MIAMI — For the second time in 10 years, a national college football championship slipped away from Nebraska in the east end zone at Orange Bowl stadium.
With one second left Saturday night, the 17.5-point underdog Huskers lined up a 45-yard field-goal attempt that would have given them a one-point win in the 60th annual Orange Bowl.
But senior Byron Bennett, whose 27-yard field goal with 1:16 to play had given Nebraska the lead, hooked his game-winning try wide left.
That allowed Florida State to hold on to an 18-16 Orange Bowl victory and make a claim for its first national championship.
“I guess it was our time,” FSU Coach Bobby Bowden said,” because Nebraska played as good or better than we did.
“Nebraska is a lot better than I thought. A lot better.”
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne shook his head when asked if this loss hurt more than the one 10 years ago, when the Huskers saw a two-point conversion pass knocked away in the final minutes in a one-point loss to Miami.
“This hurts,” Osborne said. “But it’s a different kind of hurt.
“I told my team I was proud of them. People play for rings and trophies, but as far as I’m concerned we won. We didn’t win on the scoreboard, but we played great football.
“We could have won it just easily as we lost it. I doubt if we’ll ever get voted the championship now. There may be some coaches somewhere who will say, ‘You’ve got one loss and Florida State does, too.’ And that would be nice.
“But the main thing isn’t the rings and the championships. It’s playing like champions, and that’s what we did.”
Nebraska, which took its first halftime lead in a bowl game in seven years, showed championship form in the fourth quarter with a nine-point rally.
Freshman I-back Lawrence Phillips, playing in place of the injured Calvin Jones (out the entire second half with a shoulder separation), scored on a 12-yard run the first play of the quarter to bring Nebraska back to 15-13.
With 4:39 to play, the Huskers drove from their 20 to the Florida State 4 before being pushed back to the 9.
Bennett kicked a 27-yarder with 1:16 to play to put NU up 16-15.
But quarterback Charlie Ward, the Heisman Trophy winner, brought Florida State back.
In 55 seconds, he marched the Seminoles from the FSU 35 to the NU 3. The big play in the drive was a 21-yard completion to tailback Warrick Dunn, to which 15 yards were added for Husker cornerback Barron Miles’ late hit.
With 21 seconds to play, freshman Scott Bentley made his fourth field goal of the game — a 22-yarder — to put FSU ahead 18-16.
After Florida State was penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration, Miles returned the kickoff 23 yards to the Seminoles’ 43. After an incomplete pass, quarterback Tommie Frazier hit tight end Trumane Bell for 29 yards to the FSU 28.
The clock ticked down to 0:00, setting off a Florida State celebration. But referee John Soffey ordered the field cleared and one second put back on the clock, giving Bennett a chance to win the game.
“I was just hoping we’d make it,” Osborne said. “He’s about 50 percent from that range in practice. I thought he’d put it through.
“It was plenty long enough. He just missed it to the side. He’s a great kicker. He’ll be all right. It wasn’t Byron’s fault.”
The overflow sellout crowd of 81,536 was the biggest in Orange Bowl history. The old mark was 81,191 set during the Colorado-Notre Dame game after the 1989 season.
That crowd saw 11-1 Nebraska outgain 12-1 Florida State — ranked first nationally in scoring offense and defense — 389 total yards to 333.
But 11 Husker penalties for 115 yards hurt their upset bid. Especially costly was an illegal block that nullified split end Corey Dixon’s 71-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
“We usually average about 30 yards in penalties a game,” Osborne said. “Some of those just killed us.
“The punt return for a touchdown . . . we’ll have to look at that. I don’t know what all happened.”
Nebraska, down 15-7 late in the third quarter, stormed back to earn a chance to tie by driving 73 yards for a touchdown.
Frazier completed passes of 15 and 26 yards to Dixon around a 16-yard run by Phillips. Phillips then darted into the end zone from the 12 to bring Nebraska back to 15-13 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
On the two-point conversion try, Frazier rolled right, faked a pass and tried to get to the corner of the end zone. But defensive end Derrick Alexander and linebacker Ken Alexander smashed him out of bounds at the 2 to preserve FSU’s lead.
Nebraska threatened midway through the fourth quarter, driving to the FSU 24. But on third and 10, Seminoles cornerback Richard Coes intercepted Frazier’s pass at the FSU 10 with 6:55 to play.
Florida State used its fast-break shotgun offense to rally from a 7-6 halftime deficit and take a 15-7 lead after three quarters.
The Seminoles took the second-half kickoff and raced 67 yards for a touchdown.
Ward completed two 11-yard passes before launching a 41-yard bomb over NU cornerback Tyrone Williams to split end Kevin Knox at the Husker 4.
Two plays later from the 1, fullback William Floyd was ruled over the goal line before roverback Toby Wright caused a fumble.
The touchdown put FSU ahead 12-7 with 12:50 left in the third quarter. A two-point conversion pass was deflected.
Two series later, Florida State went 66 yards for a field goal.
Floyd’s 34-yard run moved FSU to its 46. Two plays later, the Seminoles got 25 more yards on a 10-yard pass from Ward to split end Matt Frier and a roughing-the-passer call against NU outside linebacker Donta Jones.
But outside linebacker Dwayne Harris’ 7-yard sack and a motion penalty stalled the drive. Bentley came on to kick a 39-yard field goal for a 15-7 lead with 3:06 to go in the third quarter.
In the first half, Nebraska took its first lead in a bowl game in four years and its first halftime lead in seven years.
On its first possession, Nebraska used six running plays to gain one first down before punting.
Florida State went three downs and out on its first drive, then forced Nebraska to punt after three plays. Bennett’s 27-yard wobbler set the Seminoles up at the Huskers’ 48-yard line.
Consecutive pass completions of 8, 11 and 19 yards got FSU to the NU 11. But the Blackshirts pushed back from there.
On an across-the-field screen pass, Husker linebacker Ed Stewart tackled Floyd for a 7-yard loss. Then outside linebacker Trev Alberts and middle guard Terry Connealy combined on a 12-yard sack to force third and 29 at the 30.
After an incomplete pass, Bentley tried a 47-yard field goal that he hooked wide left to keep the game scoreless.
Nebraska again had to punt after one first down, but in turn forced Florida State to punt after three plays.
Sean Liss boomed a 47-yarder that NU’s Dixon fielded at the Husker 29. Dixon raced right, split a wave of FSU defenders and picked up two blocks near the goal line to complete what appeared to be a 71-yard return for a touchdown with 1:34 left in the first quarter.
But an illegal-push-in-the-back penalty at the Husker 34 — apparently on Tyrone Williams, though replays showed him pulling back on a block — knocked NU back to its 23.
When Nebraska again punted after one first down, Florida State rolled to the game’s first score.
Ward’s 31-yard strike to Knox got FSU into NU turf at the 48. On third and six at the 34, free safety John Reece interfered with a pass, moving the Seminoles to the 19.
But the Husker defense — aided by a delay-of-game penalty — stopped FSU at the 17. This time, Bentley made a 34-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 7:54 left in the second quarter.
Dixon’s 28-yard kickoff return to the NU 36 got the Huskers started.
I-back Calvin Jones’ 6-yard run on first down turned into 11 when Florida State was nailed for grabbing the facemask.
Two plays later, Frazier was sacked for 9 yards. But on third and 17, he hit wingback Clester Johnson over the middle for 25 yards to the Florida State 40 — Nebraska’s first move into Seminole territory.
After Jones ran for 1, Frazier dropped back to pass and drifted right before throwing back over the middle toward Johnson. FSU strong safety Devin Bush dove in front of Johnson to tip the pass.
But the deflection continued on into the hands of split end Reggie Baul near the 10, and the sophomore out of Papillion-La Vista carried it into the end zone to complete the 34-yard touchdown. It was Baul’s first catch in six games and first touchdown of his career.
Bennett’s conversion kick put Nebraska ahead 7-3 with 5:59 to go in the half. That was the Huskers’ first lead in a bowl game since they went up 10-7 against Florida State in the second quarter of the Fiesta Bowl after the 1989 season.
Florida State receiver Tamarick Vanover returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to the FSU 37. But a penalty and two tackles for losses — including an Alberts sack — forced the Seminoles into a fourth-and-26 situation.
After holding NU on three downs, Florida State started a 71-yard march for a field goal.
Ward’s passes of 22 yards to split end Kez McCorvey and 14 yards to Vanover plus Ward’s 23-yard scramble helped set up Bentley’s 25-yard field goal.
|Yards per carry||2.0||4.2|
Nebraska is 2-6 all-time against Florida State.
|North Texas||Sept. 4|
|Texas Tech||Sept. 11|
|Colorado State||Sept. 25|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 7|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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