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Field goal on final play helps Nebraska edge past Colorado
By BOB SCHALLER
For the Star-Herald
LINCOLN — Everything seemed all right for Colorado, despite its troubled season.
Everything seemed down the drain for Nebraska, which was headed for its third loss in four games.
Oh, how long the final minute lasted.
The Huskers salvaged a decent bowl and the Buffs’ season ended as Josh Brown’s 29-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, propelling Nebraska past CU, 34-32, Friday at Memorial Stadium.
“The games against Colorado, not only in the last two years, but the last several years, have been games that have just come down to the end,” NU coach Frank Solich said. “This game was certainly one that came right down to the final seconds of the game. I’m very proud of our football team. They’ve always been the type of players who have never quit. They never quit in this game. They’ve never quit in a season. Those that have been here for a while have never quit in their career.
“I’m really especially pleased for those guys (seniors), that they were able to pull one out like they did. When you’re in a situation as we were right at the very end, nine out of 10 people tell you, ‘You can’t do it.’ If you say you can do it, you have a chance to get it done and I think that’s what our players said at that given time.
“It became obvious in the last quarter that possibly whoever had the ball last was probably going to win the game. Both teams in special teams did some very good things, but also made a few mistakes. But in the end, it comes down to a few plays, and we were able to make a few plays at the very end.”
Brown’s missed field goal earlier in the game loomed large. But he didn’t get rattled.
“I had previously made one from that side of the field during the game, so it’s definitely something I went over in my mind,” Brown said. “It’s actually a kick that I do a lot in practice from that distance. I don’t think there was any doubt. I felt good going out there. I think I was equipped for this game. I didn’t think it would come down to this, but I’m actually kind of happy that it did.”
Colorado took the lead with an impressive drive by true freshman quarterback Craig Ochs, who completed 6 of 8 passes on the Buffs’ final drive. Ochs, who finished the day 25 of 41 for 254 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns, was calm while leading the Buffs 68 yards on 11 plays.
“I was surprised they came down the field that easily,” Nebraska linebacker Carlos Polk said.
A two-point conversion pass put CU ahead, 32-31, with 47 seconds left.
“I thought that’s what they would do, and when I saw him calling his team together on the sideline, every one of them, I knew exactly that that’s what they were going to do,” Solich said. “It was not a surprise to us. I think it was a good call.”
Then, NU caught a break when Colorado chose to “squib kick” the ball short, and on the ground. But third-team I-back Dahrran Diedrick fielded the ball cleanly and returned it to the Nebraska 41-yard line, setting up the winning drive.
“That’s what we expected might happen,” Solich said. “We had told those guys in the fullback position and the tight end position that if the ball is kicked on the ground and you pick it up, get as much as you can but work your way to the sideline and try to get out of bounds. Those are tough kicks to field.”
Husker quarterback Eric Crouch, who ran for 125 yards on 20 carries and completed 11 of 17 passes for 139 yards and no interceptions, went to work through the air on the final drive.
He threw incomplete to Matt Davison, but followed with 6-yard and 9-yard completions to John Gibson. On first down and 10 from the CU 44-yard line, Crouch hit Bobby Newcombe, who hadn’t had a whiff of the ball all game, for a 13-yard completion. Crouch then ran for two yards to the Colorado 29-yard line on the following play.
Solich, who has taken a lot of heat for his play calling this season, knew the call to run the ball would draw criticism.
“Even with the headset on, I heard a few groans,” Solich said. “I felt if Eric could’ve broken through, we’d have had enough yards for the field goal. Everyone was thinking pass — so was CU.”
Crouch then hit Newcombe with a 17-yard pass to the CU 12-yard line, setting up Brown’s game winner. Having Newcombe play such a key role in the game meant a lot to Solich.
“I think it’s great that he was able to be a big contributor in this win,” Solich said. “He’s been a very unselfish player throughout his career. He’s got excellent talent. We’ve tried as much as possible to utilize that. When you consider yourself in a running system like we are, sometimes those guys aren’t going to get the ball much.
“We had a number of playmakers on our football team this year, and really the great thing about it is not one of them cried for the ball. We have things designed for Bobby to be a more important part of, but there are just some things you’re given in a game and some things that you’re not, and you try to take what they’re giving you and you try to build off that a little bit.”
Colorado finished with 28 first downs, compared to 23 for Nebraska. The Huskers had 435 yards of total offense, while CU had 451. Nebraska rushed for 296 yards and threw for 139, while Colorado rushed for 210 yards and threw for 197, a good portion of which came on the final drive.
Dan Alexander rushed for 98 yards on 16 carries.
Colorado was led by Cortlen Johnson’s 155 yards on 26 carries. Och’s favorite target was John Minardi, who caught six passes for 85 yards. Javon Green had five catches for 57 yards.
Nebraska got on the scoreboard first when, on CU’s second play from scrimmage, Polk intercepted Ochs and returned the ball 39 yards for a touchdown.
The Huskers were able to overcome several first-quarter mistakes, including a roughing-the-passer penalty, a kickoff that went out of bounds, a blocked punt (CU missed a field goal) and Crouch’s wayward pitch to Alexander.
Nebraska made its own luck when Randy Stella blocked a CU field goal and Chris Kelsay returned it to the CU 27-yard line. Crouch ran for a touchdown on the next play to put NU up 14-0.
The Huskers did finally give up a 32-yard field goal to Mark Mariscal, and CU scored again before the half and then in the third quarter to go up 17-14. Nebraska answered with 5:39 left in the third when Crouch’s 2-yard touchdown run put the Huskers in the lead, 21-17, after a 12-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 4:18.
But Johnson answered, running in from 1 yard out to cap a 77-yard, 14-play drive that lasted 6:22 and put Colorado ahead 24-21 with 14:17 left in the game.
Brown nailed a 20-yard field goal to tie the game at 24-24 with 9:22 left. Nebraska looked to be in control just four minutes later. Keyuo Craver blocked a field goal and Chris Kelsay returned it 12 yards to the NU 43. Crouch ran in from 26 yards out four plays later and the Huskers were ahead, 31-24, with 5:20 left.
Colorado answered, though, driving 68 yards in 11 plays. Ochs hit Minardi with a 14-yard touchdown pass, making the score 31-31. Colorado went for two and it paid off, with CU taking the lead, 32-31, before the Huskers last-minute heroics.

 

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