(Miami, Florida - December 31, 1996) - It was a game of redemptions. For the Huskers as a team and for a few players on the Huskers' squad.
''These were difficult circumstances,'' Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said. ''At times it almost felt like a non-game because of the interest and lack of intensity, and I feel sorry about that.''
The reason for Osborne's concern was that, for the first time since 1993 the Husker weren't a factor in the National Championship picture come bowl time thanks to an upset loss to Texas in the Big 12 Championship game.
Osborne's concern was not realized as the Nebraska Cornhuskers wore down the number nine ranked Virginia Tech Hokies 41-21 to capture their third straight bowl victory and Osborne's third ever Orange Bowl win.
The Orange Bowl also provided an opportunity for a couple a Husker players to end the season on a high note, including senior I-Back Damon Benning and quarterback Scott Frost.
"There were some times I could have been bitter and there were actually sometimes I was bitter," Benning said. "As I matured and as I grew, I found some ways to channel some of that negative energy. A lot of this just comes with age." Benning struggled with injuries throughout his career and often found himself watching from the sidelines as a backup at I-Back. Injuries to two other Husker backs meant Benning would start the Orange Bowl. He responded with 95 yards rushing, two touchdowns and the game's MVP trophy.
"It's the ending I wanted," Benning said. "I skipped a few chapters in between but the ending is good. I'm satisfied and I'm happy for my team and my program."
For Scott Frost, he entered the game as he entered the year, playing in the shadow of his predecessor, Tommie Frazier. Frost turned in an impressive day with 11 of 22 passes completed for 136 yards, along with 62 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns.
"This was definitely my best game of the year." said Frost "But hopefully I'll be a lot better for next year."
Husker coach Tom Osborne agreed with Frost's assessment. "Scott ran the offense extremely well." said Osborne. "He audibled well and had his best game of the year."
The game started out as a defensive battle. Neither team was able to move the ball very deep into their opponents side of the field until late in the first period. With a second and nine at the Huskers' 19 yard line, Hokie quarterback Jim Druckenmiller connected with Marcus Parker on a screen pass. Parker darted into the end zone for the first score of the game with 3:14 left in the first.
The Huskers took the ensuing kickoff and drove down to the Virginia Tech six yard line before settling for a 25 yard Kris Brown field goal. The Hokies were up 7-3 early in the second.
Virginia Tech's next drive stalled when defensive tackle Jason Peter and defensive back Octavious McFarlin combined on a sack of Druckenmiller on a third and eleven play. Husker return man Mike Fullman returned the ensuing punt 26 yards to set the Huskers up at the Tech 46 yard line.
I-Back Ahman Green made the most of his first carry of the game when he scampered 16 yards on a sweep, down to the 29. Frost followed that play with a 24 yard pass to Kenny Cheatam down to the five yard line. Frost gave the Huskers their first lead of the game when he kept the ball on an option play into the end zone. The Huskers lead 10-7 with just over nine minutes left. They would not trail for the rest of the game.
The next Hokie drive provided what may have been the turning point in the game. Virginia Tech ground out thirty yards in nine plays to put the ball at midfield. A holding call eliminated a third down pass completion and moved the ball back to the 32 yard line. Druckenmiller took the snap and rolled left on an option play. He was hit and the ball came free. Husker tackle Jason Peter scooped up the loose ball and ran 31 yards for a Husker touchdown.
''I wanted so bad to start high-stepping. My speed was so unbelievable, I was in the end zone before I knew it,'' Peter joked. ''That probably had to be the turning point. Our defense strives off making big plays every game, and that was the one.''
Virginia Tech rebounded on the next drive to score on a 6 yard touchdown pass to Shawn Scales just before the half ended. The teams went to the locker rooms with the Huskers up 17-14.
The Huskers started wearing down the Hokies in the second half.
The Hokies first drive ended after five plays. After the punt the Husker offense took over at the VT 26, I-Back Damon Benning took control as he turned in runs of 5,4 3 and a 33 yard touchdown run to give the Huskers a 10 point lead.
"I knew that if everybody was hitting on all cylinders we would have a chance to come out here and get some things done," Benning said. "I can only be as good as my offensive line and they were great tonight."
Druckenmiller and Hokie running back Ken Oxendine kept things tight as Tech put together a 12 play drive and completed it with a perfectly timed 33 yard touchdown pass to Cornelius White. With five minutes left in the third period the Hokies had pulled within three at 24-21. It would be the closest they would get for the rest of the game.
Nebraska ate up the clock for most of the rest of the period with an 11 play 61 yard drive. Benning carried the ball for 23 of those yards and almost added a touchdown pass to his stats. On first and ten at the VT 23 Benning took a handoff and rolled right. He stopped and tossed the ball towards the end zone. A pass interference call prevented a completion, but put the ball at the eight yard line. Two plays later Benning darted through the line for a six yard touchdown and a 31-21 lead at the end of the third.
Husker kicker Kris Brown added the next Husker points on a 37 yard field goal midway through the fourth period capping a 13 play drive.
The game's final points came on a highlight tape performance by Frost. With just over three minutes left in the game and facing a 3rd and 12 at the Hokie 22, Frost took an option play to the right and powered through several would-be Hokie tacklers. Frost was wrapped up near the five yard line but managed to carry to Hokies into the end zone for the touchdown.
The run impressed even Osborne. "That was a great run and Scott showed his strength," Osborne said. "We think he can be a great runner. He ran the option well, passed well and audibled well. "
The Huskers racked up 415 yards in offense including 279 yards on the ground. Statistically the Hokies kept up with Nebraska. Tech ran for 193 yards and passed for another 214 yards and held a slight edge in time of possession.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer felt the difference was in the execution. ''We just didn't play well enough against a great team,'' said Frank Beamer ''We missed some tackles, but it gets back to who you're tackling.''
Tech's Ken Oxendine led all rushers with 150 yards and Druckenmiller out passed his Husker counterpart. No Husker players rushed for over 100yards but three backs ran for over 50. Eight different Husker players caught passes.
Although the win did not mean a National Championship for the Huskers, Husker coach Osborne was happy with the hardware they did win. ''We've been down here a lot of times and haven't come away with a trophy very often,'' Osborne said, ''so I'm pleased to have the opportunity.''