LINCOLN — Memorial Stadium was the stage Saturday for another episode of Nebraska-Missouri football drama.
In this one, the last act was stolen by an unlikely cast of heroes.
Quarterback Bruce Mathison, I-back Mike Rozier, third-string fullback Mark Schellen, kicker Kevin Seibel and No. 2 linebacker Brent Evans took the curtain calls as Nebraska stormed from behind in the fourth quarter for a 23-19 victory.
Rozier, who had suffered a hip pointer and wasn’t expected to play, ran for 139 yards and went over 1,000 yards for the season.
“I thought our players really showed a lot of courage today,” said Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne.
Mathison demonstrated plenty of nerve with his performance before a crowd of 76,401 and a regional television audience.
The senior quarterback had never played under pressure before. He was thrust into that situation when the Cornhusker offense was crippled by the loss of Turner Gill, who suffered a concussion late in the first half.
Gill was hit by Tiger defensive tackle Randy Jostes as he carried out a fake running play.
Missouri-Nebraska games of the past have been marked by controversial tackles, and Osborne, although he was on the field protesting after the play, declined to comment after the game on the play that injured Gill.
It wasn’t an easy situation for Mathison Even when Gill was in, the Huskers had problems with the Tiger defense. Mizzou led 7-3 when Gill left and NU trailed at the half 7-6.
“On Bruce’s first three or four series, he got stopped because he wasn’t reading correctly,” Osborne said. “After time went on, he really did a good job.”
He did well enough to direct the Huskers to a field goal and two touchdowns on three of their last four possessions, and then helped run the clock out on the Tigers the final time Nebraska got the ball.
The late heroics wiped out the 10-6 lead Missouri took with 6:56 left in the third quarter, and the 13-9 edge the Tigers had deep into the fourth quarter.
“You’ve got to say a lot of good things about Bruce Mathison,” Osborne said. “Bruce showed a lot of class today. That’s the first time he ever had to play when it was tough, and he won it.”
Seibel was a vindicated hero. Last year he missed all three of his field goals and one extra point in a 6-0 win at Missouri.
This time he was responsible for keeping Nebraska in the game, scoring all the Husker points until the final quarter. He made a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter, a 23-yarder in the second quarter and a 29-yarder in the third quarter.
Rozier, the nation’s third leading rusher, normally wouldn’t be considered an unlikely hero. Against Missouri he was a prime candidate.
He didn’t start the game because of a hip pointer suffered last week against Kansas State. He didn’t play at all in the first quarter.
When the game was on the line, it was Rozier who got the Huskers’ big yards. He finished with 139 on 17 carries.
“I really don’t think very many people will ever realize the amount of courage Mike Rozier showed today,” Osborne said. “He was really hurting bad, and he’s hurting bad right now.”
Nebraska trailed 13-9 when Missouri’s Brad Burditt kicked a 51-yard field goal with 9:07 left in the game.
Missouri had Nebraska backed up against a wall. Rozier was the guy who shoved the Tigers out of the way. The Cornhuskers started the drive to their go-ahead touchdown on the 21. On the first play, Rozier broke for 17 yards.
His next big play was a 10-yard pass from Mathison. He saved his best run for last, a 27-yarder that ended at the Tiger 1.
After two sneaks by Mathison were short of the goal, Schellen leaped high into the arms of a Tiger, and the end zone.
Schellen’s score and Kevin Seibel’s extra point put the Huskers ahead for the first time since the first quarter field goal. It was 16-13 with just 4:46 left.
Schellen hasn’t played much this season behind Roger Craig and Doug Wilkening. He was needed against the Tigers because Wilkening hurt his shoulder and Craig lasted only a few plays before being sidelined against by the ankle injury.
Schellen said he leaped because he had watched the Tiger tackles pinch inside on Mathison’s sneaks.
“I knew I couldn’t go through so I just went over the top,” said Schellen, a junior from Waterloo, Neb.
Evans, a linebacker from St. Louis, made his contribution to the victory on Missouri’s third play after the Schellen touchdown.
He did it with an interception of a Brad Perry pass that he returned five yards to the Tiger 19. Evans, a starter last year, also hasn’t played much this season because of the depth the Huskers have at linebacker.
Mathison capitalized on the interception with a 16-yard touchdown run with 2:36 left. In the span of 2:10, Nebraska turned a bleak situation into a 23-13 lead.
Evans’ interception and Mathison’s touchdown were needed because Mike Hyde, a third-string quarterback, directed the Tigers on a 10-play, 80-yard drive to a touchdown. It came on a 24-yard pass to tight end Andy Gibler with 53 seconds left in the game.
“If we would have stopped them on the last drive, we would have had an excellent defensive game,” Osborne said.
Missouri failed on a two-point conversion pass after Gibler’s touchdown. Then Husker Shane Swanson thwarted a Missouri onside kick attempt when he smothered the ball at the Missouri 49 with 53 seconds remaining.
Nebraska ran out the clock with three running plays.
Rozier had rushed for 212 and 204 yards in his last two games. Osborne said all week that he was doubtful for the game.
“Rozier just amazed me,” Osborne said. “I didn’t think he would be able to play, and if he did, I didn’t think he’d last over three of four plays.”
Rozier hasn’t received much national attention despite his yardage production. His 139 yards against the Tigers pushed his season total to 1,005.
“It’s pretty obvious what he means to our football team.” Osborne said. “The guy just make things happen by himself. There just can’t be very many football players like that in the country.”
The drive to the go-ahead touchdown included two key third-down plays. Irving Fryar picked up one with a 6-yard completion from Mathison on third-and-4 from the Nebraska 44. Rozier got 6 yards on a run from a third-and-4 situation at the Missouri 44.
Rozier’s 27-yard run to the Tiger 1 was sprung by a block from Schellen, who ran over the Tigers’ blitzing Kevin Potter.
Schellen was asked what would have happened if he would have missed Potter.
“Mike gets smashed, and I get in trouble,” he said.
Schellen said he made backfield coach Mike Corgan mad in the first half. Wilkening got hurt, and Schellen was having air put into the air-cushioned padding of his helmet when Corgan looked to put him in. Corgan used Mark Moravec instead.
“He was real mad,” Schellen said. Schellen was glad he was able to contribute to the win after his first-half problem.
“I feel a lot better,” Shellen said. “i wanted to show Coach I could come through.”
Missouri’s defense held Nebraska’s nation-leading offense to its lowest yardage total of the season. The Huskers gained 396 yards - 319 rushing and 77 passing.
Missouri had 118 rushing and 211 passing for 297. Perry completed 21 of 41 passes, but had three intercepted.
Nebraska’s big yardage edge came in kickoff and punt returns. The Huskers returned four punts for 74 yards and two kickoffs for 67. Missouri didn’t return any punts, and had two kickoff returns for 22 yards.
“Our kicking game was excellent,” Osborne said. “It might have been the difference in the game.”
One of Grant Campbell’s punts was downed on the Missouri 3, and the Huskers just missed stopping another inside the 5 before it went into the end zone.
After Missouri’s Burditt produced a 10-6 lead with a 23-yard field goal in the third quarter, Nebraska’s Fryar returned a kickoff 58 yards before being caught from behind.
Fryar, who missed the last three games with a sprained ankle, said his injury kept him from scoring.
“if I was 100 percent, I would have been gone,” he said.
Both teams had three turnovers. Missouri’s were pass interceptions and Nebraska’s were fumbles.
“Those really hurt,” Osborne said.
Nebraska’s first drive of the game ended at the Missouri 9 when Wilkening lost a fumble. It was only the second time in seven games that Nebraska hasn’t on its first possession of the game.
Wilkening lost another fumble in the third quarter at the NU 5. The Tigers capitalized with Burditt’s 23-yard field goal.
Nebraska’s third fumble was by defensive back Dave Burke after he intercepted a Perry pass and returned it 21 yards to the NU 46. Missouri used the break to get Burditt’s 51-yard field goal.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Osborne said. “Those are enough to get a team beat. The really satisfying thing to me was the way we kept hanging in there and coming back.”
Osborne said if the Huskers would have capitalized on their opportunities early, they could have opened a big lead.
“We had chances early to go up 14, 17 or 21 points, and just didn’t convert them,” Osborne said. “Again their blitzes caused us to have bad plays, and we missed a couple of passes that could have been touchdowns. They were pretty well thrown.”
Ricky Simmons and Todd Brown both had potential touchdown passes in their hands during the first half.
Osborne praised the overall performance of the Tigers, who may have dropped out of the Big Eight race.
Their record dropped to 3-2-2 overall and 0-2-1 in the Big Eight.
“We got a tremendous effort out of Missouri,” he said. “I don’t know if Missouri will play any harder all year long than they did today.”
The Tigers, who were a 25-point underdog, now play at Oklahoma State Saturday, while the Huskers, 5-1, travel to Kansas in an attempt to better their 3-0 Big Eight mark.
|Yards per carry||2.2||5.9|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|New Mexico State||Sept. 18|
|Penn State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 6|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
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