HUSKERS: It's NU, by Josh; Huskers pull out a win at the wire
BY KEN HAMBLETON Lincoln Journal Star
Josh Brown took the breath out of 77,672 of his closest Nebraska friends and the life out of Colorado with a 29-yard game-winning field goal Friday at Memorial Stadium.
|TED KIRK/Lincoln Journal Star Nebraska kicker Josh Brown (26) and holder Dan Hadenfeldt (17) celebrate Brown's 29-yard, game-winning field goal on the last play of the game as Colorado's Donald Strickland (4) sprawls dejectedly on the turf.|
Nebraska's furious flurry to cover 47 yards in 39 seconds set up Brown's field goal that made the difference in the Huskers' 34-32 victory. The kick ignited a wild holiday celebration as NU, for the first time in modern school history, won a game on the final play of the fourth quarter.
"Dom pulled me over and said, 'Do your job,' " Brown said.
Actually, Nebraska center Dominic Raiola said: "What are you here for? You're a kicker. A field-goal kicker kicks field goals. Kick a field goal."
Brown's workmanlike kick reversed his nightmare of a missed 28-yard attempt in a 29-28 loss at Kansas State two weeks ago.
The field goal also ended Nebraska's string of mishaps in the kicking game, on defense and on offense. Nebraska lost three fumbles and seemed unable to even slow down Colorado much of the final three quarters, surviving the Buffs blowing 4 of 5 field-goal attempts - two blocked and two missed.
Nebraska also maintained hopes of a Bowl Championship Series bowl (Fiesta or Sugar) and clinched the Huskers' remarkable string of 32 consecutive seasons with at least nine victories.
The winning drive was the only way for Nebraska to overcome Colorado's final score and two-point conversion with 47 seconds left that put the Buffaloes ahead 32-31. Colorado's hard-luck streak of four straight losses to Nebraska by a total of 13 points - including a missed CU field goal at the end of regulation last year resulting in a Husker overtime win in Boulder, Colo. - is now five consecutive losses by a total of 15 points.
Colorado receiver Javon Green, who caught the two-point conversion pass, summed it up, "Everyone in the stadium knew we had beaten them every which way. But they pulled a trick out of their sleeve in the fourth quarter every time."
The "trick" was Nebraska's passing game that had produced less than 70 yards passing three of its last four games and was unproductive in helping Nebraska rally from behind on final drives in five of its six losses over the last three years.
"We've only done it one time - today," Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch said of the rally to win.
Playing without a huddle and with just 44 seconds left to play, Crouch tried to pass to Matt Davison for a long bomb at the Colorado 10, but the pass was tipped away.
"We had to switch from the long passes to the short ones to move the ball, get out of bounds and save some time," Nebraska head coach Frank Solich said. "There wasn't a guy out there who lost his composure, that was rattled, that didn't believe we had a chance to win that game. Those are the kind of players you want to coach and those are the kind of players you want to be around."
Crouch hit John Gibson on two sideline passes for 15 yards, then passed to Bobby Newcombe for a 13-yard gain in the middle of the field to the Colorado 31-yard line with 22 seconds left. Crouch ran a quarterback counter-trap for 2 yards and Nebraska called its final timeout with 10 seconds left.
"I thought we'd be going for the winning field goal right there, about 47 yards or so," Raiola said. "You know, one slip, one sack, one goof up and we're done. Game over. But Eric (Crouch) got a play, called it like it was any old play in the second quarter, and he hit Bobby Newcombe with a bullet."
Newcombe, who had one catch in his last three games, broke to the right sideline, grabbed the 17-yard pass from Crouch and stepped out of bounds with 5 seconds left at the Colorado 12-yard line.
Solich said he couldn't even find Brown to give him a vote of confidence before he ran on the field for the winning kick.
"Apparently, he was bursting with confidence, and of course, hit it very well," Solich said.
Fans in the south end zone said the kick was an inch to the left of dead-solid perfect center.
"I call 'Nine. Nine. Contact.' Then Josh signals he's ready and John Garrison snaps the ball," said kick-holder Dan Hadenfeldt. "I kept my head down, saw Josh's foot hit the ball and heard the crowd. He's had his ups and downs, but this is as up as you can get."
A group of Huskers hoisted Brown on their shoulders and TV reporters flooded the field. Brown ended up on bottom of a pile of Huskers.
"I couldn't breathe and I was kicking and screaming," Brown said, "and when you have Schwaby (tackle Jason Schwab) on top and he can't move, you know you're not going anywhere soon."
Crouch said he watched. Husker linebacker Carlos Polk, Raiola, I-back Correll Buckhalter and defensive backs Keyuo Craver and Troy Watchorn said they didn't watch.
"You close your eyes and hope to hear the crowd's reaction then you respond," Polk said.
"Keyuo and I were holding hands, talking about giving Josh a chance," Watchorn said.
"I had my eyes closed and yet it will be something I'll never forget," said Buckhalter.
Colorado seemed to have the answer to Nebraska's blitzing defense but struggled to overcome kicking misadventures throughout the game. Behind the running of Cortlen Johnson, who had 155 yards and three touchdowns, and the passing of freshman Craig Ochs, who hit 25 passes for 254 yards, Colorado drove far enough to:
Miss a 29-yard field goal.
See a 37-yard field-goal attempt blocked by Randy Stella and returned 43 yards by Chris Kelsay to set up a 27-yard touchdown run by Crouch.
Make a 32-yard field goal.
Score on a 39-yard run by Johnson.
Miss a 42-yard field goal.
Miss a 29-yard field goal.
Score on drives of 73 yards in 12 plays and 77 yards in 14 plays in the third quarter to take the lead.
See a 41-yard field goal attempt blocked by Craver and returned by Kelsay to set up a 26-yard touchdown run by Crouch to put Nebraska ahead 31-24 with 5:20 left.
Finally drive 68 yards in 11 plays, including conversion passes on third-and-11 and third-and-2, to take the 32-31 lead with 47 seconds left.
Nebraska had a punt blocked, a missed 32-yard field goal and three fumbles lost in the game that seemed doomed by sloppy play.
There were some bright moments, though.
Nebraska had its early answers on defense. Carlos Polk scored on a 39-yard interception return to give the Huskers a 7-0 lead with the game two plays old. The Huskers lost a fumble, had a punt blocked, but scored again when Crouch took an option to the left on a 27-yard touchdown run with 4:48 left in the first quarter.
Erwin Swiney intercepted an Ochs pass to stop a drive at the Husker 1-yard line. Then, Brown missed a 32-yard field goal before the end of the first half. A wild pitch from Crouch that never made it to Dan Alexander ended up in Colorado's hands with the second half just two plays old. The Buffs scored in 12 plays on a 2-yard run by Johnson and held a 17-14 lead.
Nebraska answered with a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive that included two passes for 23 yards by Crouch, a 21-yard run by Alexander and a 10-yard run by Buckhalter to set up Crouch's 2-yard keeper to the left with 5:39 left in the third quarter.
Colorado regained the lead on a 14-play drive that included completions on 6 of 7 passes for 53 yards to set up Johnson's 1-yard touchdown run that put CU ahead 24-21 with 14:17 left.
A screen pass from Crouch to Buckhalter for 22 yards set up a 20-yard field goal by Brown to tie the game at 24 with 9:22 left. Brown later said that was the kick that gave him the confidence on his game-winner.
Craver blocked a 41-yard field-goal attempt with 7:16 left to set up a five-play scoring drive that ended on a Crouch keeper for 26 yards behind the blocking of guard Dave Volk and Raiola.
"We were moving the ball when we changed to stretching our offense and pulling our center (Raiola) for those options and outside plays," Husker offensive line coach Milt Tenopir said. "We needed to move the ball well, because we hurt ourselves with turnovers and Colorado was scoring. I thought we could move it far enough to get a good field-goal attempt at the end."
It seemed the only fitting end to the game.
"This had everything, tears, anger, smiles, hugs, frustration, sloppy play, great plays and a lot of excitement," said Husker fullback Willie Miller. "What more could you ask for? Well, making the field goal at the end made it a great game."
Reach Ken Hambleton at 473-7436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.