Wacky play almost results in MU score

SAN ANTONIO - The correct call for the bizarre final play of Wednesday's Alamo Bowl, said a Big 12 official who lives in Omaha, would have been for both Nebraska and Michigan to receive penalties for going onto the field and the Wolverines given an untimed down from where the previous play started.

"It doesn't matter if one side has 50 on the field and the other side has one. It's an equal foul," Kelly Saalfeld said today. "At the end of the season, I think crews from all conferences try to operate with a 'less is best' type of mentality."

Amid a scene of chaos and controversy at the Alamodome, Michigan's final play in a 32-28 loss nearly went down in infamy for the Huskers .

Before Nebraska defensive backs Zack Bowman and Titus Brothers knocked Michigan tight end Tyler Ecker out of bounds at the 13-yard line, Michigan had made seven laterals and advanced a fumble on a play that began at the Wolverines' 36. Nothing was apparently illegal. No whistle was blown, but everything else indicated the game had ended.

Dozens of NU players prematurely left their sideline to celebrate. News media and Michigan personnel followed on to the field. Alamo Bowl officials were wheeling a stage through the end zone. The public-address announcer declared a final score.

At least two game officials trotted toward the tunnel.

But Ecker was still running. Many Nebraska defenders simply stood and watched the 6-foot-6, 251-pound senior as he lumbered downfield, veering toward the UM sideline. Bowman and Brothers weren't taking any chances.

"It was a good thing me and Titus knocked that dude out of bounds," Bowman said. "If we didn't, he might have scored. It was crazy. I saw everybody running around everywhere. I didn't celebrate yet, because I didn't hear a whistle."

Clearly, the Huskers were fortunate no flag was thrown. A penalty, if both teams were flagged for leaving the sideline, could have meant a replay. If the Huskers had been the only team penalized, Michigan would have had one play to win it from near the NU 7-yard line.

"I got doused, and I kind of lost perspective," coach Bill Callahan said. "We thought the play was over. I thought the game was over in a couple instances. Evidently, it wasn't, so we were very fortunate that we stayed alert."

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr declined to share his feelings on the play, but he was visibly upset at the officials as he left the field.

"I don't know how that many people could end up on the field," Carr said. "I just don't know how that happened."

The final play was reminiscent of the famous, 1982 Cal-Stanford finish in which the Stanford band celebrated on the field as the Bears lateraled their way to a game-winning kickoff return.

On Wednesday, it all began at the Michigan 36-yard line. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne completed a second-down pass for 13 yards to Jason Avant.

Avant, after pitching the football to Steve Breaston, eventually got it back and threw a cross-field lateral, which lineman Mike Bihl fumbled. As the NU celebration began, Michigan running back Michael Hart grabbed the fumble at the UM 21. Hart pitched to Ecker, who took possession at the Wolverines' 25-yard line.

Ecker ran 62 yards before Bowman and Brothers teamed for the final hit.

Michigan gained 67 yards on the play and lost 16 for a net of 51. Regardless, the Wolverines failed to reach the end zone.

"My whole thing was to make sure (Ecker) got out of bounds," said Brothers, who lined up at the goal line as part of a prevent defense to start the play. "We weren't going to let him score."

Callahan said he watched the Bowman-Brothers tackle with an obstructed view. When the game finally ended, he was already talking with ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews.

"So I think ESPN gets a penalty, too," Callahan said.

"It was really a unique finish. I've never been a part of anything like that.

"It was a la Cal-Stanford."

And what if the officials had thrown a flag?

"I don't want to talk about that," Callahan said. "We're not going there."

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Jan 29, 2008 6:19 pm
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