COLUMBIA, Mo. — Matt Davison answered Nebraska's last-gasp prayer Saturday with an immaculate reception.
The freshman split end's diving catch of a tipped and kicked football as time expired in regulation allowed the Huskers to turn a potential Missouri victory into overtime. Nebraska then pulled out its first overtime win, using Scott Frost's 12-yard scoring run and an inspired defensive stand to finish a 45-38 victory.
Nebraska's sixth Big 12 Conference win, which stunned Missouri fans in the sold-out crowd of 66,846 at Faurot Field, improved the top-ranked Huskers to 9-0 and kept alive their bid to play for their third national championship in four seasons.
"Our dream is to win the national championship," Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost said. "Luckily, we found enough deep down inside to keep those dreams alive."
Good fortune smiled on Frost and the Nebraska offense in the final 62 seconds as they drove 67 yards to the tying touchdown.
Frost completed four passes to move the Huskers from their 33-yard line to within 12 yards of the Missouri goal line with 14 seconds to play.
Frost spiked the ball to stop the clock, then threw incomplete on second down. That left Nebraska facing third down with only enough time — seven seconds — for one more play.
What followed was a play that cemented Frost's and Davison's spot in Nebraska, as well as college, football history. Davison's catch — his eighth as a Husker — ranks up there with Colorado's 1995 "Miracle in Michigan" or Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie's 1984 Hail Mary bomb that beat Miami.
Someone asked Davison if he had ever heard of Franco Harris, whose 1972 ricochet reception gave the Pittsburgh Steelers a last-play win over Oakland to rank as one of pro football's great finishes.
"I've seen that play on ESPN a lot," Davison said. "That was an unbelievable play. This one was just minor."
Hardly. With Nebraska's season on the line, Frost tried to connect with wingback Shevin Wiggins near the Missouri goal line.
Wiggins appeared to have the ball in his hands, but it popped out as Missouri free safety Julian Jones pulled him to ground.
Just as the ball was about to hit the turf, Wiggins kicked it, sending it sailing into the end zone. Davison, one of four Nebraska receivers on the play called "Shotgun, 99, Double Slant," caught up to it as he broke across the end zone.
"I saw the ball get deflected off Shevin," Davison said. "It was floating like a punt, kind of end over end. It just seemed like it took forever to get there. I dove and I guess the Lord was watching over me. I was in the right spot at the right time.
"It was probably a few inches off the ground when I caught it. I was just hoping the refs were going to call it a catch. There was no doubt in my mind, but I just wanted to see a call before I got all excited."
The call came, but not quick enough to stop a group of Missouri student from storming out of the stands to celebrate what they thought was their school's first win over Nebraska in 19 years.
Order was quickly restored, and Kris Brown nailed the point-after kick that produced a 38-38 tie.
Missouri won the toss and elected to play defense on the first overtime series. It took Nebraska four plays to score, with Frost getting the touchdown on an option keep in which he broke into the teeth of the defense, weaved back outside and dived into the corner of the end zone.
Brown's conversion made it 45-38, leaving matters to a Nebraska defense that had been victimized all afternoon by Missouri quarterback Corby Jones. But the Huskers came up big when it counted most, holding Jones to a 3-yard gain that was sandwiched between a pair of incompletions.
The Huskers then relied a pair of Missouri natives — rush ends Mike Rucker and Grant Wistrom — to finish off the win. Their sack of Jones on the fourth-down play ended Missouri's upset hopes while extending Nebraska's string of consecutive conference victories to 37.
"We had a rough day on defense today, and all the credit goes to Missouri's offense," Husker defensive tackle Jason Peter said. "But when it came down to the end, we sucked it up and played well when it counted."
But will Nebraska's performance be enough to keep the Huskers on top of the national polls when the votes are counted today? The voters will weigh Nebraska's last-gasp win over a Missouri team that came into Saturday's game as a 29-point underdog against No. 4 Michigan's impressive rout of No. 2-3 Penn State and No. 2-3 Florida State's win at No. 5 North Carolina.
The polls also were the last thing on Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne's mind.
"I don't know what will happen," he said. "We may drop, we may not. I'm just glad we won the game."
Until the dramatic turn of events at the end, it appeared that Osborne's warning that Missouri was a dramatically improved team were well-grounded. The Tigers, with Jones coming up with clutch play after clutch play, led 24-21 at halftime and 31-28 and 38-31 in the second half.
Jones completed 12 of 20 passes for 233 yards. He threw touchdown passes of 18 yards to Torey Coleman, of 34 yards to Brock Olivo and of 15 yards to Eddie Brooks. Jones also rushed for 60 yards to account for 293 of the Missouri's 386 yards of total offense against a Nebraska defense that ranked fourth nationally.
"Corby Jones played with a lot of courage and heart," Missouri Coach Larry Smith said. "It just came down to Corby making plays."
Rucker, who along with Wistrom combined for four of Nebraska's five sacks, said the elusiveness of the 6-foot-2, 227-pound Jones frustrated the Huskers.
"He's a big, fast kid," Rucker said. "If you don't come to tackle him right, he's going to break it and keep on going."
But if Jones was good, Frost was better. The senior came within 3 yards of breaking Nebraska's record for total offense in the game with a performance that included 141 yards rushing and 175 yards passing. In addition to his game-winning touchdown, Frost scored three others. His touchdown pass to Davison was among the 11, in 24 tries, that he completed.
Frost did throw two interceptions, the second of which set up Missouri's touchdown that put the Tigers ahead 38-31 with 4:39 remaining. Harold Piersey picked off a pass that had been tipped by linebacker Barry Odom, giving Missouri a first down at the Nebraska 30-yard line.
Four plays later, Jones threw 15 yards to Brooks to prime Missouri's upset celebration. It continued to build when the Tigers' defense forced Nebraska to punt the ball back after three plays.
Missouri picked up one first down but Nebraska's defense rose up, forcing a punt to give Frost and the offense the ball with 1:02 left. Even the most optimistic of Huskers had to admit, at that point, that Nebraska's domination of the series appeared past the jeopardy point.
"I thought we were pretty well done for," Osborne said. Someone asked Frost if he had any doubts before taking the field with 67 yards between the Huskers and the tie.
"Are you kidding? We're down seven points with 50 seconds left. There's a lot of doubt," Frost said. "But when you have that kind of character — it starts with the coaches and it carries on through the players — I think it showed today."
Frost opened the march with a 27-yard pass to Kenny Cheatham to get the Huskers' into the Missouri territory. After two incompletions, Frost passed 13 yards to Davison for a first down at the Tigers' 27.
He hooked up with Cheatham for an 8-yard gain to the 19, then spiked the ball to stop the clock with 21 seconds left. On third down, Frost hooked up with Cheatham for a 7-yard gain to the 12, then delivered the game-tying touchdown three plays later.
"We were trying to run a double slant to the left, but nobody was open," Frost said. "I saw Shevin open late, I got it in there. I thought their guy probably hit Shevin early and it should have been interference.
"But the ball got tipped up into the air, and all I saw was this brown thing bouncing around. Then the referee raised his hands, and it was unbelievable feeling.
Nebraska finished with 528 yards, with I-back Ahman Green rushing for 189 yards on 30 carries. It marked the eighth straight game that the junior from Omaha Central has topped the 100-yard mark.
Green had 129 yards in the first half, when Nebraska overcame an early 7-0 deficit that put them behind for the first time since the second game of the season against Central Florida. Frost engineered touchdown drives of 74 and 42 yards, capping both with scoring runs, to put the Huskers ahead 14-7 with 25 seconds left in the first quarter.
Missouri roared back to tie on Jones' 18-yard pass to Coleman. Green countered with a 7-yard scoring run that ended a 71-yard drive. Missouri got back within 21-17 on Scott Knickman's 39-yard field goal, then used back-to-back plays to electrify the crowd and gain the 24-21 lead it took into halftime.
After Nebraska had moved to the Missouri 36, Frost attempted to throw a first-down pass to freshman Bobby Newcombe. Instead, the ball wound up in the hands of Missouri cornerback Shad Criss, who returned the interception to midfield, where Nebraska got called for a personal foul.
On the next play, Jones and Olivo hooked up on a 34-yard scoring pass. Olivo found a seam in the Nebraska coverage, caught the ball at the 7 and rambled in for the score on the longest reception of his four-year Missouri career.
Frost gave Nebraska the lead back with three minutes left in the third quarter, scoring on a 1-yard run to cap a 10-play, 99-yard drive. Missouri countered with Jones' 6 - yard scoring run before Brown's 44-yard field goal produced a 31-31 tie with 10:50 remaining.
Jones came up big again with his scoring pass to Brooks, but the Tigers couldn't hold on.
"We did not give in, but we couldn't land the knockout blow," Jones said. "If they're No. 1, then we're in the top 10."
|Yards per carry||3.3||5.8|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Central Florida||Sept. 13|
|Kansas State||Oct. 4|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 18|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Texas A&M||Dec. 6|
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