IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was difficult to pick out the winners in Kinnick Stadium late Saturday afternoon.
The scoreboard said Nebraska won and Iowa lost, 24-21. But as the teams left the field, they were enveloped by an ovation that started as polite applause and grew into a full-throated roar.
A turnout of 60,055 — sixth largest in Hawkeye history — had just been treated to a magnificent display of grit on both sides.
Nebraskans, who had seen their three-touchdown favorites trail by two touchdowns late in the third quarter, stood and saluted the Cornhuskers’ winning mettle.
Iowans showed their admiration after the inspired Hawkeyes played the highfalutin, seventh-ranked Huskers to a near standoff.
It was a showing worthy of the rebirth of a proud old rivalry that had been dormant for 33 years.
“They (Hawkeyes) were winners, too,” said Nebraska quarterback Tim Hager, who came off the bench in the third quarter to cure a fumble-afflicted Husker offense. He directed two flawless touchdown drives to catch up and another march to Dean Sukup’s winning 30-yard field goal with 5:52 remaining.
The Huskers had kept their wits while a fanatical Hawk defense and six fumbles — five lost — had grounded the nation’s most prodigious offense.
The pro-Hawk crowd was in a frenzy when the winless home forces took a 21-7 lead with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter. Jeff Quinn, the Husker starting quarterback, was on the bench, suffering from a sprained ankle and frustration. Beside him was I.M. Hipp, the regular I-back, receiving treatment for painful stomach and leg injuries.
“I felt something slipping out there,” Husker Coach Tom Osborne said.
Mike Corgan, the Husker backfield coach, said, “You have to play to beat hell to play over fumbles like that, which we did. But one more turnover and we’d never have caught them. I knew if we got our knitting together, it would take a pretty good team to beat us.”
The Husker offense never dropped a stitch thereafter.
Hager, a senior from Lincoln Southeast and a career understudy, welcomed Jarvis Redwine to the backfield for a 61-yard touchdown drive that whittled the lead to 21-14 before the third quarter was over. Redwine chipped in runs of 18 and 20 yards, and Hager swept the right flank from the 4.
Eight plays, no fumbles. “I hope we got some things out of our system,” said Osborne, whose team has lost eight fumbles in two games.
Into the fourth quarter, the Huskers held onto the ball for 10 consecutive plays on a 51-yard drive to the tying touchdown. Craig Johnson, a junior who had been brought along only as insurance while anticipating a redshirt year, made his appearance on the drive and burst off right tackle from the 5 for the touchdown. With Hipp down and the Hawks still firing without falling back, it was no time to think about next year.
With the offense finally able to control the ball, the Nebraska Blackshirts turned up the pressure a notch.
‘They (Hawks) were causing turnovers, and we weren’t,” defensive tackle Dan Pensick said. “Turnovers give the offense field position. We finally worked it out at the end.”
Iowa, unflawed on offense down to the last 10 minutes while operating with its former No. 2 quarterback, Pete Gales, finally wilted under the heat.
A Gales completion to Brad Reid resulted in Husker possession when Nebraska monster back Mark LeRoy whacked Reid, and end Derrie Nelson recovered the fumble on the Nebraska 42. LeRoy also snuffed the next Hawk drive with an interception.
A Hager pass to Junior Miller and a personal foul penalty set up Sukup for the game-winner after the drive fizzled at the 13 following the fumble recovery. But the deciding points did not come easily, either.
“Their nose guard slapped the ball just as I was snapping it, and it wobbled back there,” center Trey DeLoach said. But Hager steadied the ball on the tee, and senior Sukup delivered on his first varsity field goal attempt.
“I was proud of the way we reacted to adversity. Some teams would have collapsed. Ours isn’t that way,” Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Lance Van Zandt said.
Line Coach Charlie McBride let out a sigh of relief and allowed that maybe he wasn’t snakebitten after all. He had been 0-5 against Iowa with Wisconsin teams before moving to Nebraska.
“Our kids have more class than a Rolls Royce,” McBride chortled. “It was just a matter of time; I was just hoping time didn’t run out.”
Everything else being nearly equal, habit may have tipped the decision in the Huskers’ favor, Osborne said.
“I think possibly a big difference was that our players have won quite a few ball games, and even when we were down 21-7, they still had confidence. It might have been just the opposite for the Iowa players,” he said.
Nebraska carried a legacy of annual bowl games and top-10 finishes against a team that has absorbed three straight nice-try losses and has not had a winning season in 17 years.
But, as new Hawk Coach Hayden Fry said afterwards, “I think Nebraska thinks they’ve been in a ball game.”
There were no dissenters in the Husker locker room. “They were unbelievable for an 0-3 ball club,” Pensick said.
Nebraska’s problems started promptly. Before the first snap, Quinn called time out because something was confusing about the Hawk defense.
On the first play, Hipp mishandled a pitch, and Omaha native Bryan Skradis, playing end for the Hawks, outlasted the pack in the greased-pig chase for the loose ball on the NU 14.
Three plays later, fullback Dean McKillip scored the first of his two touchdowns.
Hipp also lost a fumble to another Nebraskan, Hawk captain Jim Molini of Norfolk, on the second series, and Tim Wurth lost another to Molini on the fifth try.
But Tim Smith’s punting and the Husker defense kept the Hawks at bay until the offense could tie it up at the half, 7-7, on Quinn’s third straight quarterback sneak.
Gales gave an estimated 7,000 Husker followers that uneasy feeling with an 87-yard drive in the third quarter. McKillip put the Hawks up 14-7.
That drive was aided by a pass interference penalty against Andy Means, who was diving for the ball along with Mike Brady. A substitute Big 10 official nearest the play kept the flag in his pocket while Big Eight back judge Dan Upson made the delayed call.
“I don’t know whether it was interference or not,” Means said. “The guy involved in the play can’t always tell.”
Then it was fumble time again. Hager was sacked by Molini, and Mark Mahmens recovered on the Nebraska 47.
Two plays later the visitors were in a cold sweat. Gales completed back-to-back passes of 18 yards to Nate Person and a 29-yard touchdown to Keith Chappelle, who cut across the middle behind safety Russell Gary.
“I slipped, but that’s no excuse,” Gary said.
The house was roaring with the Hawks up 21-7, and time was fading fast in the third quarter.
The Husker comeback coincided with an untimely injury to Hawkeye defensive end Andre Tippett, who was carried from the field on a stretcher after he collapsed on the following kickoff. Tippett was not seriously injured, but the crowd was suddenly subdued.
The statistics reflected the tightness of the battle. Nebraska led in total yards, 284-239, and in rushing, 244-85.
Redwine was the leading rusher with 89 yards on 12 carries. Hipp was next with 74 yards on 16 carries, and Hawkeye Dennis Mosley logged 67 on 21.
Iowa had clearly the better of the passing. Gales, making his first appearance of the season in place of injured regular Phil Seuss, completed 10 of 25 for 154 yards, including five to California junior college transfer Chappelle for 71 yards.
Nebraska’s passing game was virtually non-existent. Quinn completed five of 12 for 29 yards and Hager 1 for 1 for 11.
Tight end Junior Miller found the going so rough in the secondary that the Hawks picked up pass interference and/or personal foul penalties on three passes directed at him.
Down the stretch, Hawkeye freshman punter Reggie Roby, who had been booting superbly, shanked one for 20 yards to help the rally.
“Iowa played tough all the way. We couldn’t relax, but they made mistakes toward the end,” LeRoy said.
Three times, the Huskers came close to scoring the putaway touchdown in the final minutes. The Hawks held at their 14 and 12, and the ball was on the 11 at game’s end.
Twice, Iowa called pass plays on fourth down from deep in its own end and turned the ball over.
“It was exciting. We gave the people their money’s worth,” Means said.
Osborne saw little humor on the situation. “We weren’t sharp, but it was a good game to win,” he said.
Turning to Van Zandt, the defensive chief, Osborne said, “I can’t believe how bad we played on offense. Well, we’ve each had one now (the defense had shaky moments in the opening win against Utah State),” he said.
Van Zandt replied: “It’s about time we put it together.”
The next try will be Saturday against Penn State in Lincoln.
|Yards per carry||2.4||3.5|
Nebraska is 29-17 all-time against Iowa.
|Utah State||Sept. 15|
|Penn State||Sept. 29|
|New Mexico State||Oct. 6|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 17|
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