LINCOLN — Josh Brown served Colorado another helping of frustration Friday with a last-play field goal that provided the Nebraska kicker with a dose of redemption.
Brown's 29-yard kick as time expired gave the eighth-and ninth-ranked Huskers a 34-32 victory over a Colorado team that has lost nine straight games to Nebraska, the past five by a margin of 15 points. This loss proved to be particularly galling for the Buffaloes, who came within 47 seconds of snapping their losing skid against Huskers.
That proved too much time to give the Huskers as quarterback Eric Crouch completed four passes to march Nebraska 47 yards to set up Brown for his 10th field-goal attempt of the season. Five of those kicks had been unsuccessful, including a 28-yarder Nov. 11 against Kansas State that would have been the difference in a game the Huskers lost 29-28.
"K-State was a hard one to take for me," Brown said. "For a couple of days, that really gave me a lot of trouble. But that's something you have to look beyond, to your own goals and your team goals.
"This one today is definitely a redemption, and it makes up for a lot of mistakes that I've made personally."
Brown's winning field goal touched off a wild celebration by the Huskers — they hoisted the kicker on their shoulders and paraded him around the field — and by their fans in the crowd of 77,672, the 239th straight sellout, at Memorial Stadium. The win left Nebraska 9-2 — the 32nd consecutive year in which the Huskers have won at least nine games — and 6-2 in Big 12 Conference play.
The victory also came in a fashion unlike any other in the past four decades. Nebraska officials said a check of records dating back to 1960 indicates that Brown's kick marked the first time that the Huskers had won on the final play in regulation.
A year ago, Colorado lost an opportunity to do the same to Nebraska when Jeremy Aldrich left his 34-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of regulation wide to the right. The Huskers eventually won 33-30 in overtime, and also posted wins of 17-12 in 1996, 27-24 in 1997 and 16-14 in 1998.
"It has to be tough for them," Husker rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "They were talking how this was their bowl game, this was the game that they point to all season. To their credit, they played really well. They did what they needed to do to win, but in a game like this, one little thing can swing things either way."
The 3-8 Buffaloes can point to two field-goal attempts that Mark Mariscal missed and the two more that he had blocked. Colorado also can lament the fact that after taking their last lead on a two-point conversion pass from quarterback Craig Ochs to wide receiver Javon Green, the Buffaloes elected a squib kickoff against a Nebraska team that ranks 112th out of 114 Division I - A teams in kickoff returns.
Reserve running back Dahrran Diedrick fielded Mariscal's bouncing kick and returned it 12 yards to the Nebraska 41-yard line. Nebraska's average starting field position on Colorado's other five kickoffs was the Huskers' 24-yard line.
"The only thing was that we wanted to kick it down the middle and make them return it and take time off the clock," Colorado Coach Gary Barnett said. "The clock starts when they catch the ball. But if you're going to kick it to them as we did, then we might as well have done anything other than that."
Crouch, coming off one of his worst passing performances (2 of 13) in the loss at Kansas State, opened the final drive by throwing incomplete on a long pass intended for Matt Davison. Crouch came back with completions of 6 and 9 yards to wingback John Gibson, which gave Nebraska a first down at the Colorado 44 - yard line with 29 seconds to play.
Crouch followed with a 13-yard completion to Bobby Newcombe for another first down with 22 seconds to play. The Huskers then tried to catch the Buffaloes off guard, with Crouch running a quarterback counter trap that gained just 2 yards to the Colorado 29-yard line and forced Nebraska to use its final timeout to stop the clock with 10 seconds remaining.
"Even with the headsets on, I heard a few groans," said Frank Solich, whose play-calling has come under scrutiny at times during his three seasons as Nebraska's head coach. "But the groans were there because the fans wanted a pass and expected a pass, just as Colorado expected a pass. We just felt that it was a play that if Eric could have broken through he could have gotten a lot of yards."
Instead, Nebraska was faced with a second-and-eight play in which it needed to either score, throw incomplete or get out of bounds after a completing a pass to stop the clock. Newcombe did the latter, hauling in a 17-yard pass and then stepping out at the Colorado 12-yard line with five seconds remaining.
Asked if he thanked Newcombe for turning what would have been a career-high 46-yard attempt into a more makeable 29-yarder, Brown replied: "I thanked everybody for making all those catches. As we got closer to the end zone, it just upped my chances. The closer we got, the percentages of me making that kick rose."
Brown had missed his first attempt Friday, leaving a 32-yarder in the second quarter wide to the left. He said the 20-yard field goal he made in the fourth quarter, which pulled Nebraska into a 24-24 tie with 9:22 to play, provided him with a much-needed shot of confidence.
"Making that second one got me to where I wasn't thinking so much," Brown said. "Instead, I just reacted. I didn't think this game would come down to this, but I'm kind of happy that it did."
As Brown lined up his game-winning kick, many of his teammates joined hands on the sidelines.
"There was a lot of praying going on," Husker offensive guard Russ Hochstein said.
It was the kind of a moment that had the the strongest of the Huskers jelly-kneed.
Brown admitted the butterflies were rumbling inside of him as he lined up the kick.
"I kept thinking, 'Don't yank it, please don't yank it,'" Brown said.
Brown didn't, driving the ball through the uprights to cement his place in Husker football history and put the starch back into some jelly-kneed teammates.
"Loran Kaiser asked me if I'd come and sit with him and hold his hand," said Vanden Bosch when asked where he was as Brown set up for his final kick. "I had to comfort him — he was a little shaken up. I saw the kick on the HuskerVision screen.
"Kaiser took off running like a madman. It was just so exciting when that ball went through the uprights."
Brown said he knew he had hit the ball well.
"When I was setting up, I was thinking, 'Don't yank it, please don't yank it,'" Brown said. "This was something I never dreamed would happen to me. This is a moment in my life that I will cherish and never forget."
Brown didn't get to watch it for long as he disappeared beneath a tide of joyous teammates.
"There must have been 1,000-some pounds on me, " Brown said. "I was kicking and screaming and punching, trying to get people off of me. When you have Schwaby (offensive tackle Jason Schwab) stuck right on top of you, it's not looking too good."
But it looked a whole lot better for the Huskers than had they not been able to pull off their dramatic rally. A loss would have eliminated any chance of possibly landing an at-large bid in one of the Bowl Championship Series games. It also would have provided a dismal ending to the 27 seniors who were playing their final game at home.
"This would have been very hard to accept," Crouch said. "There would have been a lot of disappointed people around here."
The Huskers can relax now, sitting back to await news of where they will spend the Christmas holidays. A trip to the Cotton Bowl remains perhaps the most probable destination, although Nebraska still has a shot of possibly landing an at-large BCS bid to the Fiesta or Sugar Bowls.
All that seemed inconsequential when Ochs, the Buffaloes' steely-nerved true freshman quarterback, pulled Colorado within a point with his 15-yard touchdown pass to John Minardi. Ochs completed 25 of 41 passes for 254 yards against the Huskers, and tailback Cortlen Johnson rushed for 155 yards as Colorado built a 451-434 edge in total yardage on the Huskers.
Ochs then put the Buffaloes ahead with his two-point conversion pass to Green.
"I really thought we had the game won," Green said. "But you know Nebraska fights until the very end. They keeping fighting and fighting until it's over."
Early in the second half, Solich sensed his team was locked in a game that might come down to the final possession. Nebraska had held a 14-10 halftime lead before becoming involved in a battle of seesawing momentum.
Colorado took its first lead at 17-14 when Johnson scored on a 2-yard run to cap a 73-yard drive. Crouch, who rushed for 125 yards and completed 11 of 17 passes for 139 yards, put Nebraska back in front with his 2-yard scoring run. The touchdown, which capped a 75-yard drive, came with 5:39 left in the third quarter.
Colorado countered with its most time-consuming scoring drive of the season, a 14-play, 77-yard march that ate six minutes and 22 seconds off the clock. Johnson ended it with a 1-yard run to put the Buffaloes ahead 24-21 with 14:17 to play.
Brown pulled Nebraska into a tie with his 20-yard field goal at the 9:22 mark. After Colorado's next possession ended when Keyuo Craver blocked Mariscal's 41-yard field goal, Nebraska drove 69 yards in five plays to take a 31-24 lead on Crouch's 26-yard scoring run .
"It became obvious in that fourth quarter that the team that had the ball last," Solich said, "probably would win the game."
Crouch's touchdown came with 5:20 to play, and Ochs countered by engineering Colorado's final scoring drive that left the Huskers down by a point and with only 47 seconds on the clock.
"When you're in a situation as we were there at the end, nine out of 10 people will tell you you can't do it," Solich said. "But the players on this team never quit. They never quit in this game. They've never quit in this season. Those that have been here for awhile have never quit in their careers."
Brown didn't quit on himself when at times this season things looked to be going nowhere but down.
"This is definitely an overwhelming feeling," Brown said. "I never dreamed that anything like this would ever happen to me. This is a moment in my life that I will cherish and never forget."
|Yards per carry||4.6||6.2|
Nebraska is 49-19 all-time against Colorado.
|San Jose State||Sept. 2|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 9|
|Iowa State||Oct. 7|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 14|
|Kansas State||Nov. 11|
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