Now who goes to the Orange Bowl?
That was the question late Saturday night after Colorado strong safety Greg Thomas waited out four straight timeouts to dash through a shower of snowballs and block Byron Bennett's 41-yard field-goal try with four seconds left to preserve a 19-19 tie with Nebraska.
The Huskers and Buffaloes remain tied at the top of the Big Eight at 3-0-1, each with three games to play.
Should NU beat Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma and CU beat Oklahoma State, Kansas and Iowa State, the decision on the Big Eight's automatic qualifier to the Orange Bowl would rest with the bowl team selection committee.
Among the evidence that would be brought to the table:
The Huskers, who rallied twice in the second half to tie the game, are 6-1-1 and ranked No. 7 and No. 9 in the two major national polls.
The Buffaloes, who got a three-point turnaround in the first half by blocking a Bennett extra point and running it all the way to the end zone for two points, are 5-2-1 and rated No. 14 and 15.
Do the better record and higher ranking give the edge to Nebraska?
NU outside linebacker Travis Hill said it should.
"We can write our own destiny now," he said. "It's up to us to win or lose it."
CU center Jay Leeuwenburg seemed to agree.
"We have to root for Oklahoma to beat Nebraska," said the All-Big Eight senior. "This is a bizarre situation in my career here because we've never had to depend on another team to decide on whether we'll go to the Orange Bowl."
The two Orange Bowl officials among the Folsom Field crowd of 52,319 — President Harper Davidson and Executive Director Steve Hatchell — offered no clear signals.
Hatchell hinted that NU's better ranking and record could weigh heavily.
"If you've got a team with two losses and a tie and one with one loss and a tie," he said, "it makes a difference."
Davidson also appeared to give Nebraska hope with a response to a question about what effect a team's recent bowl record might have on the decision.
"That's probably not one we'd give much credence to," he said. "We'd probably give more credence to a team that hasn't been there for a while."
Colorado has represented the Big Eight in Miami the past two seasons. Nebraska hasn't been there since after the 1988 season.
"But again," Davidson said, "that's just one factor. We look at a lot of things — rankings, records, who has been there and more."
Nebraska, embarrassed in the fourth quarter of last year's 27-12 loss to Colorado, looked ready to make a clear-cut dash for the Orange Bowl with a late-game surge.
Bennett's 35-yard field goal tied the game at 12-12 with 5:12 left in the third quarter.
Colorado quarterback Darian Hagan capped an 11-play, 68-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run for a 19-12 lead with 27 seconds left in the third quarter.
But Nebraska responded with three strong fourth-quarter drives.
On the first, the Huskers moved from their 20 to the CU 45 before deciding not to gamble on a fourth-and-two.
On the second, NU got the tying touchdown.
Quarterback Keithen McCant's 32-yard pass to tight end Johnny Mitchell on a third-and-12 at the NU 43 was the big play of the drive, capped by I-back Derek Brown's 7-yard touchdown run for a 19-19 tie with 6:41 left in the game.
Brown, the nation's No. 5 rusher, was held to 4 yards in the first half. The sophomore finished with 96 yards in 30 carries, putting him over 1,000 yards for the season, but stopping his string of consecutive 100-yard games at seven.
Nebraska held the Buffaloes without a first down on their next two possessions to get a last chance with 1:05 left on a 12-degree night with a minus-8 wind chill.
After Tyrone Hughes' 9-yard punt return to the NU 46:
>> McCant scrambled for 12 yards to the CU 42.
>> McCant hit wingback Nate Turner for 14 yards to the 28.
>> Brown slashed up the middle for 5 yards to the 23.
>> Brown was stopped for no gain at the 23 before Nebraska called time with four seconds to play.
Colorado countered by calling its three timeouts all in a row. After the four-minute delay and some final encouragement from NU Coach Tom Osborne, Bennett — 2 of 2 on the night and 7 of 11 for the season — and holder Mike Stigge trotted out to try to hand CU its first Big Eight loss since a 7-0 setback at Nebraska in 1988.
As snowballs and a few oranges splattered around the line of scrimmage, Bennett's kick was snuffed by Thomas, who came from the left side.
For the senior co-captain, it was the third blocked kick of the season and the fifth of his career.
The ball trickled out of bounds as time expired, creating Nebraska's first tie since a 6-6 deadlock with Louisiana State in 1976.
"I'm not sure the ball got up very good," Osborne said. "It looked like it wasn't kicked quite as high as it needed to be.
"It was well inside of Byron's range. All he had to do was get it up and it would have been a good kick."
What about the snowballs, thrown throughout the game?
"I know the referees warned the crowd," Osborne said. "Particularly when you're trying to kick the winning field goal and you've got about 10 snowballs and a couple of oranges rolling in there, it didn't help.
"Unfortunately, it's one of those things that never gets called."
Despite the tie, Osborne said he was happy with his team.
"I thought we played well throughout the game, particularly in the second half and the fourth quarter," he said. "Naturally, we wanted to win, and I thought we could get it.
"Unfortunately, the two things in the kicking game that really hurt us were the blocked PAT that resulted in two points for them while losing one for us, and then the blocked field goal at the end."
The score wasn't the only thing that was close.
Colorado had 300 total yards, Nebraska 293. Colorado had 19 first downs, Nebraska 15. Both teams fumbled three times, but didn't lose one. Neither team threw an interception.
Said CU center Jay Leeuwenburg: "It was a classic confrontation between two great teams. It doesn't get any better, and it doesn't get any closer."
Said NU's Hill: "We're proud of the way the offense sucked it up and scored when we needed it, and the defense stopped them in the end.
"Most of the seniors are upset because they wanted to go out with a win against Colorado. Colorado played hard, and I have to give them credit. They made a lot of big plays when they had to. So did Nebraska. It was one of the more fun games that I've ever played in."
Nebraska started the game with a wild sequence, striking for 95 yards the first three times it touched the ball, but getting only three points from it.
Hughes returned the opening kickoff 33 yards. McCant found Mitchell deep over the middle for 38 yards to the CU 24.
Then Brown left the Buffaloes and the crowd gasping on the next play as he twisted and turned past four defenders for an apparent touchdown.
But a 5-yard penalty for not having seven men on the line of scrimmage nullified the play.
The drive appeared stalled on a third-and-15, but a roughing the passer penalty gave Nebraska a first down.
After three plays gained 4 yards, Bennett came on to kick a 27-yard field for a 3-0 lead — all of that after just 3:40 of playing time.
Colorado stormed right back to take the lead with a 75-yard drive in 11 plays, with Hagan the glue that held it together.
On a third-and-eight from the CU 27, he hit tight end Sean Brown for 12 yards. On a second-and-13 from the CU 36, he hit Brown for 23 yards. Brown fumbled at the end of the play, but the ball squirted out of bounds.
Then on a third-and-12 at the NU 27, James Hill bolted for 16 yards on a fullback trap to the 11.
On the next play, Hagan sprinted right on the option, cut up behind the tackle and went untouched into the end zone. Jim Harper's conversion kick put Colorado up 7-3 with 7:20 left in the first quarter.
Nebraska's best offense for the next four possessions was punter Mike Stigge.
While the Huskers staggered through 12 plays for a minus-11 yards, Stigge hit punts of 48, 54, 55 and 45 yards to make things difficult for Colorado.
On the first play of the second quarter, Hagan started a second Buff scoring threat with a 12-yard punt return to the CU 29.
Tailback Lamont Warren contributed two big plays by squirting 12 yards up the middle and then taking a screen pass from Hagan 28 yards to the Nebraska 19.
The Huskers' Hill nailed Hagan for a 3-yard loss, then Colorado lost 5 yards and a down for a lineman illegally touching a forward pass. That forced CU to try a field goal, which Harper faded wide right from 36 yards out with 11:54 left in the half.
After the miss, Colorado's defense set up the next score by nearly pushing Nebraska back into its own end zone.
Brown covered a fumbled pitch for minus 5 yards. Then McCant was sacked on consecutive plays for losses of 3 and 10 yards back to the NU 2.
Stigge, punting in a hurry, hit a line drive 45-yarder that Hagan ran back 27 yards to the NU 20.
But the Husker defense stiffened, stopping the Buffaloes at the 9. This time, Harper was good on the field goal from 27 yards and a 10-3 Colorado lead with 6:54 left in the half.
McCant's 12-yard run with 5:56 to go in the second quarter was NU's initial first down since the game's first possession. But the march stalled near midfield.
A bad option pitch by Hagan on the next possession didn't cost Colorado the ball, but it nearly cost the Buffs their top running back.
In the pile while smothering the fumble, Warren suffered what was announced as a dislocated left shoulder. But he later returned.
Mitch Berger's 24-yard punt gave Nebraska life at the CU 49 with 1:25 left in the half, and it only took the Huskers one play to take advantage.
Split end Jon Bostick, running a post-and-corner route, slipped past cornerback Deon Figures and made an over-the-shoulder catch of McCant's bomb for a touchdown to make the score 10-9.
The completion was McCant's first after seven straight misfires.
But the normally routine extra-point try became anything but that.
CU middle guard Jeff Brunner burst up the gut to block Bennett's kick. It deflected to linebacker Greg Biekert, who started a weaving 85-yard odyssey that got him into the NU end zone for two points.
NU's Mitchell appeared ready to run Biekert down from behind just beyond midfield. But Biekert cut away from the tackle. He also cut back to slip past tight end William Washington and guard T.J. Slansky to earn the two points for the return and a 12-9 lead with 1:17 left in the half.
Nebraska, leading the country in rushing at 383 yards a game, had 10 yards on the ground at halftime. The Huskers finished with a season-low 112.
CU's Hagan, who missed a series in the fourth quarter with a mild concussion suffered on his second TD run, said the game was frustrating.
"Nebraska is not the better team," he said. "We should have won."
|Yards per carry||3.1||2.8|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|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|
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