AUSTIN, Texas — Nebraska’s chances for an undefeated season came crashing to an end Saturday, the victim of repeated shots to the foot.
The pain that the Huskers experienced from their 24-20 Big 12 Conference loss to Texas was compounded by the hurt of knowing some of the deepest wounds were self-inflicted. Three turnovers, including a fumble at the Texas 1-yard line and another at the Longhorns’ 20, were major factors in keeping the Huskers from continuing an unbeaten run in 1999.
“This one is hard to swallow,” Husker tight end Tracey Wistrom said. “I don’t feel like we got beat today. We beat ourselves. Turnovers, not executing, penalties. Our miscues and blown assignments kept us from getting the job done.”
That’s not to say the Huskers refused to credit the resiliency Texas showed in adding Saturday’s victory to wins over Nebraska in 1996 and 1998. The third-ranked Huskers had the Longhorns down 13-3 at halftime and 20-17 with less than eight minutes to play.
But Texas treated the sellout crowd of 84,082 at Royal-Memorial Stadium to another dramatic finish. Texas quarterback Major Applewhite drove his team 60 yards in four plays to the winning score, which came on a 17-yard pass to tight end Mike Jones with 5:51 to play.
The Longhorns then turned to their defense to seal the deal, which it did by forcing Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch to throw incomplete on a fourth-down play from the Texas 38-yard line with 2:15 remaining.
“It’s tough to lose like that, just as it was last year and the time before,” said Crouch, referring to the Nebraska losses to Texas in the 1996 Big 12 title game and last season at Memorial Stadium. “Now, we just have to try to stick together. We still have a great team, and even though we ended up losing today, we have a chance of seeing these guys down the road.”
That meeting could come in the Big 12 championship game. The No. 18 Longhorns took a major step in advancing toward the Dec. 4 game in San Antonio by improving to 3-1 in the South Division and 6-2 overall.
Nebraska dropped to 6-1 and 3-1, falling a game behind North Division-leading Kansas State. The Huskers will have to win their remaining games against Kansas, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Colorado to possibly get another shot at Texas.
“A lot of us, especially the seniors, came into this season hoping to go undefeated,” Nebraska defensive tackle Steve Warren said. “We were hoping to use this game as another steppingstone toward that goal.
“But the season isn’t over with, and there are still a lot of things that can happen. We just have to come back next week and play hard and practice hard. We can still meet a lot of our goals.”
If the Huskers need an example to pattern a comeback after, they merely have to look to the team that defeated them. Texas lost a pair of games it could have easily won — the season opener to North Carolina State and to Kansas State earlier this month — but refused to stay down.
“I’m amazed at how far this team has come,” said Texas Coach Mack Brown, now 2-0 against the Huskers. “They’re feeling better about themselves. You have to give our kids credit. They played their guts out for three hours and fifteen minutes. Our kids kept coming back.”
The biggest comeback was staged by a Texas offense that was held to five first downs and 92 yards in the first 30 minutes. The Longhorns got a field goal from Kris Stockton on their second possession, but Nebraska used a run of 13 points in the final 6:21 of the second quarter to take a 10-point lead into halftime.
Freshman Josh Brown kicked field goals of 22 and 32 yards, and I-back Correll Buckhalter scored on a 5-yard run to cap the Huskers’ second-period scoring. But Nebraska went into the locker room knowing it had squandered a couple of other scoring chances.
“We were up 13-3,” Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said, “but it should have been more. Those things can come back to haunt you.”
The Longhorns rebounded by scoring on their opening possession of the second half, then took a 17-13 lead when Applewhite drove them 58 yards in 41 seconds on consecutive completions of 18, 27 and 13 yards to Kwame Cavil.
Nebraska countered by moving from its 25 to the Texas 4-yard line, a drive that featured a 38-yard completion from Crouch to Wistrom. But the Huskers came up empty when Buckhalter, on a third-and-goal play, fumbled 1 yard from the end zone, with Casey Hampton recovering for Texas.
Crouch, who passed for a career-high 204 yards, also lost two fumbles in the first half, including one at the Texas 20 that snuffed out another scoring drive.
“We had chances today, but we made too many errors,” Solich said. “The turnovers were dramatic and very, very costly. You can’t turn the ball over against a good football team and not expect to get stung by it.”
Texas played turnover-free football, which allowed the Longhorns to compensate for being outgained 429 to 275 in total yards.
Applewhite, who came into the game leading the Big 12 in total offense, finished with almost 100 yards fewer than his season average of 290.5 yards while operating against a Nebraska defense that ranked third nationally. Applewhite threw for 213 yards, completing 17 of 30 passes, and was dropped for 20 yards in losses.
Two of his biggest completions came after Nebraska had taken its 20-17 lead by driving 44 yards on four plays. Crouch got the score that put the Huskers ahead with 7:52 left to play, running 9 yards on an option play.
Applewhite needed just four plays to get Texas the game-winning points. The first was a 39-yard pass to Ryan Nunez after a 25-yard kickoff return and subsequent 15-yard face-mask penalty, had the Longhorns starting the possession at their own 40-yard line.
Hodges Mitchell gained 3 and 1 yards on a pair of runs, leaving Texas facing third-and-six at the Nebraska 17-yard line. Applewhite then swung a pass to Jones, who slipped a tackle by Ralph Brown at the 5-yard line and bounced off rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch into the end zone.
“I just turned upfield, saw grass and went,” Jones said. “I wasn’t going to let anything disrupt me from getting to the end zone.”
Said Solich: “It came down to making the stop. We could not do it.”
When faced with a similar situation, Texas’ defense did. Nebraska started its last possession at its 35-yard line and had a call go against it when Crouch’s third-down pass to Davison was ruled incomplete. Television replays showed Davison made the catch, which would have resulted in a 30-yard gain.
Nebraska got 15 yards instead, as Ervis Hill was called for interference against Davison.
“I don’t know how they could have called that incomplete,” said Davison, who caught four passes for 62 yards. “There’s no doubt that I made that catch, and that was kind of a big blow to us.”
The interference penalty gave Nebraska a first down at its 49, and the Huskers picked up another first down when Dan Alexander ran for 7 yards and caught a 3-yard shovel pass from Crouch. Nebraska was unable to stop the clock — it had used its three timeouts in the first 17 minutes of the second half — and soon found itself facing fourth-and-7 from the Texas 38-yard line.
The Huskers’ final play, a screen pass, never had a chance, as Texas linebacker Anthony Hicks pressured Crouch and the right side of the Longhorn defense jammed Alexander. Crouch’s pass sailed over Alexander’s head and fell harmlessly to the turf.
“We had run the screen earlier in the game and beat them on it,” said Alexander, who finished with a career-high 136 yards rushing. “Their defensive end had told me we weren’t going to do that to him again, and he was hip to the play. He was sticking right in there waiting for the ball, and you really can’t run a screen when he’s doing that.”
The Longhorns ran out the clock, leaving their fans to celebrate the school’s third straight win over the Huskers. Nebraska has lost only 12 other games this decade.
“I don’t think they have a jinx on us,” said Husker free safety Clint Finley, one of six Texans on Nebraska’s roster. “They come out and play hard and do what they have to do to beat us. They get up for us.”
And that left Nebraska feeling down and out Saturday as it left the field, serenaded by Longhorn fans singing “The Eyes of Texas.”
“Hearing that fight song as we left the field was a bad experience,” Warren said. “But you have to give them respect. They’re a great football team, and right now they just have our number.”
|Yards per carry||2.3||3.8|
Nebraska is 4-10 all-time against Texas.
|Southern Miss||Sept. 18|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 2|
|Iowa State||Oct. 9|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 6|
|Kansas State||Nov. 13|
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