KU throws scare into NU

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Posted Sunday, October 31, 1999

The Jayhawks led 9-0 at halftime, and the game was tied, 17-17, until NU's Bobby Newcombe caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Eric Crouch with 3:24 remaining.

By Andrew Hartsock

Journal-World Sports Writer

You didn't really think Kansas was going to beat Nebraska, did you?

You didn't really think that 2-0 first-quarter lead -- KU's first lead over NU in six years -- was going to hold up? You couldn't possibly think Kansas' 9-0 halftime advantage -- its first lead over NU at the break in eight years -- was going to stand, could you?

Now, really, you didn't think, when the Jayhawks seemed to shrug off the adversity of surrendering 17-straight Nebraska points by forging a fourth-quarter tie, that they were going to end a string of 30 straight losses to the Cornhuskers.

Did you?

The Jayhawks did, and that made their 24-17 loss to the eighth-ranked Huskers on Saturday at Memorial Stadium all the more difficult to swallow.

"We believed all the way to the end," Kansas senior wide receiver Michael Chandler said. "We believed from the time the opening kickoff left the foot until the final seconds went off the clock."

They had good reason to believe.

Their maligned defense threw a first-half shutout, running their scoreless streak to six straight quarters and tacking on a defensive score in the first quarter when Matt Jordan blocked a punt through the end zone for a safety.

Kansas' offense gained 333 yards of total offense -- including 171 rushing yards -- against one of the best defenses in the country.

And KU had the extra motivation of knowing it had to win to keep its theoretical bowl hopes alive. The Jayhawks adopted the motto, "The bird's not dead yet" -- a reference to the fact KU (3-6 overall, 1-4 Big 12) still could become bowl-eligible with victories in its last five games -- and sported the slogan all week on T-shirts.

Well, the bird's goose is cooked.

The Huskers' Bobby Newcombe returned one punt 86 yards for a touchdown, NU returned another punt 21 yards to set up another TD, then won it late in the fourth when Newcombe slipped behind the KU secondary and caught a 49-yard bomb for the deciding score.

"Probably the toughest thing," Chandler said, "is knowing there won't be a bowl. After four years, I'm not going back."

Unlike the Kansas team of a month ago, this one at least looked like it belonged in the postseason. The Jayhawks outgained the Huskers 184 total yards to 69 in the first half and had 12 first downs to Nebraska's three.

Heck, NU had just one first down on its first five series, and its only real shot at scoring came when Josh Brown missed wide right on a 41-yard field-goal try with a minute left in the first half.

"I thought our kids believed they could win," despondent KU coach Terry Allen said. "That was demonstrated in the first half."

And, for that matter, in most of the second.

But the special-teams breakdowns -- even NU's first score was set up by a partially blocked KU punt -- proved decisive in the latest playing of the longest consecutive series in college football.

And Allen didn't walk away from Memorial Stadium trumpeting a moral victory, and he wasn't accepting congratulations.

"You don't give congratulations," Allen said, an edge to his voice. "Our guys gave great effort. But we came to play and we came to win. You gotta play all facets, and those punt returns Nebraska was able to get really cost us the game."

Actually, the Jayhawks seemed to shrug off the effects of those special-teams breakdowns when Michael Chandler hauled in a short Dylen Smith pass and turned it into a 77-yard touchdown to forge a 17-all tie with 11:44 left.

But over the final minutes, Kansas gained just 23 yards on 11 plays. KU punted away two of its last three possessions and, with no timeouts left, saw the clock run out on its bid to spill the Huskers.

"We said at halftime, 'Nebraska's an outstanding football team. They're going to make a run," Allen said. "They made their run, and we rose to that. That gave us the opportunity, in the latter part of the game, to pull the upset. We responded to adversity.

"But the bottom line is, good football teams find ways to win football games, and they did."

Kansas will play host to Baylor next Saturday. Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

-- Andrew Hartsock's phone number is 832-7216. His e-mail address is ahartsock@ljworld.com.

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