UT 20 with 2:15 left in the half. However, on third-and-3 at the 13, Buckhalter was slammed for a yard loss by Will Overstreet.

Josh Brown's 31-yard field goal bounced good off the upright and it was 17-0 with 1:37 remaining.

The Vols took over at their 35 and the two-minute offense kicked into gear.

Martin found Eric Parker for 16 yards across midfield. A 10-yard flip to Stallworth converted third down to the Nebraska 34. Another swing pass to Stallworth reached the 23.

From there, Martin struck over the middle to Wilson at the 8. Martin lost back to the 9 on a keeper, but quickly got to his feet, called the snap and fired a strike to Stallworth for the TD.

Tennessee spotted the Cornhuskers a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, suffering one breakdown on defense and another on special teams.

Nebraska's first possession began at UT's 43 after a short punt. The Huskers pounced as Crouch turned a third-down option keeper 30 yards upfield to the Vols' 7.

On the next play, Alexander scored.

Down 7-0, Tennessee made a counterstrike. Martin swung a pass to David Martin that covered 49 yards before he was run down from behind at the Nebraska 17.

From there, however, the Huskers pushed the Vols back to the 28 and Alex Walls' 45-yard field goal try was wide left.

The Vols should have been so lucky to miss a field goal on their next possession.

Leaverton punted to Newcombe at his 40 and the nation's second-ranked return man motored 60 yards for the touchdown.

From there, the UT defense was able to slow the Nebraska onslaught - or at least delay it until the third quarter.

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