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Published Sunday, October 31, 1999

Huskers Newk-'em
NU junior ignites team in 24-17 win

Last modified at 12:32 a.m. on Sunday, October 31, 1999

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photo: HuskersHQ
The Associated Press
Nebraska's Bobby Newcombe breaks a punt loose for an 86-yard touchdown Saturday against Kansas in Lawrence, Kan.
By Jeff Apel
The Independent

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- A Nebraska team that appeared to be suffering from a Texas-sized letdown found a way to repeat history again on Saturday.

Bobby Newcombe scored two crucial touchdowns as Nebraska overcame a lethargic first half and rallied past Kansas 24-17. The win at Memorial Stadium was the 31st straight over the Jayhawks for Nebraska, which looked for two quarters like it might be the victim of one of college footballs biggest upsets.

"It was certainly an exciting game -- a great game,'' said Nebraska coach Frank Solich. "I thought both teams played tremendously hard.

"I thought they were well prepared. They played aggressive football throughout the game.''

A crowd of 45,100 -- about half of whom were dressed in red -- and a FOX Sports Network TV audience watched as Newcombe prevented a Halloween weekend hex from being placed on Nebraska again. He scored on an 86-yard punt return and a 49-yard pass.

The wingback's second touchdown on a pass thrown by Eric Crouch gave eighth-and-ninth ranked Nebraska its final touchdown with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left. His punt return gave the Huskers (7-1 overall, 4-1 in Big 12 Conference play) a one-point lead late in the third quarter.

"It was just an outstanding individual performance,'' Solich said. "Anyone who walked out of that stadium whether he was from Nebraska or Kansas would appreciate the great athletic skills that Bobby Newcombe displayed.''

Newcombe's athleticism was the highlight for Nebraska in a game that saw the Huskers trailing 9-0 at halftime. The Huskers finished the first half with three first downs and 69 yards of total offense.

That performance was turned in one week after Nebraska's national championship hopes were dashed by a loss to Texas. Ironically, the Longhorns also defeated the Huskers last Halloween.

"We thought we were ready to play. But we were kind of up and down emotionally,'' said Nebraska cornerback Ralph Brown. "We started wondering if we were ready.

"Toward the end of the game, when we had those big plays, we got more confidence.''

That confidence was needed against Kansas (3-6, 1-4). Early on, Nebraska looked like it still hadn't gotten over the Texas loss while being dominated by a Jayhawk team that brought the nation's 95th-ranked defense into the contest.

"I was a little uneasy coming into this game,'' Solich said. "It's always difficult coming off a loss. Certainly last week did hit them hard.''

Newcombe credited Solich for a halftime speech that brought Nebraska to life in the second half. Those words of inspiration also helped Newcombe reach the end zone twice.

On his touchdown catch, Newcombe snagged a pass near the Kansas 10-yard line, then used a key block from wide receiver Matt Davison to score. His punt return was just as impressive, as Newcombe avoided a diving tackle attempt by Kansas' Kareem High then took advantage of a block by Brown.

"Opportunities came my way,'' Newcombe said. "I got some great blocks and just had to run with the ball.''

Brown's block of Kansas punter Joe Pelfanio enabled Newcombe to reach the end zone on his punt return. As he saw Newcombe racing down the sideline, Pelfanio appeared to position his back towards Brown in hopes of drawing an illegal block call.

No flag was thrown.

"The ball was on the left hash mark. I got a bunch of great blocks,'' Newcombe said. "When a punt return team is blocking as well as ours is you don't have to do too much except outrun some people.''

Newcombe's return deflated Kansas, which never rediscovered the spark that enabled it to dominate early.

"We gave a great effort. We came to play and to win,'' said Kansas coach Terry Allen. "The punt return cost us the game in the second half.

"Other than that we did a good job.''

Until the final seconds ticked off the clock, Allen said Kansas believed it could beat Nebraska. Jayhawk fans did too -- they arrived to the stadium late and started filling up empty seats after hearing Kansas was ahead.

"We all stayed focused. We just couldn't get the win,'' said Kansas running back Moran Norris. "I don't think we wore down. They just changed their offensive schemes.

"We came out here to win. We're disappointed.''

Nebraska relied on more passes and an option game that finally got rolling in the second half to prevail. Solich's speech at halftime also helped. "He said we have to go back out there and everybody has to get the job done,'' Newcombe said. "Every season you're going to have a game like this when you are going to have to pull yourself back up at halftime.''

A safety on a Nebraska punt that was blocked out of the end zone and a 22-yard pass from quarterback Dylen Smith to tight end David Hurst enabled Kansas to take a 9-0 lead.

"They threw the ball really well in the first half,'' said Nebraska nose tackle Steve Warren. "We just had to come out and play hard defense.

"The whole second half we played with pride. That is what we talked about at halftime.''

I-back Correll Buckhalter finished with 118 rushing yards on 22 carries for Nebraska. He picked up the majority of those yards in the second half.

Because of injuries, Buckhalter and Dan Alexander both started in the backfield for Nebraska. Alexander shifted from I-back to fullback.

"I knew he was going to have a big night because I knew he was going to start,'' said Husker I-back Dahrran Diedrick, Buckhalter's roommate. "I know if he gets the opportunity to start he's going to make things happen.''

Buckhalter was bottled up in the first half as Nebraska struggled to get anything going on offense.

"Some of it was the play of Kansas. Some of it was mistakes we made,'' Solich said. "But they were able to play through it all which again showed great will to win.''

Nebraska began the second half by settling for a 31-yard fieldgoal by Josh Brown that cut Kansas' lead to 9-3. After an exchange of possessions, Newcombe ignited the Huskers with with his punt return.

"This is a big relief,'' said Nebraska free safety Clint Finley. "I am so glad we won because KU played real hard and tough.''

Nebraska increased its lead to 17-9 when Crouch reached the end zone on an 8-yard run despite being met at the goal line by a pair of Kansas defenders. The Jayhawks then used a 77-yard touchdown pass caught by Mike Chandler and a two-point conversion pass that was hauled in by the same receiver to tie the score.

That's when Nebraska turned to Newcombe one more time to prevail.

"Our staff feels tremendous about our football team showing the character that it showed to come from behind and win,'' Solich said. "This game was not an easy one.''

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