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Crouch’s touchdown in overtime lifts Nebraska over Notre Dame
By BOB SCHALLER
For the Star-Herald
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – And on the ninth day of September in the A.D. 2000, Touchdown Jesus got seven.
From Nebraska’s Eric Crouch.
The Husker quarterback saved his team’s bid for a national championship, resurrecting hopes that only minutes earlier seemed lost, as Nebraska won at hallowed Notre Dame, 27-24 Saturday in front of 80,232 fans – nearly one-third cheering for the visitors.
“This team never gives up,” Crouch said. “This is a big day. One I will never forget.”
Right in the shadows of Notre Dame’s “Touchdown Jesus,” Crouch scored on a seven-yard run in overtime. In the opening overtime possession Notre Dame could manage only a field goal after Jeremy Slechta sacked quarterback Arnaz Battle.
“We kept coming back and coming back,” Battle said. “It just wasn’t enough. We have to come out next week, play hard and try to get a win.”
Nebraska’s special teams were beyond inept, surrendering both a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns in the second half.
“I’m not real sure what to say, other than that I’m so proud of this football team for the way they battled back,” said Nebraska head coach Frank Solich. “All of that momentum was taken from us, but our kids believed in themselves and in each other.”
Statistically – outside of special teams – Nebraska dominated. The Huskers had 274 rushing yards (to 184 for Notre Dame). The Huskers had 103 passing yards (to 40 for Notre Dame).
“I think Nebraska is a heck of a football team,” said Notre Dame coach Bob Davie, who was second-guessed about not going for at least a field goal – instead choosing to run out the clock – in regulation. “We had opportunities to win the game. It is really disappointing to have it turn out this way. To have an opportunity to beat the No. 1 team in the nation at home and to lose is very disappointing. But I have a lot of respect for Nebraska.”
The Huskers nearly gave up the farm in the return game. Notre Dame had 204 kickoff return yards and 113 punt return yards. By contrast, Nebraska had just 61 combined return yards.
Dan Alexander, who had a slow start, came back strong in the second half to finish with 112 yards on 24 carries. Crouch had 80 yards rushing and 103 passing.
The two led the way to Nebraska’s complete control of the early third quarter.
After Crouch hit Tracey Wistrom with a first-down pass, the Huskers came right back with a run up the middle. Alexander split the tackles on first down from the Notre Dame 28, going the distance. With 8:47 left in the third quarter, Nebraska had extended the lead to 21-7 following the four-play, 59-yard drive.
Nebraska’s special teams continued to struggle. After allowing two kickoff returns of more than 40 yards, the Huskers gave up the entire distance: Julius Jones followed Alexander’s touchdown with one of his own, going 100 yards on the ensuing kickoff.
“He is a difference-maker when he gets his hands on the ball,” Davie said. “When Julius gets the ball, he explodes.”
Jones never had a Husker within yards of him after kicker Dan Hadenfeldt dove and missed at midfield.
“We made some plays,” Jones said. “But not enough.”
That brought Notre Dame within a touchdown, 21-14, with 8:30 remaining in the third quarter.
The Huskers started marching right down the field at that point, but fullback Judd Davies couldn’t hold on to a Crouch pass, batting the ball up in the air for an easy Notre Dame interception. Through three quarters, Nebraska doubled up Notre Dame on first downs (16 to eight), more than doubled it up rushing (248 to 101) and even passing (91 yards to 34). Yet Nebraska led only 21-14 at that point.
The Irish tied the score in the fourth quarter – the same way they had gotten within a touchdown – with a return for six points. This time it was a punt, not a kickoff return. Notre Dame’s 5-foot-7, 170-pound senior, Joey Getherall, returned Hadenfeldt’s punt 83 yards, tying the score at 21-21 with 12:48 left in the game. The last time a punt was returned for a touchdown against Nebraska was on Sept. 10, 1988, at UCLA – Darryl Henley went 75 yards.
The Huskers got on the scoreboard first and stayed on top most of the game. On the second series of the first half, Crouch ran the option to perfection, breaking free for a 62-yard touchdown run to put Nebraska ahead 7-0 with 1:10 left in the opening quarter. Crouch’s run was the longest TD run against Notre Dame since 1984, when LSU’s Dalton Hilliard went 66 yards for a score on Oct. 27.
Despite gaining four first-quarter first downs and holding Notre Dame to just two (one of which came via a penalty) Nebraska led just 7-0 at the end of the first quarter. The Huskers had 145 yards of total offense in the first quarter, while the Irish had 51 – including just nine passing yards.
Though Battle didn’t complete a pass in the second quarter, the Irish tied the score. on a long 11 play, 82 yard drive that took 5:26 off the clock. Tony Fisher finished off the drive, running into the end zone from two yards out. With 10:44 left in the first half, the score was tied, 7-7.
The Huskers answered, though. Taking over at the 35-yard line after the Notre Dame kick-off went out of bounds, the Huskers drove down the field. Fourteen of the 15 plays on the drive were runs. But after getting inside the 15-yard line, Nebraska had to burn two timeouts. Finally, the Huskers went up the middle, with fullback Willie Miller get to the one-yard line on third down.
Facing fourth and goal, Crouch went over the top of the pile. The 65-yard drive last 8:20 and put Nebraska ahead, with 2:24 left in the first half.
At the half, Nebraska had 218 yards of total offense, including 162 rushing. Crouch was three-of-seven passing for 56 yards, including a 36-yarder to Bobby Newcombe. Crouch ran for 89 yards on 11 carries in the first half. Dan Alexander quieted his Heisman hype by gaining just 25 yards on nine carries in the first half. He slipped on consecutive option plays to the outside, forcing Nebraska to rush up the middle, as Crouch became the only outside threat.

 

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