LINCOLN — Nebraska scored two touchdowns in the final seven minutes, then stopped a Kansas State drive that reached the NU 7, to pull out a 38-31 win Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
When NU outside linebacker Travis Hill jarred Paul Watson’s pass loose from tight end Russ Campbell on fourth down and seven, he secured seventh- and ninth-ranked Nebraska’s fifth win in six games.
Kansas State, 4-2, entered the game as a 33-point underdog.
“I know a lot of our people will be conditioned by the gamblers,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “It seems like no matter what you see on film and what you say, once that line comes out, it’s the official word.
“Kansas State has a much better football team than that. They’re a legitimate team. I think they’re capable of winning against most anybody in the league.”
The Wildcats, the team with the worst overall record in Division I, appeared on the verge of their first win over the Huskers since 1968. They led 31-24 and had the ball on the NU 16 with less than nine minutes left. But place-kicker Tate Wright punched a 32-yard field goal try wide left.
The Huskers needed just seven plays and 1:46 to drive 80 yards and tie it. The big play came on first and 10 from the K-State 44. Quarterback Keithen McCant wriggled free from two Wildcat pass rushers, rolled to the sideline and found tight end Johnny Mitchell behind linebacker Brooks Barta for a 41-yard completion to the 3. I-back Derek Brown ran it in from there, and Byron Bennett’s extra point tied it 31-31 with 6:49 to go.
The Huskers then forced a punt, and Tyrone Hughes’ 18-yard return gave them the ball at the 40. McCant sprinted 19 yards on second down, and three plays later fullback Lance Lewis rumbled 25 yards to the 1. Brown leaped over the pile on the next play for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:47 to go.
It was Brown’s third touchdown. The sophomore I-back finished with 145 yards in 28 carries, his sixth straight 100-yard day.
Kansas State’s upset hopes appeared almost over when outside linebacker Trev Alberts sacked Watson for a 6-yard loss on the Wildcats’ first play after the kickoff, making it second and 16 from the K-State 21.
But Watson hit a lunging Smith for 30 yards, Campbell for 20 more and Frank Hernandez for 11. A 4-yard run by Curtis Madden gave them second and goal at the NU 7 with a minute left.
Watson, under pressure from Hill and John Parrella, fired a pass over the middle. But Wilhite broke it up. Then Watson, scrambling away from pressure once again, was wide on a pass for Smith at the goal line.
And on fourth down, with linebacker Ed Stewart bearing down on him, Watson threw to Campbell. Hill — who was supposed to blitz on the play, but missed the call because of the roaring crowd — knocked it loose.
“In some ways I’m concerned,” Osborne said. “In some ways I’m pleased.
“I think if you can put yourselves in the shoes of those players — they’d beaten Kansas State a lot of years, and they’d never had very many close games. . .
“No matter what I say to them, no matter what we see on film, I’m sure the emotional readiness, the emotional intensity, is not quite the same as if you’re playing a Top 20 team.
“Maybe I didn’t have ‘em ready to play today. I thought I did. We stood around a little bit in the first part of the ballgame.
“But some of that was just that Kansas State played well.”
The Wildcats needed just one series to move ahead 7-0 — their first lead over the Huskers since 1983, when Mike Rozier retreated into the end zone on the opening kickoff for a safety.
Watson — who would finish 26 for 46 for 340 yards — completed his first four passes, taking the Wildcats to the NU 39. But the big play came after two incomplete passes. On third and 10 from the 39, Smith made a one-handed, over-the-shoulder catch with Legette all over him for a 34-yard gain. Two plays later, Watson scrambled away from David White and found Smith for a 7-yard touchdown. Wright’s extra point made it 7-0 with 7:17 left in the first half.
The Huskers retaliated with two long, quick touchdown drives — seven plays, 77 yards, 2:09; and eight plays, 79 yards, 2:27. Brown capped the first drive by leaping over a pile for a 1-yard score. McCant finished the second by heading left on a short-side option, then cutting back across the field and racing in untouched from 32 yards out. Bennett’s second extra point made it 14-7 with 1:07 left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats threatened to tie it on their next drive, reaching the NU 4. But three penalties stopped them — ineligible receiver downfield, illegal procedure and holding. They settled for Wright’s 26-yard field goal, which cut the Husker lead to 14-10.
Another penalty scuttled K-State’s next drive. Campbell reached over strong safety Ernie Beler for what appeared to be a 27-yard completion to the NU 24. But the Wildcats once again were called for illegal procedure for having just six players on the line.
Two plays after punting, though, Nebraska gave the ball back. Safety Jaime Mendez tipped a McCant pass intended for Jon Bostick, and strong safety C.J. Masters intercepted it and returned it to the NU 24. Watson then hit three straight passes, the third an 11-yard touchdown to Smith. Watson once again bought time on the touchdown pass, scrambling away from defensive tackle Jamie Liewer.
But then Hughes — who had a school-record 153 yards on three kickoff returns in last year’s Kansas State game — broke free again. He fielded Wright’s high, hanging kickoff at the NU 19, burst through a crease up the middle and returned it 46 yards to the K-State 35. Six plays later, Bennett’s 33-yard field goal tied it 17-17 with 3:29 left in the half.
Masters came up with another big play to put the Wildcats back ahead. He tugged the ball away from Lewis and raced 40 yards for a touchdown with 9:15 left. Osborne said six or seven Huskers told him that they heard the whistle blow before Masters’ takeaway.
Nebraska tied it again with 5:40 left in the third quarter, when Mitchell caught a low liner from McCant for a 4-yard touchdown. But the Wildcats regained the lead on their next series. On third and 12 from the NU 37, Watson found Smith between Stewart and Tyrone Byrd for a 34-yard completion. Watson then scored on an option run.
|Yards per carry||3.3||6.6|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas State.
|Utah State||Sept. 7|
|Colorado State||Sept. 14|
|Arizona State||Sept. 28|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 12|
|Kansas State||Oct. 19|
|Iowa State||Nov. 16|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 1|
Nebraska has played 15 games on Oct. 19. See them all »
©2019 BH Media Group