COLUMBIA, S.C. — In the beginning, Saturday’s game against South Carolina looked like another breather for Nebraska.
The third-ranked Huskers scored on their first two possessions and had a 77-yard touchdown pass wiped out by a penalty before the Gamecocks ever snapped the ball in NU territory.
But by the end, it took every breath 4-0 Nebraska had to pull out a 27-24 win over 1-4 South Carolina. A sellout crowd of 73,109 at Williams-Brice Stadium endured 94-degree heat and 50 percent humidity to see the Huskers come from behind twice in the final 10 minutes to win.
“We had some good breaks and some bad breaks,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “We had enough big plays early that got called back that we could have put the game away.
“Then probably at the end, we were pretty fortunate to win.”
With 3:09 left in the game, Nebraska was in trouble. The Huskers, 25-point favorites, trailed 24-20. They had just punted. And all South Carolina had to do was kill the clock.
It looked all too similar to a game two years ago. A game played a long way from home in front of a noisy crowd against a big underdog.
The final that day was Syracuse 17, Nebraska 9.
“I’m sure a lot of guys who started back then had flashbacks to Syracuse,” I-back Keith Jones said. “But I didn’t want to experience that. We’ve got some goals set, and in order to achieve them, we need to win every game.”
Those goals are still in order because the ball finally began bouncing Nebraska’s way.
With 2:08 to play, NU defensive end Broderick Thomas stripped wingback Raynard Brown of the football and cornerback Brian Davis recovered at the Gamecocks’ 26-yard line.
Three plays later, quarterback Steve Taylor hit tight end Todd Millikan with an 11-yard touchdown pass his fourth TD in five catches this season to give Nebraska a 27-24 lead with 1:26 to play.
The Gamecocks still weren’t through.
Brown made up for his bobble by returning the ensuing kickoff 41 yards. A 15-yard face mask penalty added on against Nebraska put South Carolina on the NU 39 with 1:18 to play.
But when quarterback Todd Ellis, who hit 19 of 24 passes the second half, tried another pass down the middle, Nebraska free safety Bryan Siebler picked it off at the Husker 10 with 38 seconds left to save the win.
“To be able to get an interception like that to save a game is something I’ve always dreamed about,” said Siebler, a senior from Fremont, Neb. “It just goes to show that if you never give up, good things will happen to you.”
South Carolina, which lost 31-26 to Georgia last week, is still waiting for something good that doesn’t include a moral victory.
“There is no question this is a tough loss,” Gamecocks’ Coach Joe Morrison said. “But I was proud of our young men. They played their hearts out for 60 minutes against a great team.”
South Carolina loaded its run-and-shoot offense mostly with blanks the first half. The Gamecocks snapped the ball in Nebraska territory on only one of 29 plays as the Huskers took a 13-7 lead.
But in the second half, South Carolina moved 41 yards for a 38-yard Scott Hagler field goal to cut the gap to 13-10 in the third quarter, then bolted 80 yards in 11 plays to take a 17-13 lead with 11:06 left in the game. Freshman running back Harold Green, who tied a school record by scoring three touchdowns, capped the drive with a 2-yard run.
After Nebraska’s Dana Brinson broke a 57-yard touchdown run, the Gamecocks’ zipped 68 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown, with Green scoring again from the 7. That gave the Gamecocks a 24-20 lead with 4:23 to play.
“Their offense was very, very good,” Osborne said. “We just couldn’t seem to stop that dump pass they kept throwing. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board a little.”
Nebraska got the ball back, but was stopped for the seventh time in nine possessions without a score.
“They gambled a lot on defense,” Osborne said. “As a result, they shut down a lot of things.”
South Carolina got the ball on its 20 with 3:09 to play, but it was then that the Nebraska defense No. 5 in the country but gouged for 377 total yards decided it had had enough.
“We had to do it,” Thomas said. “They had hurt us on some things. So we had to come back.”
Thomas did his part by pulling the ball away from South Carolina’s Brown, who had just caught a swing pass from Ellis.
“I was covering the inside receiver,” Thomas said. “I was going to go out of bounds.”
So was NU’s Davis, the man who recovered it.
“I was happy we didn’t get a bad bounce for a change,” Davis said. “Broderick hit him right by the sidelines, but I was right there.”
That set the offense up at the South Carolina 26, and wide receiver Rod Smith said that unit wasn’t going to blow it.
“Everybody on the sidelines was pumping each other up,” he said.
“But everybody in the huddle just looked each other in the eye and gave a nod.
“We didn’t have to get all excited. Looking around, we all believed we were going to score.”
Taylor, who passed for 196 yards and rushed for 53 despite nearly dislocating a finger on his left hand in the third quarter, rolled right for 9 yards, left for 6 and then found Millikan open in the end zone. The play, which Osborne said hadn’t been used yet this season, came off of play action out of the power I formation.
“It looked like it might be open,” Millikan said. “They kind of converged on me when Steve threw it.
“It just got over the guy’s hand who was guarding me. I was just glad I caught the ball so we could get out of here with a win.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Nebraska was nailed for a flagrant face mask violation, one of several calls during the game that had Osborne stomping the sideline.
Besides a 77-yard pass to Smith called back for offensive interference in the second quarter, Brinson had a 76-yard punt return in the third quarter to the South Carolina 14 called back for an illegal block.
Then in the fourth quarter, after South Carolina’s final touchdown, Nebraska had a trick 42-yard kickoff return wiped out.
Brinson fielded the ball 8 yards deep in the end zone, ran out to the 10, then lateraled to Terry Rodgers who scampered 32 more yards. But Brinson was called for an illegal forward pass.
Despite those calls and Nebraska’s 70 yards on eight penalties compared to South Carolina’s 30 yards on five, Osborne declined to comment on the officiating. A split crew worked the game, with three from the Big Eight and four from the Southern Independent Association.
“We had a lot of big plays called back today,” he said.
“Sometimes you just have to win anyway and we did that.”
Osborne said the turnovers, though a long time in coming, were a key to the comeback.
“South Carolina did what they really hadn’t been doing all year and that was take care of the ball,” Osborne said. “They had one turnover through all but the last five or six minutes, and then we finally got two big ones. Fortunately, we capitalized on those.”
The way the game opened, the last thing you would have expected was that Nebraska would need an interception to save the game.
The Huskers took the opening kickoff and stomped 74 yards in 15 plays, using 6 minutes and 50 seconds. Jones, who had 103 yards on 26 carries, had a 19-yard run in the drive and Taylor hit Brinson for 21 more.
On fourth and one at the South Carolina 20, the Gamecocks jumped offside, giving Nebraska its first down. Five plays later, Jones took a pitch and swept right for a 5-yard touchdown run. Dale Klein made the extra point to put NU up 7-0.
After forcing South Carolina to punt, Nebraska marched 48 yards before stalling at the 20. Klein came on to kick a 37-yard field goal, putting Nebraska up 10-0 with 3:27 left in the first quarter.
Some Husker fans might have relaxed at that point, but not Osborne.
“We came in thinking it would be a tough ballgame all day long,” he said. “We just missed a couple of scoring opportunities early that could have put us up about 24-0.”
One came when Taylor hit Smith on hook pattern, Smith shook two tackles and raced 77 yards to the end zone.
But the Huskers were called for offensive pass interference, which wiped out the score and cost them the down, forcing a punt.
“I think they called it on Dana Brinson,” Smith said. “I ran a 16-yard hook and he ran a 6-yard out.
“On the play, it looked like Steve was going to run, so Dana turned around and he ran into a guy.”
On the fourth play of South Carolina’s next possession, Ellis fumbled the snap and defensive tackle Chris Spachman recovered at the Gamecocks’ 46.
Nebraska couldn’t take advantage and had to punt. South Carolina took over at its 20 and started its only scoring drive of the half.
Ellis hit wingback Sterling Sharpe for 19 yards to midfield. On the next play with 6:10 left in the second quarter, Green went up the middle for a yard, which was the Gamecocks’ first penetration into NU territory of the game.
After a 7-yard sack, Ellis dropped back and hit Green on a middle screen. The freshman snagged the ball with one hand, bumped into an official, swiveled through a couple of tackles and ran 56 yards for a touchdown. Hagler kicked the extra point to cut the gap to 10-7 with 4:47 left in the half.
On Nebraska’s first play after the touchdown, Taylor found Millikan wide open near midfield for what turned into a 73-yard pass to the South Carolina 7. But two plays later, Jones dropped Taylor’s option pitch and Kenneth Robinson recovered at the South Carolina 10.
Nebraska got the ball back before halftime and drove 60 yard before being stopped. Klein kicked a 28-yard field goal with three seconds left in the half.
Osborne said he wasn’t upset Nebraska had to come from behind against a team many thought the Huskers would blow out.
“It was a good game for the fans and a good game for football,” he said. “We may drop in the rankings. But if you saw the game, you realize we played pretty good football.
“This kind of game, down the road, will help you a lot more than one you win by three touchdowns.”
|Yards per carry||2.3||4.7|
Nebraska is 3-1 all-time against South Carolina.
|Florida State||Sept. 6|
|South Carolina||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 1|
|Iowa State||Nov. 8|
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