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Published Sunday, October 31, 1999

Newcombe keys NU's win

Last modified at 12:33 a.m. on Sunday, October 31, 1999

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photo: HuskersHQ
The Associated Press
Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch is pulled down by Kansas' Andrew LeClair Saturday.
By Darren Ivy
For the Independent

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- As Bobby Newcombe walked into the six-foot wide by 30-foot long visitor's media room at Memorial Stadium, he looked around at the jam-packed room and said "Geez, a firing squad."

The Kansas football team probably wished a firing squad would've gotten to Newcombe before its Saturday night game with No. 8 Nebraska because the junior wingback killed the Jayhawks with an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and the game-winning 49-yarder with 3:24 remaining.

"Without Bobby, I don't know what we would have done today," said senior linebacker Eric Johnson. "Bobby is one of the most underrated players in this country. Bobby is a great player. He is a playmaker."

Throughout much of the season, Newcombe has taken a backseat role to quarterback Eric Crouch in terms of media exposure and big plays, but this silent assassin from Albuquerque, N.M., has been waiting to go off. Saturday night he got the chance.

It was a far cry from last week when Newcombe almost vanished in the second half against Texas. The coaches didn't forget about him this week.

"Tonight a lot of opportunities came my way," said Newcombe, who finished with 89 receiving yards on four catches and 115 yards on two punt returns.

The first time Newcombe touched the ball in the game big things didn't happen though. He was thrown for a four yard loss on an attempted wingback option play on the third play of the game for NU. The second time a ball was thrown to Newcombe it was in the second quarter and it went over his head.

It wasn't until 4 minutes and 15 seconds remained in the second quarter that Newcombe made any noise. His 29-yard punt return of a Joey Pelfanio punt gave the Cornhuskers their best field position of the first half on the KU 40-yard line. At that point in the game, it also was Newcombe's longest return of the season.

But on the halftime scoreboard the Huskers were trailing 9-0 and NU players, including Newcombe, were frustrated. But coach Frank Solich sent a message to his team, one that Newcombe especially took to heart.

"Solich said 'We have to go back out there and everybody has to individually get the job done and win battles,'" Newcombe said.

Newcombe won his first battle with KU defensive backs early in the third quarter when he caught a seven-yard pass from Crouch for a first down. Then with a little help from his special teams' friends, Newcombe went from the NU 14-yard line to the north end zone to give NU its first lead of the game 10-9.

"I got some great blocks and just had to run with the ball," said Newcombe of the return. "The ball was on the left half mark so Joe (Walker) had to go up and I dropped back. When the punt return team blocked as well as it did tonight you don't have to do too much except outrun a couple guys."

The speedster did that without any problem and picked up a key block from cornerback Ralph Brown on the last man to allow him to waltz in.

At the time in the game, it appeared that score was going to be all NU would need, but the Jayhawks fought back and tied it at 17-17 with 11:44 remaining.

The score remained that way for another 8 minutes and 20 seconds. That's when Newcombe went on the launching pad again and caught a 49-yard strike from Crouch on an appropriately titled "takeoff play."

"They brought a linebacker down on me and I gave a little move on him and Eric Crouch put it in the right spot," Newcombe said. "Matt Davison made an excellent block to spring me to the end zone."

As senior captain Mike Brown watched that final NU drive, he said, he had faith that Newcombe would create something.

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