LINCOLN — Maybe Nebraska’s 33-15 football victory over Colorado was inevitable Saturday, considering the precedents, but they were in a cold sweat before the Buffs grudgingly accepted their seemingly habitual fate.
Colorado was threatening to pad a 15-3 lead midway through the second quarter, and even the most staunch Husker booster in the Memorial Stadium turnout of 76,486 was undergoing a severe test of faith.
Out of the gloom and mist, tiny Nebraska safety Larry Valasek suddenly materialized in front of Buff tight end Bob Niziolek — the leading receiver in the Big Eight Conference. Valasek intercepted a Jeff Knapple pass on the Nebraska 16-yard line and ran it back to the 26.
That turnover jogged Nebraska’s memory. This was Colorado it was facing, and the Huskers somehow keep finding a way to frustrate their western neighbors.
This time it was two lightning touchdowns before intermission that erased the Buff lead, and the Huskers used the impetus for a domineering second half.
While the Blackshirts were being vindicated after a lackluster showing last week against Iowa State, the Nebraska offense ran up season highs of 390 yards rushing and 480 yards in total offense.
The offensive display included 172 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries by the redoubtable sophomore I.M. Hipp, who rambled to his fifth consecutive game over 100 yards.
It was Hipp’s 28-yard scoring scamper and Tom Sorley’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Brown in the final 2:43 of the first half that suddenly blotted out a growing image of a 4-3 Nebraska record and a rugged trail through the final four games.
Instead, the Huskers survived another wobble-kneed start to raise their record to 5-2, which is infinitely better, and the Buffs went home 5-1-1. And, for the 10th straight year and the 15th in the last 16, Colorado must wait until next year.
It was such developments that had turned the Nebraska match into a grudge fight for the Buffs and prompted defensive tackle Ruben Vaughan to publicly proclaim his hatred for the Huskers.
Both teams had used Vaughan’s widely-quoted sentiments as a rallying point. The Vaughan comments and pictures of the Buff starters were taped on the floor at the entrance to the Nebraska locker room, where the Huskers could stomp on them on their way to battle.
The pictures were in shreds when the winners trooped back in to a raucous celebration that had Head Coach Tom Osborne, and Defensive Coordinator Lance Van Zandt hoisted onto the players’ shoulders and the chant “Wally, Wally, Wally” bouncing off the walls.
Wally is offensive guard Stan Waldemore, who lined up against Vaughan, perhaps the Big Eight’s most celebrated lineman, and held his own. Vaughan was credited with nine tackles.
“Everybody was fired up,” Waldemore said. “The Colorado fans were yelling, ‘Ruben, Ruben, Ruben' before the game. But I think we all handled them pretty well. That quote of his doesn’t mean anything now.”
As much as he cherished the victory, after stumbling the week before against Iowa State, Waldemore said his teammates’ salute afterward, “was the greatest thrill of my life.”
But it was the defense that earned some of the lustiest cheers from the home forces. The Blackshirts and friends held the Big Eight’s No. 1 offense to 266 yards — 161 below average — and shut out the Buffs the last 35 minutes.
“The way we performed last week — we stunk — we wanted to prove we weren’t that kind of team,” middle guard Kerry Weinmaster said.
“I’m really proud of them. Some teams will get down by 15-13 and get beat 42-10,” Van Zandt said. “Our players showed a lot of class.”
It was obvious from the start that it was going to be a knuckle-down afternoon for the Huskers. No playing it cozy when a second straight loss would wipe out any Big Eight championship plans.
Osborne called a long pass on the first play, but Buff Mike Davis intercepted. On the second series, he called a double hand-off, with Garcia again throwing. It, too, missed, and Nebraska settled for the first of two Billy Todd field goals.
In the third series, Osborne twice called for runs on fourth down from the Colorado 47 and 35. Hipp picked up the initial first down, and a penalty helped on the second.
Those examples of derring-do came with Nebraska trailing, 7-3, after Howard Ballage had returned a kickoff 98 yards in his first assignment as a return man.
“That razzle-dazzle stuff doesn’t always work, but we weren’t stopping them real well early. So we had to take a chance or two,” Osborne said. “A lot of times, what you do on offense depends on what you think your defense can do.”
That was Osborne’s way of saying he wasn’t going to wait around for the defense to bail his team out.
But the first six possessions by the Nebraska offense resulted only in Todd’s 42-yard field goal that rode the north wind over the cross bar by scant inches. Another attempt from the same distance hit the cross bar.
An interception, a lost fumble that set up the second Colorado touchdown and a drive that died on the Buff 22 kept the Nebraska offense stalled while the Buffs took charge.
Colorado traveled only 20 yards after Rick Berns mishandled a pitch, and Stuart Walker recovered in the second quarter. Buff fullback James Mayberry, who popped free enough times to gain 113 yards, gained the last yard, and Knapple kept for a two-point conversion and a 15-3 lead following a Nebraska penalty on the extra-point kick.
When the Buffs threatened again moments later, Valasek came up with his timely interception, and the action swung to the other end.
Two plays after the Huskers stalled out on the Buff 22, fullback Mike Holmes fumbled when he was hit by defensive captain Jeff Carpenter, and Larry Young recovered to give Nebraska another chance.
Hipp, who has been getting his share of national attention lately, was drawing much of the same from the Buffs to that point. He had managed but 24 yards on his first nine carries.
But on the second play after the Holmes fumble, Sorley called an I-back pitch to his left, then switched it to the right side when he saw how the Buffs were lined up. It was the correct decision since Hipp finally found an opening on his favorite play, cut back toward the middle and hooted 29 yards to the touchdown, leaving cornerback Odis McKinney sprawling with a fake at the 10.
That touchdown came with 2:43 left in the half, and Nebraska was fortunate to be as close as 15-10 at the half.
“We were out of it for a while. Maybe we should have felt fortunate to be only 15-10 behind. But, we didn’t want to feel fortunate. We wanted to feel ahead,” Sorley said.
He got his chance following a Knapple punt shortly thereafter, but the goal was 61 yards away, and only 1:04 remained.
Two plays netted six yards, but then Hipp busted a draw play for 25 yards, and, with a personal foul penalty tacked on, the Huskers were at the Colorado 22 with 12 seconds left.
Five seconds later, Nebraska was ahead by 16-15 after Sorley passed for the touchdown to wingback Brown over them middle.
The Nebraska coaches had noticed that when the Huskers lined up in the spread formation, Colorado had only three deep defensive backs, so they sent four receivers deep on Brown’s touchdown.
“The safety had two guys to cover, so I just threw to the one he left open,” Sorley said.
The whacky first half that saw each team help the other with turnovers concluded with one more bizarre episode in the final seven seconds. Todd’s kickoff banged off Buff lineman Willie Brock, who chased it back to the Husker 29 before he recovered.
Although the scoreboard clock hadn’t budged, referee Earl Shostrom ordered four seconds run off, and Buff kicker Pete Dadiotis was wide with a 41-yard field goal attempt. It was his second try. A penalty had wiped out Randy Rick’s block on the first attempt.
With the Husker defense asserting itself the second half, the offense marched long into the wind toward Todd’s 36-yard field goal for a 19-15 lead, then added strong drives of 73 and 59 yards for touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Colorado had one more serious threat early in the fourth quarter while the Huskers were protecting the 19-15 lead. Runs of 23 and 18 yards by Mayberry preceded a long pass from Knapple to Niziolek, who appeared to make the catch two yards from the N.U. goal. But the officials said the ball bounced on the AstroTurf as the big tight end was falling.
“I’m proud of the way the players never gave up,” Osborne said. “It was a big interception (by Valasek) because a score there really could have changed the game around.”
“Coach Van Zandt tries to teach us to make things happen,” Valasek said. “I don’t know if this takes the heat off or not. We’ve got Terry Miller (and Oklahoma State) to stop next week.”
|Yards per carry||4.8||5.7|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|Washington State||Sept. 10|
|Kansas State||Oct. 8|
|Iowa State||Oct. 15|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 29|
|North Carolina||Dec. 19|
Nebraska has played 18 games on Oct. 22. See them all »
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