LINCOLN — Nebraska won a football game Friday without having its offense score a point for the first time since at least the 1961 season. The Huskers relied on their defense and three field goals from Kris Brown to pull out a 16-14 victory over Colorado that sent out 21 seniors in style.
“I tried to savor every second today because I know it’s something I’ll never forget, “ said Brown, one of the 21 who played their final game at Memorial Stadium. “And being able to walk off this field for a last time with a win is the most satisfying part of it.”
Nebraska won before the 227th sellout crowd of 75,958 because Brown came through with field goals of 30, 30 and 25 yards, the latter producing the decisive points with 8:48 to play, and the defense came up with big plays when the Huskers needed them the most.
Colorado managed to sting the Nebraska defense with a pair of 80-yard scoring drives, but the Buffaloes’ 42 other plays produced 86 yards and no points. The Huskers also forced three turnovers — one a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown by free safety Clint Finley — and sacked Colorado quarterback Mike Moschetti six times.
The final sack, by rush end Chad Kelsay, resulted in an 8-yard loss and left Colorado facing third down and 15 at its 26-yard line late in the game. Moschetti’s next two passes fell incomplete, and the Huskers ran out the final 1:41 to punctuate their ninth win in 12 games this season.
The victory allowed Nebraska to extend its NCAA-record streak of nine-win seasons to 30. The Huskers, 9-3 overall and 5-3 in the Big 12 Conference, have not produced fewer than nine wins in a season since 1968, when they posted a 6-4 record.
“I’m relieved that we were able to get nine victories, “ Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. “They wanted that badly. You have to go back to my era to find a team that didn’t get nine wins. That was weighing on them very heavily, and they were constantly reminded of that every time they turned on the TV or read the paper.
“I’m delighted that we were able to get this one done today, to have the regular season end on a high note.”
The Huskers’ next objective is to wind up Solich’s first season as head coach with a victory in a postseason bowl game. That chance will probably come Dec. 30 in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, although the Huskers will have to wait a few days before officially learning of their postseason destination.
Bob Shumake, co-chairman of the Holiday Bowl’s selection committee and one of several Holiday officials at Friday’s game, left little doubt about his group’s intentions in conversations before, during and after the game.
“Anytime you get a chance to have a team like Nebraska, “ Shumake said, “you can’t pass up that opportunity because you never know when it’s going to come around again.”
Nebraska has never played in the Holiday Bowl. Official invitations can be issued Dec. 6, but Shumake said an agreement could be worked out before then if the Southwestern Bell Cotton Bowl released Nebraska from the list of teams it is considering. The Holiday and the Cotton are among six bowls that have contracts with the Big 12, with the Cotton getting second pick of teams from the league and the Holiday third.
Solich and his players said it matters little to them where they wind up.
“I’m going to let our athletic director do the negotiations, “ Solich said.
Said Kelsay: “Wherever we go, we’ll go and we’ll play hard.”
The Huskers played with intensity Friday, which allowed them to overcome the instances when they didn’t play well. The offense sputtered at times in producing 254 yards. The Huskers had first downs at the Colorado 13-, 3-, 18- and 17-yard lines and got just nine points out of those opportunities.
Nebraska’s first possession began at the Colorado 30-yard line after a strong defensive showing and a shanked 27-yard punt by Nick Pietsch put the Huskers in scoring position. Three plays produced just three yards, and Nebraska came away with no points when Brown left a 45-yard field goal attempt wide to the left.
“That was frustrating, “ Solich said.
Brown kept the Huskers from totally squandering their opportunities by capping Nebraska’s final possession of the first half and its opening possession of the second with 30-yard field goals. The first gave Nebraska a 10-7 lead on the final play of the first half — marking the third time this season he has kicked a field goal on the last play of the second quarter.
Nebraska took the second-half kickoff and drove 70 yards, 52 on I-back Correll Buckhalter’s career-long dash to the Colorado 3-yard line. But Buckhalter then lost 2 yards on a first-down rush, and linebacker Jashon Sykes blew through on second down to drop Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch for a 7-yard loss.
Crouch threw incomplete on third down, forcing Nebraska to settle for Brown’s second 30-yard field goal and a 13-7 lead with 11:29 left in the third quarter.
Colorado erased that by driving 80 yards in 13 plays late in the third quarter. Moschetti produced the touchdown, passing 15 yards to backup fullback Andy Peeke with 2:11 left in the third quarter. Jeremy Aldrich’s point-after-touchdown put the Buffaloes ahead 14-13.
Colorado’s other touchdown came on a 17-yard pass from Moschetti to Javon Green that capped an 80-yard drive in the first quarter. It allowed Colorado to erase the 7-0 lead Nebraska had taken when Finley intercepted Moschetti’s pass at the 42 and raced untouched into the end zone. The only Buffalo who had a chance to stop Finley was Moschetti, but the Husker defender easily eluded the quarterback’s diving tackle at the 15-yard line.
On both of their scoring drives, the Buffaloes had success running the football into the heart of Nebraska’s defense.
“They didn’t do anything that surprised us, “ Husker linebacker Jay Foreman said. “We had some breakdowns in our techniques that hurt us. But for the most part, we played hard and we did the right things. We knew what we needed to do to get the victory.”
The Husker defense was at its best the two times Colorado started possessions deep in Nebraska territory. The Buffaloes took over at the Nebraska 29-yard line late in the first quarter following a fumble by Buckhalter. Four plays later, the Buffaloes were punting from midfield after an offensive pass interference penalty and Jeremy Slechta’s 8-yard sack of Moschetti pushed back Colorado.
Late in the third quarter, Colorado Mike Lewis returned a punt 39 yards to give the Buffaloes a first down at the Nebraska 23-yard line. Again, a penalty (holding) and a big play (Mike Rucker’s sack) combined to stymie the Buffaloes.
Rucker’s tackle forced Moschetti to fumble, and Slechta recovered at the Nebraska 42-yard line. Nebraska needed 10 plays to move 49 yards to set up Brown’s decisive field goal, which marked the first time in his illustrious career that he produced the game-winning points.
Brown also set an NCAA record for points after touchdowns when he converted after Finley’s score in the first quarter. Although Brown’s attempt was partially blocked, it wobbled through the uprights, giving him 217 for his career and breaking a tie with Fresno State’s Derek Mahoney (1990-1993).
“The record says to me that over the course of four years, this school put the ball in the end zone a lot of times, “ Brown said. “My name goes into the record book because so many other guys worked hard to put the ball in the end zone. I was just in the right place.”
Nebraska’s defense allowed Brown’s final kick to stand up by holding Colorado to a total of 35 plays on its final 12 offensive plays. Colorado’s ensuing possession after Brown’s go-ahead kick lasted six plays, and the Buffaloes were forced to punt after getting one first down.
Nebraska failed to pick up a first down, but punter Bill Lafleur pinned the Buffaloes at their 9-yard line with a 58-yard punt. Colorado’s next two plays produced first downs — a 12-yard run by Marlon Barnes and a 10-yard completion from Moschetti to Green.
A false start cost Colorado five yards, but Moschetti scrambled for 8 yards on first down. Kelsay responded with a big play, sacking Moschetti for a 8-yard loss, and the Colorado quarterback misfired on his last two attempts to kill the Buffaloes’ final hopes.
“All year long when I’ve needed to make a play, I haven’t been able to do it, “ said Moschetti, who finished 12 of 18 for 132 yards. “That’s the difference between being 11-0 and 7-4.”
Colorado finished the regular season 7-4, 4-4 in the league. The Buffaloes will finish out their season in the Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day.
“I thought our kids gave everything they had, “ Colorado Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “”I thought they deserved to win, but we fell a little bit short. We have to regroup and make sure we put together a great effort in the Aloha Bowl.”
Nebraska, too, will start preparing for its bowl game. The Huskers will have about a month before they play again.
“Our goals that we had were to win the national championship, go to the Big 12 championship game and have an undefeated season, “ said Crouch, who completed 10 of 20 passes for 123 yards and rushed for 18 yards on 17 carries. “Those things aren’t going to happen this year.
“One thing we’ve talked about is going out on top and winning our final two games. We won this one today, and that’s the first step. Whatever bowl game we play in, we’re going to try to come out and do our best. We feel that’s one way we can show our Nebraska pride.”
That pride showed Friday, especially among the seniors who played for the final time on Tom Osborne Field. Since the bulk of the senior class joined the program as freshmen in 1994, the Huskers have posted a 58-5 record. Three of the losses have come this season.
|Yards per carry||2.4||3.5|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|Louisiana Tech||Aug. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 3|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 7|
|Kansas State||Nov. 14|
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