BOULDER, Colo. — It was last spring that Nebraska’s football players came up with their motto for this season: “We Refuse to Lose in 1993.”
Saturday, perhaps more than ever, they lived it.
After doing all of their scoring in the first quarter, the fourth- and sixth-ranked Huskers hung on to beat Nos. 18 and 20 Colorado 21-17 before a sellout crowd of 52,277 at Folsom Field.
They did it in spite of starting quarterback Tommie Frazier nursing a shoulder sprain off the field for three entire series and most of a fourth in a second half that included eight NU possessions.
They did it in spite of I-back Calvin Jones sitting and stretching on the sideline with leg cramps for much of the game.
And they did it in spite of place-kicker Byron Bennett missing three field-goal attempts, including one try that was deflected.
The credit for this victory clearly went to the NU defense, which held a CU offense that ranked sixth nationally to 304 yards — 181 under its average — and came up with big plays when the Huskers needed them most.
The Blackshirts saved their biggest play for last. With the Huskers clinging to a 21-17 lead, free safety John Reece intercepted a Kordell Stewart pass at the NU 30-yard line with 1:21 to play.
That allowed the injured Frazier to return to take the two snaps that were needed to kill the clock and finalize the Huskers’ first win in Boulder since 1987 and CU’s first Big Eight home loss in 12 games since 1988.
“I think we have a bunch of players who will try to find some way to get it done, “ NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “They hung together pretty well.
“They haven’t always played pretty football, but they have been effective. They are, I think, a difficult team to beat because of that.”
The victory put the 8-0 and 4-0 Huskers on the inside track for the Big Eight championship and a third straight trip to the Orange Bowl, where they could play for a national championship if they remain unbeaten.
The 4-3-1 Buffs and 6-1-1 Kansas State share second place with 2-1-1 conference records.
The Huskers would clinch the league title with wins this week at Kansas and Nov. 13 at home against Iowa State. Their last regular-season game is Nov. 26 in Lincoln against Oklahoma, 2-2 in the league.
Frazier, expected to play against Kansas, said he isn’t ready to celebrate, even though the Huskers cleared what was generally regarded as their biggest hurdle — Colorado.
“There’s about a ton taken off our shoulders right now, “ said the sophomore from Bradenton, Fla. “We have about three or four tons left up there. But it feels a lot better with that one ton off.”
The Huskers, who mashed the Buffs 52-7 in Lincoln last year, looked like they might roll again Saturday.
Corey Dixon’s 68-yard punt return set up NU’s first touchdown just 1:43 into the game. The Huskers also struck on their third and fourth possessions to take a 21-3 lead into the second quarter.
By then Nebraska had generated 142 of its 357 yards, and Frazier had completed 4 of 6 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Nebraska was ahead 21-10 at half, but the advantage became tenuous when Frazier was slammed into the artificial surface at the end of a 26-yard run on the second play of the third quarter.
Frazier had squirted loose up the middle on a keeper and was in open field when CU outside linebacker Sam Rogers caught him from behind. Rogers jumped on him and brought him down at the Buffs’ 45, with Frazier’s right shoulder hitting the turf first.
Frazier got up slowly, holding his right (throwing) arm straight to his side.
Sophomore Brook Berringer took over at quarterback for six plays while Frazier was treated in the locker room.
Frazier came back for two possessions before leaving in pain again.
One of the series ended with Bennett’s 52-yard field-goal try being deflected by Colorado’s Chris Hudson, the other with Dennis Collier’s interception of a Frazier pass in the end zone.
Frazier didn’t return until Nebraska got the ball with about 2:50 left in the game.
All the while, the Huskers’ defense held.
The Buffs ran no more than three plays from scrimmage on their first five possessions of the second half, and they didn’t record a first down until the last eight minutes of the game.
The Buffs generated just 107 yards and six first downs in the third and fourth quarters.
The Huskers broke through to sack Kordell Stewart four times. He had been sacked just once in CU’s previous three games.
Outside linebacker Trev Alberts, who had two sacks, said the Huskers’ defense was out to prove a point Saturday.
“We’ve been fighting all year nationally for respect, “ he said. “We needed to prove against a quality opponent that we could play good defense.”
NU’s defense had to, considering the hard times the offense fell on after Frazier and Jones were hurt.
Frazier wound up Nebraska’s leading rusher, with 69 yards on 15 carries. He was 7 of 17 passing, with one interception, for 167 yards.
Jones, who had run for more than 100 yards in each of his previous three games, netted 31 on 12 attempts and scored twice.
“We knew we would have to make up for the offense the way things were going, “ junior cornerback Barron Miles said.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Stewart had his worst passing day of the season, going 8 of 28 for 115 yards.
Before Miles’ interception at the CU 43 with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter — the first of three thrown by Stewart — the junior quarterback had thrown 90 passes without being picked off.
Stewart threw only four more passes before weakside linebacker Ed Stewart intercepted him at the CU 27 with 12:47 left in the game. Kordell Stewart threw the pass despite being in the grasp of outside linebacker Bruce Moore.
“I couldn’t believe he threw it, “ Ed Stewart said.
Still, Nebraska never was able to put away Colorado.
The Buffs pulled within 21-17 with 2:54 left in the game when tailback Rashaan Salaam, who ran for a career-high 165 yards on 25 carries, dived over for a 1-yard touchdown to end a 15-play, 80-yard march.
Frazier, who sat out the first 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, then returned along with Jones, who was spelled by Lawrence Phillips in the second quarter and had been out since early in the third with a leg cramp.
The Huskers went three plays and out, though, giving the Buffs one more chance.
Hudson returned Bennett’s 54-yard punt to the CU 47. Kordell Stewart hit tight end Christian Fauria with a 13-yard pass to the NU 40 on first down before Reece came up with his clutch interception.
Stewart dumped a short pass over the middle in Michael Westbrook’s direction on the play, but the throw was low and Reece dived and pulled it into his chest at the NU 30.
Reece hesitated before celebrating.
“I was looking for an official to make sure it was an interception, “ he said. “I wanted to make sure they didn’t think I trapped it.”
Reece got the call he wanted, and Frazier then twice dropped to his knee to end the game.
The Huskers started with a flurry.
After Colorado netted 5 yards in three plays to open the game, Dixon fielded a Mitch Berger punt at the NU 28 and burst through a crease toward the right sideline.
Dixon picked up a block from Lorenzo Brinkley inside the CU 20 before Collier tripped him up at the 4.
“That was a big boost for our offense and our defense, “ Dixon said. “That let them know we came to play.”
Jones bulled up the middle to score on the Huskers’ first play from scrimmage.
On NU’s next play, which followed a punt by CU’s Berger, Jones fumbled after getting hit by free safety Dwayne Davis and CU’s Rogers recovered at the Husker 19.
Six plays later, Salaam’s 1-yard dive over the goal line was nullified by a motion penalty. Stewart overthrew Westbrook in the end zone on the next play, forcing Berger to kick a 22-yard field goal that cut NU’s lead to 7-3.
But the Huskers marched 66 yards in 10 plays on their ensuing possession to take a 14-3 lead. Frazier hit key third-down passes of 13 yards to wingback Abdul Muhammad and 26 yards to tight end Gerald Armstrong before Jones broke off a 10-yard TD run with 4:58 left in the first quarter.
The Buffs then moved to the NU 38 but were set back to midfield when middle linebacker Mike Anderson caught Stewart from behind for a 12-yard sack.
Stewart’s third-down pass to Westbrook was nearly picked off by Reece, leading to another CU punt.
Nebraska then went 77 yard in four plays, with Frazier and Dixon teaming for a 60-yard touchdown pass that made it 21-3 NU with one minute to play in the quarter.
Stewart led the Buffs on a six-play, 63-yard drive that Salaam ended with a 15-yard burst into the right corner of the end zone. Salaam fumbled on the play, but officials ruled the ball hit the turf after he had crossed the goal line.
The Buffs wouldn’t score again until late in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the Huskers missed on three scoring opportunities.
Bennett’s field-goal attempt from 50 yards with 5:48 left in the second quarter sailed wide right, his 52-yarder with 7:56 left in the third quarter was deflected by Hudson and a 26-yarder with 8:46 left in the game went wide left.
“We missed those field goals, “ Osborne said, “and that made it even tougher. I thought we could get up at least 14 points and force them to score two touchdowns and force them to go for a two-point play. That would have been hard to do in the last seven minutes.
“It became much more of a nail-biter than it should have been, but our defense came through at every instance.”
|Yards per carry||4.3||3.5|
Nebraska is 49-19 all-time against Colorado.
|North Texas||Sept. 4|
|Texas Tech||Sept. 11|
|Colorado State||Sept. 25|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 7|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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