LINCOLN — It's hard to keep Missouri's 21-10 football victory over Nebraska Saturday in perspective. It was, after all, only a game, wasn't it?
But it seemed so very much more to the participants, and to many of the 76,526 Memorial Stadium witnesses.
Nebraska's players, who had finally built what appeared to be a comfortable cushion at 10-0 into the final quarter, left part of their hearts on the AstroTurf when the visitors scored three times in the stretch.
Until then, it didn't look like the Tigers could score that many times in three months.
You couldn't tell Missouri Coach Al Onofrio or his players it was only a game. It was THE game. They whooped into the cubbyhole that is the visitors' dressing quarters in the stadium's southeast corner, and cheers bounced off the walls for much of the 20 minutes the press and followers were kept waiting outside.
Onofrio, who spent 21 years as a Mizzou assistant coach before assuming command four years ago, said he had never seen anything like it in all that time.
"This was the best game I've ever been involved in, as an assistant or a head coach. I mean it. I've never been so gratified," Onofrio said, his voice betraying his attempt to control his emotion.
The obvious comparison was to Missouri's 30-26 upset at Notre Dame a week after losing, 62-0, to Nebraska two years ago. This upset by the heavy underdogs came a week after Wisconsin bashed the Tigers, 59-20.
"This one was much better," Onofrio said. "We sneaked up on Notre Dame. You can't sneak up on a traditional rival like Nebraska."
Over in the solemn Nebraska quarters, it was sinking in on the Cornhuskers that they had been upset twice before the season was half over, they were 0-1 in the Big Eight Conference and the Orange Bowl scouts who were in attendance probably won't be back.
In both the earlier loss to Wisconsin and in Saturday's reversal, Nebraska's offense was crippled with an injury to quarterback Dave Humm.
The senior offensive captain went out with a concussion after gaining 10 yards on an option play 11/2 minutes into the third quarter. But it is purely conjecture to say that Humm would have made the difference.
Although the Huskers had dominated the statistics while he was in, the score was only 3-0, via Mike Coyle's second-quarter 32-yard field goal.
Losing Humm was no excuse, a dejected Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said.
"We didn't use Humm as an excuse at Wisconsin, and we certainly won't do it today. A football team has to be good enough to overcome these injuries," Osborne said.
Terry Luck came on in place of Humm and put one more touchdown on the board than Humm had.
Mizzou helped on the 52-yard drive. Forty-five of those yards came on a pass interference penalty when defender Bob Fitzgerald bumped Husker split end Chuck Malito on a pass at the Tiger eight-yard line.
After linebacker Lynn Evans, whose 12 tackles trailed only cornerback Kenny Downing's 15, stopped N.U. wingback Donnie Westbrook for a two-yard deficit, Westbrook found revenge.
Westbrook was isolated on linebacker Steve Yount and beat him badly on a move toward the left corner of the end zone. Luck's task was a simple lob for an easy 10-yard touchdown play.
After Coyle's conversion made it 10-0 with 11:26 remaining, Nebraska appeared to have all but wrapped up the bruising contest.
The Tigers were never an offensive threat until after the Nebraska touchdown. The Husker Blackshirt defenders had not allowed the visitors within 38 yards of their goal while the N.U. offense repeatedly had its chances but couldn't knock it in.
Onofrio finally had to try something different, so he went to his bench.
The game would have been over by the time he called out Steve Pisarkiewicz, so he said, Zark, go on in."
So the sophomore quarterback who is the Tigers' main passing threat, made his entrance. It came after defensive end Tom Pate intercepted a Ray Smith pass and returned it to Missouri's 36 to set up a narrow miss of a 46-yard field goal attempt into the wind by Al Eveland.
Pisarkiewicz completed his first two passes and took the Tigers to the Nebraska 38 for their deepest penetration on his first series.
Then, after Nebraska's touchdown, and while the Blackshirts were obviously pass conscious, sub tailback Tony Galbreath injected another element into the unlikely developments in the fourth quarter.
Galbreath, understand, was a substitute fullback until four days before the trip to Lincoln. He finished as the game's leading rusher with 71 yards on 17 carries and was never more conspicuous than on a 71-yard drive to Mizzou's first touchdown.
He chipped in back-to-back runs of 12 and 14 yards, then sandwiched two more of five and seven around a 12-yarder by fullback Ray Bybee. The quarterback, who was supposed to be a passing threat, contributed only one toss for four yards on the march, and he "Zarked" the Huskers for the touchdown on a two-yard keeper.
Still, the Huskers were ahead, 10-7, after Tim Gibbons' extra-point. It was back to that classic defensive battle, back to the hedgerows, groveling for inches, punting for field position, waiting for the other team to goof.
Luck pitched out a tad high to fullback Gary Higgs while the Huskers were scrimmaging from their 33 in the last 61/2 minutes. Higgs lost sight of the bouncing ball when he turned the wrong way, and ever-present Evans, who also intercepted a pass, recovered at the Nebraska 25.
Then Pisarkiewicz did what he does best. He passed 12 yards on a slant-in to wingback Mark Miller, and, after two runs gained five yards, lofted a pass nine yards into the left corner of the end aone where Miller was waiting alone after cornerback Jim Burrow had fallen down.
"I didn't think the ball would ever come down," Pisarkiewicz said alter. "It was a post-flag pattern, which is the best pattern Mark runs. He ran a hell of a pattern on that play."
Piarkiewicz almost didn't get his pass off. Nebraska monster back Wonder Monds was blowing down his neck on a blitz and hit the young quarterback "about 1-10th of a second too late. He just threw it up," Monds said.
Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin said Monds "was all over him. The quarterback just threw it north. He didn't know where it was going. Jimmy Burrow just fell down, but it was a touchdown.
The Nebraska collapse was completed after Yount intercepted a Luck pass five yards from the Husker goal, and Galbreath ran it in from there.
"I don't think we've ever had anybody score three that quick on us," Kiffin said. "We didn't change anything after we got the touchdown and went up, 10-0."
"Pisarkiewicz got a little hot, and they got some momentum. We needed to come up with the big play on defense. We didn't get it."
Monds conceded that he "got a little tired" in the fourth quarter, but defensive weariness wasn't a factor in the Tigers' late surge, he said.
Statistics revealed what was apparent to onlookers. The game was nearly even, and defenses were predominant.
Nebraska held a 226-219 edge in total offense after going into the game with the second most potent offense in the land, averaging 466 yards and 46 points per outing.
The Husker running game, which had been cranking out a norm of 346 per game, was held to 101 yards to Mizzou's 154. Nebraska held out John O'Leary No. 1 I-back, because of a cracked jaw, and freshman Monte Anthony, who had blossomed as a runner the previous two weeks, played little because of an knee injury.
Missouri's defense, which needed no assistance, was helped by five Nebraska fumbles, three of which were claimed by the Tigers.
After the final seconds were played, Kiffin seemed to think it was necessary to explain why his players hung their heads and shuffled along to the dressing room instead of rushing across the field to congratulate their conquerors.
"This is a hurt bunch of kids right now," Kiffin said. "They're not poor sports or bad losers. Nebraska has got too much winning tradition. When you lose at Nebraska, it really means something."
Only a game?
|Yards per carry||3.5||1.9|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 26|
|Iowa State||Nov. 9|
|Kansas State||Nov. 16|
Nebraska has played 18 games on Oct. 12. See them all »