The Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl
HOUSTON — Nebraska's defensive football team just doesn't have much of a flair for dramatics. A game like Friday night's Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl just had to end on the Cornhusker goal line in the final second.
But the Blackshirts finished it 94 seconds and 78 yards too soon to deny an Astrodome turnout of 46,618 and a national television audience of one final case of the shakes — if there were any left.
It was thrill upon thrill, an offensive masterpiece, that ended with the Huskers holding the thin thread of a 27-24 victory over Texas Tech. But it was the defense, a frustrated and maligned unit of late, that swiped the final curtain.
The Blackshirts had set up a dramatic final drive by the Red Raiders by trying vainly most of the evening to catch a whisp of smoke named Rodney Allison, who played quarterback for Tech. When he wasn't tormenting the Husker flanks with his sprint-outs, he was puncturing the secondary with his passes.
And when the swashbuckling Nebraska offense, which had rallied the Huskers time and again, finally shoved the Raiders back to their 30-yard line when it failed on a fourth-and-10 play with 1:44 remaining, the onus was on the defense.
For Allison and his troops, that didn't appear to be an impossible task.
But that final drive lasted only one play. Husker defensive tackle Ron Pruitt, the forgotten man in the Blackshirt line, blew in and knocked Allison loose from the ball, and defensive end Reg Gast recovered on the Raider 22.
The victory was one that Nebraska's program sorely needed to remove some of the sour taste of nice tries in previous television games during the 9-3-1 season against Missouri and Oklahoma.
The Huskers showed abundant pluck by coming from 10 points back against a team that had done in with a 10-1 record and higher national ranking.
It was billed as a showoff night for quarterbacks Allison and Nebraska's Vince Ferragamo, and both responded brilliantly.
Ferragamo finished with 13 completions in 23 attempts for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Allison passed 23 times, too, completed 15 and also had two touchdowns to go with his 89 yards rushing.
With Nebraska sophomore I-back Rick Berns totaling 118 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns and Raider halfback Billy Taylor scoring a bowl-record three touchdowns, the combatants were as close in the final statistics as they were on the scoreboard. Nebraska held a 396-384-yard lead in total offense.
Ironically, there was no scoring the last 15 minutes, but there was enough the first three quarters to build the tension and enough chances for both teams in the fourth to keep it there.
Nebraska opened with an awesome display of ball-control power in an 80-yard drive that consumed 9 minutes, 18 seconds and 19 plays. Berns earned the final yard.
As the evening wore on, it became evident that such keepaway tactics were the best way to stop Allison and friends.
Rompin' Rodney showed his stuff with two 14-yard completions in his first drive, but all the Raiders got out of it was a 28-yard field goal by Brian Hall, who kicks with an artificial leg.
Then the Raiders sandwiched a pair of tainted touchdowns around a narrow miss by soccer booter David Melott from 58 yards.
The first came after defensive end Richard Arledge blindsided Ferragamo and Harold Buell, from the other wing, recovered the ensuing fumble at the Nebraska 32.
Allison dumped a pass over the middle to Taylor for 14 yards. Taylor was ridden into the end zone by linebacker Clete Pillen, who later left the game with a concussion.
The second Raider touchdown came in similar fashion with Allison and Taylor combining for 11 yards after taking possession at the N.U. 16 when Berns mishandled a pitchout.
The Huskers suddenly found themselves trailing, 17-7, late in the first half. So much for ball control.
The Huskers stepped up the pace with an 80-yard drive that started 1:41 before intermission. They made it to the end zone with 33 seconds to spare when Ferragamo hit tight end Mark Dufresne with a sideline pass and the California junior college transfer sailed 22 yards.
Tech had not drawn a penalty to that point, but the Raiders were tagged with a beauty in the Husker drive. Buell nearly claimed a first-down interception, and he spiked the ball in frustration. College football rules say that is a 15-yard no-no.
The drive was sided by a spectacular leaping reception of a 24-yard pass by wingback Dave Shamblin.
So the Huskers went to the lockers with a 17-14 deficit and feeling fortunate.
Tech opened the second half with a lightening 84-yard drive in 10 plays to widen the gap to 10 points again. In it, Allison logged completions of 14, 19 and 16 yards and escaped a turnover when a loose ball that N.U. safety Larry Valasek recovered was ruled a forward lateral — or incomplete pass — instead of a fumble.
Taylor shot eight yards straight ahead for the touchdown, his third to break a 17-way tie for the bowl record.
If the Astrodome fans were impressed with that one, they were dazzled by Nebraska's answer.
Husker Coach Tom Osborne didn't take the cozy route with his team starting from its seven-yard line after the kickoff and trailing, 24-14. He called a pass play to Shamblin that carried 21 yards.
Three plays later, on third-and-five, he went for the bundle. Wingback Curtis Craig took a pitchout, then imitated Ferragamo with a high heave downfield to Chuck Malito, who maneuvered for an over-the-head catch and a 49-yard gain.
On the next play, Texan Berns, high-stepped 18 yards to the end zone with a pitchout. Al Eveland's extra-point kick was wide, leaving the Huskers down, 24-20.
Then it was time for a defensive gamble. On a fourth-down punt, the Huskers rushed 10 men, and Kent Smith got a hand on the ball. Jeff Hansen made it six yards on the return to the Raider 18.
Before Tech could regroup, Ferragamo shot a touchdown pass to Malito in the left corner of the end zone, where there were no Raiders for company.
That was the final touchdown, but who would have believed it? There was still 7:01 left in the third quarter, and the offenses hadn't shown any signs of slowing up.
It was on Tech's next drive that the Husker defense started making growling noises. Maybe the Blackshirts were angry because end Ray Phillips and Pillen went out with injuries in the series.
But cornerback Dave Butterfield, who had also limped off earlier, broke up two successful passes after the Raiders had reached the Husker 15-yard line, and Hall's wooden leg failed him from 32 yards.
Nebraska pinned the Raiders on their two-yard line when Steve Lindquist downed a Randy Lessman punt two plays from end of the third quarter, but Allison escaped that dilemma with an 11-yard pass on first down and a 26-yard twisting run.
Enter Nebraska freshman middle guard Kerry Weinmaster. He sacked Allison, causing a fumble that Tech recovered, and the Huskers got a reprieve with a punt.
The next time Tech got the ball, Allison started it with a 26-yard pass to Sammy Williams and a 12-yard keeper. But Weinmaster came through with a tackle for a loss, fullback Jimmy Williams saw a pass skip off his fingers near the Husker five-yard line on third down, and Hall, who had been accurate on 15 of 20 field goals during the season, missed again from 37 yards.
The clock was down to 4:33 when the Huskers started from their 20, and Osborne again confounded the Raiders with a long pass on first down Malito had to come back for Ferrragamo's floater, but it was a 35-yard gain and a first down.
Another 14-yarder to tight end Kenny Spaeth drove the ball to the Tech 30, where the Huskers faced fourth-and-10. A field goal would have done little good with a three-point lead, so Ferragamo tried to pass, ended up scrambling and was stopped at the 30.
The ball went over to Tech with 1:44 left, and that's where Pruitt and Gast combined for their premature dramatics.
Allison was voted the outstanding back and Malito, who squeezed 107 yards out of only three receptions, was the outstanding lineman.
|Yards per carry||4.5||3.4|
Nebraska is 7-4 all-time against Texas Tech.
|Miami (FL)||Oct. 2|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 6|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
|Texas Tech||Dec. 30|
Nebraska has played 6 games on Dec. 30. See them all »
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