MEMPHIS — Randy Garcia, remember him? He was one of the heroes in Nebraska’s dramatic victory over Alabama way back when.
He hadn’t been heard from for a while since losing his job to Tom Sorley. But there Garcia was, throwing two touchdown passes after mesmerizing fakes in the last 11 minutes in the Liberty Bowl Monday night.
Monte Anthony and Greg Moritz? They had been in Coach Tom Osborne’s dog house and were to be used against North Carolina only if they were needed.
They certainly were.
Anthony was at fullback and Moritz was at right offensive guard in the final hectic quarter when the Cornhuskers pulled off a gutcheck turnaround for a 21-17 verdict over the rambunctious Tar Heels.
Garcia, filling in after Sorley injured an elbow, came in after a beleaguered Husker defense finally came up with one of those crucials it had been lacking — a tipped pass by linebacker Lee Kunz and interception by tackle Barney Cotton at the Husker 26-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Tar Heels were leading by 17-7 at that point, and another Carolina score there would have meant a long, dreary winter in Nebraska.
Garcia took his team 74 yards in 11 plays, including a 12-yard pass to Ken Spaeth and a 10-yard touchdown toss to wingback Curtis Craig.
Then, after first-time punt returner Tim Wurth muffed a catch and lost the ball 26 yards from the Husker goal, the 3,500 Husker fans in the audience of 49,456 and the legions watching on TV back home had another sinking spell.
Carolina quarterback Matt Kupec, however, unaccountably lost 20 yards and the ball to Dan Pensick on a rollout.
Garcia had six minutes to work with and 53 yards to cover. He made it with 3:16 to spare when he rifled a 34-yard touchdown pass to split end Tim Smith, who had fled down the middle behind the secondary.
Those two lightning jaunts salvaged a game that had been a series of frustrations for the Huskers that included failure to get even a field goal when time ran out on a Sorley fumble after reaching the Carolina 6 and the Blackshirt defense’s inability to stop the Tar Heel third down plays.
At one point, Carolina had converted 10 straight third down attempts en route to the 17-7 lead on Tom Biddle’s Liberty Bowl record 47-yard field goal that hit the cross bar and bounced over.
Nebraska’s outing had been one big bad bounce after another until Garcia & Co. entered in the fourth quarter.
The comeback victory let the Huskers escape their first four-loss season since Bob Devaney’s 1968 team went 6-4.
Outside of a 64-yard hike in six plays that ended when fullback Dodie Donnell dashed up the middle 15 yards to tie it at 7-7, North Carolina looked every bit the national leader in scoring defense.
But the Huskers lived up to their offensive reputation while dominating the deciding period. In the drive to the touchdown that made it 17-14, Anthony carried four times for 30 yards.
Anthony, Moritz and four subs who hadn’t figured to play if the game was close had been told they would not play unless it was necessary after they stayed up past curfew playing cards the night before.
Moritz replaced Lawrence Cooley in the fourth quarter after Cooley filled in when regular guard Steve Lindquist was injured in the first quarter.
With its magic act that was every bit as dramatic as the 27-24 Bluebonnet Bowl over Texas Tech the year before, Nebraska erased much of the bad taste of a season-ending 38-7 loss to Oklahoma and closed out at 9-3. Carolina, a touchdown underdog, finished 8-3-1.
Osborne, avoiding the poorest record in his five seasons as head coach, called his Huskers “the greatest bunch of guys I’ve ever coached.” His voice was heavy with emotion after the Huskers rallied for a major victory following a loss for the third time.
But it took a long time coming, and the way Kupec, the Carolina sophomore quarterback repeatedly befuddled the Husker defense with his third down calls, and time-consuming attack, only the staunchest Nebraska booster could have expected a Husker victory celebration.
But Kupec, who was named the game’s outstanding player, gave the Husker offense the chances it needed with two lost fumbles and Cotton’s interception in the final period.
The game had been billed as another duel between top-notch running backs, and Husker soph I.M. Hipp won when Carolina freshman Famous Amos Lawrence defaulted with a sprained ankle in the second quarter.
Lawrence was held to 35 yards on eight carries while Hipp managed 52 on 18 to finally become the Huskers’ all-time rushing leader for one season. He needed 41 yards to erase Bobby Reynolds’ mark of 1,342 yards set in nine games in 1950.
Fullbacks Donnell and Anthony worked the middle for 59 and 39 yards, respectively.
But it was the Husker passing that did in the Tar Heels. Sorley completed 11 of 13 for 105 yards, and Garcia completed his only three attempts for 56 yards and two touchdowns.
North Carolina showed it was no Atlantic Coast Conference patsy by marching to a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. Kupec passed up a field goal on fourth down and one from the N.U. 14, and Kupec made it on a sneak.
Then the sophomore pitched 12 yards for the touchdown to tight end Brooks Williams.
The Huskers answered that with a 64-yard march in six plays, starting with a 22-yard pass from Sorley to Smith including fullback traps of 17 and the final 15 yards by Donnell.
But a wacky 83-yard march that took 19 plays and 7:49 put the Tar Heels back in charge, 14-7, in the second quarter.
On third and 12, Kupec scrambled for 16. On third and six, Husker safety Larry Valasek was called for pass interference on a pas that was wide of wingback Mel Collins. First down at the 11.
Two plays later, Kupec rolled to his left, headed up field and fired into the end zone to fullback Bob Loomis. Nebraska partisans claimed Kupec was across the line of scrimmage.
The Huskers appeared headed for a tying touchdown or at least a field goal when Sorley completed five straight passes to put his team six yards from the Carolina goal with nine seconds left.
But Sorley was pressured on the next play, tried to unload, and the ball rolled free. The officials ruled it a fumble instead of an incompletion as time ran out.
After Biddle’s field goal made it 17-7 in the third quarter, another Husker bid was blunted when Sorley fumbled the ball away in Tar Heel territory after gaining 14 yards and an apparent first down.
But the Huskers were charmed in the fourth quarter, and the vaunted Tar Heel defense wound up yielding its highest point total of the season.
Although reserve tailback Doug Paschal was the leading rusher with 77 yards and Kupec completed seven of 11 passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns, Nebraska outyarded the Tar Heels, 367-262.
|Yards per carry||3.1||4.0|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against North Carolina.
|Washington State||Sept. 10|
|Kansas State||Oct. 8|
|Iowa State||Oct. 15|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 29|
|North Carolina||Dec. 19|
Nebraska hasn't played any other games on Dec. 19.
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