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Curt McKeever: Despite problems, Huskers made a strong statement

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Saturday, Nov 11, 2006 - 10:03:35 pm CST

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — I don’t recall Bill Callahan ever saying it would be easy.

Maybe that’s why Nebraska’s back-from-the-dead, Big 12 North Division-clinching victory against 24th-ranked Texas A&M here Saturday tasted so sweet to the Huskers.

The moment you think they’re about to experience a colossal collapse, having let a 21-7 lead slip into a 27-21 deficit, they come out of their coma and inject new life into their season.

Perhaps into their program.

In the moments it takes Maurice Purify to put a box-out move on A&M cornerback Jordan Peterson that would make men’s basketball coach Doc Sadler drool, and then haul in Zac Taylor’s jump-ball pass for a 9-yard touchdown to cap an 11-play, 75-yard drive with 21 seconds to play, Nebraska goes from chump to champ.

“People pay to watch us play, right?” noted linebacker Stewart Bradley. “We want to give them their money’s worth.”

For all their imperfections and puzzling second-half meltdowns, the Huskers now have their fans checking out prices of tickets to the Big 12 championship game for the first time in seven years.

Forget about there being sticker shock, too, because the reward — a likely rematch with Texas — is almost priceless.

Of course, Nebraska still has to take care of business against Colorado the day after Thanksgiving. But after the theatrics at Kyle Field on Saturday, it’s hard to see the Huskers heading to Kansas City on a downer.

Granted, this is far from a jaw-dropping result that would come from taking down the Longhorns in Austin or the Sooners in Norman or USC in Los Angeles. The Aggies, after all, had lost four of their previous five games on their home field.

But the statement NU made in its first opportunity to wrap up its division was plenty satisfying.

“It’s big not only for us this year, but for us as a program,” Bradley said. “To get back at the top of the Big 12 North, that’s the way we feel it should be.”

That accomplishment took everything the Huskers had — and a lot more than the senior quarterback Taylor engineering another two-minute drill like he does it in his sleep.

Some plays that get lost from Taylor’s amazing late-game poise in the pocket:

n Linebacker Bo Ruud’s third-quarter, touchdown-saving tackle of tailback Mike Goodson before the Blackshirts forced A&M to kick a field goal.

n The gang tackling of quarterback Stephen McGee to snuff out an option run and two-point conversion.

n Forcing Goodson to run out of bounds on the first play that followed Taylor’s interception with 2:50 to play, which saved a much-needed timeout.

n Senior defensive end Adam Carriker finishing things off with a sack of McGee on the game’s final play.

It really was a group effort.

“That’s what championship teams are about, coming back from behind late in the fourth,” Callahan said. “That’s a thing of beauty.”

I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder, huh?

But before you rail on how NU inexplicably lost control, remember that A&M now has three losses by a combined six points.

Remember that nobody was accusing Nebraska of being back to super hero status.

Remember that they have met their primary goal.

“Well. That was exciting, wasn’t it?” Callahan said. “Those kids, I wish you could’ve seen their faces in that locker room.”

We did, coach. They were glowing through the walls.

“If that’s my finest moment, I’ll let you be the judge,” Taylor said. “But it’s definitely the greatest feeling and yeah, I’m proud.

“It kind of shows that we’re back and we’re rolling again. ... It put us in the situation to play for a championship and just the atmosphere we were in and to win it on the last play(s), that’s something that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”

Reach Curt McKeever at 473-7441 or cmckeever@journalstar.com.


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