Huskers extend win streak over CU to nine games
Story by Shane G. Gilster
Nebraska owned Colorado during the 1990s. It didn’t matter if it was in Lincoln or Boulder, the Huskers had a nine-game winning streak over the Buffaloes with the last five wins from 1996 to 2000 coming by a total of 15 points.
In 1999, NU won 33-30 in overtime. In 1998, Nebraska won 16-14, in 1997 it was NU 27-24 and in 1996, the Huskers won 1712.
The Huskers added a 34-32 score in 2000 to that list, which made many CU players wondering what will it take to beat their rival.
“It seems we did everything we humanly could, and again we came up short,” said Colorado offensive tackle Victor Rogers. “It feels like we’re cursed against these guys, and this has been going on before I came here.”
Added CU wide receiver Javon Green, “I tried my whole career to beat Nebraska. The last five years, we tried to beat Nebraska. We’ve come close [the last two years]. But they pulled a trick out of their sleeve in the fourth quarter every time and it comes out in their favor. This is the second year in a row we thought we had the game won.”
But it looked like it might be a runaway for the No. 9 Huskers in the first quarter with NU linebacker Carlos Polk intercepting a pass on the second play of the game and returning it 39 yards for a touchdown. Later, Husker quarterback Eric Crouch ran it in from 27 yards out to make it 14-0. That score was set up after NU blocked a field goal try and defensive end Chris Kelsay returned it for 43 yards.
Crouch had an MVP type of day with 139 yards through the air on 11-of-17 passing, and running for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
CU, however, would score the game’s next 17 points – first a 32-yard field goal, and then a 39-yard touchdown run by Cortlen Johnson, who finished with a game-high 155 yards on 26 carries.
At halftime the Huskers were up 1410. Colorado then went on top on its first drive of the second half after recovering a Nebraska fumble and taking it 73 yards on 12 plays.
From there, both teams would go back and forth exchanging the lead. NU matched the CU drive with a 12-play drive of its own with Crouch running for his second touchdown from two yards out. Back came the Buffs with a 14-play, 75-yard drive culminating with a one-yard scoring run by Johnson to make it 24-21 CU early in the fourth quarter.
The Huskers finally looked like they gained solid control of the game as they scored the next 10 points to go up 31-24 with 5:20 left in the game. Josh Brown nailed a 20-yard field goal and then Keyuo Craver blocked a field goal try on CU’s next possession. Kelsay returned it 12 yards to the NU 43, giving the Huskers great field possession, which led to a Crouch 26-yard touchdown run four plays later.
The Buffaloes were unfazed and methodically drove the ball 68 yards in 11 plays for a score, as freshman quarterback Craig Ochs hit John Minardi with a 14yard touchdown pass. But CU felt they needed to win the game rather than tie it and go to overtime, so they went for two with 47 seconds left.
“I thought that’s what they would do, and when I saw him [CU head coach Gary Barnett] calling his team together on the sideline, every one of them, I knew exactly that that’s what they were going to do. “It was not a surprise to us. I think it was a good call,” said NU head coach Frank Solich.
Another reason Colorado wanted to go for two was the fact that their kicking game was struggling on the day. Their kicker, Mark Mariscal, missed two field goals (29 and 42) and had two more blocked (37 and 41) in his five attempts. The call to go for the win paid off as Ochs rolled right and threw a dart to receiver Green who made a juggling catch in the end zone to put the Buffs up 32-31. The Buffs, who entered the game with a 3-7 record, with five being one-score losses, looked as though they finally exercised their Big Red demons to beat Nebraska for the first time since 1990. But as Lee Corso would put it, “Not so fast my friends.”
Mariscal made another kicking mistake when on the ensuing kickoff his squib kick went right to backup running back Dahrran Diedrick, who fielded it at the 30-yard line and ran it to the NU 41.
“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. Those are tough kicks to field.” On NU’s first play, Crouch threw a longpass down the sideline to Matt Davison but it was incomplete. He then threw six-yard and nine-yard completions to John Gibson.
Overall, Gibson had three catches for 20 yards with two of the receptions coming on the final drive. He also delivered the key block on Crouch’s second touchdown run, which was a key component in NU’s offense.
“John had a great game,” said NU receivers coach Ron Brown. “He had to make a great block on that one play, and he did. He tied that guy up. I was happy with how all of our guys blocked today. They just hammered people. From what I saw on the sidelines, we executed well all day in the running game.”
Then on first down from the CU 44-yard line, Crouch hit wingback Bobby Newcombe, who hadn’t caught a pass the whole game, for a 13-yard completion. Crouch then ran for two yards to the Colorado 29-yard line and right after called a timeout with 10 seconds left.
The kick would have been a 46-yarder, something Nebraska and its field goal kicker were not entirely confident in making, as Brown’s career long was 42 yards.
The Huskers wanted to try one more offensive play to see if they could get closer. But with no timeouts left, it had to be a pass to the sideline. The play that was called to accomplish that
Crouch completed an outside pass to Newcombe for 17 yards and the senior ran out of bounds at the CU 12-yard line. Newcombe’s emergence on the final drive was not a surprise to Solich.
“I think it’s great that he was able to be a big contributor in this win,” he 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 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.”
Newcombe’s catch set up Brown’s 29-yard field goal attempt from the right hash mark. It wasn’t a guarantee for Brown as he missed a 32-yarder in the first half and was only 3 of 7 coming into the game. But Solich didn’t lose faith in the sophomore from Foyil, Oklahoma.
“He’s an excellent kicker,” Solich said. “I don’t think there’s a kicker out there who’s not going to miss some. If you go in the tank because you miss a couple, or if there’s no belief in a guy because he misses a couple, or if he doesn’t believe in himself because he misses a couple, he shouldn’t be a kicker. Those things are going to happen to all kickers. It was his time. He’s a very confident young man. He stepped onto the field with confidence.”
And Brown kicked the ball with confidence as he split the uprights easily giving NU a 34-32 win. It was the first time in the last 40 years of Husker football that the Huskers won on the game’s final play.
“It seems like a split second. I kicked the ball, looked up and everybody just went crazy. I don’t know who got me first, but they all tackled me to the ground,” said Brown who was swarmed by his teammates and carried off the field after the winning field goal. “I can die a happy man right now. I’ve waited my whole life for this.”