AMES, Iowa -- So this is what it came down to for this Big 12 North championship that has passed through four state lines and changed hands like a raggedy old hand-me-down sweater.
Less than three minutes to play, Nebraska with the football, Iowa State chugging for air, Joe Dailey dropping back to pass. The crowd gasps. Dailey sees open field, throws into triple coverage, and the pass is complete ... to Iowa State.
"Ever been in a car accident?" Dailey said. "It happens out of nowhere. You get hit from behind and bad things happen.''
So this is where the Huskers' run for Kansas City appeared to end, on a bizarre Saturday, where the scoreboard read 34-27 Iowa State, and the Cyclones now have the inside track to the North championship. But it won't.
As many times as the 5-4 and 3-3 Huskers handed the game away, with two missed field goals, a listless start and a defensive lapse that had to make Coach Bill Callahan pull his graying hair out, Nebraska still had a chance Saturday and is not mathematically out of the Big 12 North.
And that's what was so wacky as the ISU students wobbled on the goal posts that wouldn't come down and a fan held up a sign that read, "Soon to be 5-4. Are you going to fire this one, too?''
Roughly 20 feet away, Barney Cotton, who was part of the staff purge last year after Nebraska's 10-3 season, smiled and hugged the Huskers as they trudged off the field. Iowa State came into Saturday with the Big 12's worst offense, but Cotton was the architect of a plan that produced 466 yards and stuck it to the Blackshirts one week after they held Mizzou to three points.
Cotton didn't say much after the game, aside from an on-the-field comment about his team having heart, but he found NU I-back Cory Ross when it was over, gave him a hug and a whisper, and slipped off into the night.
"He told me, 'Great job,''' Ross said, "and that he misses us. He just misses being around us.''
Callahan misses the team that came out spitting fire in last week's 24-3 win over Missouri. The Huskers said the Blackshirts were back after that game and all the motivational speeches that went with it, but then Iowa State took the field. Its first offensive play of the game was a 40-yard pass to freshman Todd Blythe.
Callahan couldn't explain it, how his team seems to come out punch-less on the road, even in a relatively non-hostile environment. About one-quarter of the 45,022 at Jack Trice Stadium seemed to root for the Huskers on Saturday, but the NU faithful was quickly silenced when the Cyclones bolted to a quick 10-0 lead.
"We came up here to play a game that could put us in a position to win a championship, and obviously didn't get it done,'' Callahan said. "We did not match the early passion and the precision of this football team that we faced today. That's our fault.''
NU linebacker Chad Sievers, one of the loudest in the locker room last week, thought the Blackshirts were ready. "I really did,'' Sievers said.
"I can't even describe the hurt inside right now,'' he said as he took a deep breath. "I just don't even know what to say.''
Cornerback Fabian Washington, who watched freshman quarterback Bret Meyer throw for a career-best 345 yards and three touchdowns, was a little more blunt.
"It's always harder when you know you're better than a team,'' Washington said.
"Oh yeah. We're definitely better than we showed. It actually took us being down to get pumped up and excited. That's something you can't do.''
The Huskers did give their eastern neighbors plenty of help in the first half. They were in the red zone twice in the final five minutes of the second quarter and twice came away empty.
First came Sandro DeAngelis' 24-yard field goal attempt, which was low and wobbly and sailed wide left. Two plays later, NU safety Daniel Bullocks intercepted a Meyer pass and returned it to the ISU 23. But another DeAngelis kick was low, and his 33-yarder was blocked with 1:09 left.
The Cyclones marched to the NU 18 and called a timeout with 10 seconds to play. Field goal, right? Cotton boldly went for the end zone, and Meyer hit a diving Blythe in the corner. Blythe's only coverage was true freshman Cortney Grixby. And with 5 seconds left, the Huskers were in a 24-7 hole.
About the only consolation Callahan could take out of the day is that the Huskers fought back in the second half.
Ross, who has been battling a turf toe injury and was in so much pain Saturday that he ran to the locker room after a 2-yard touchdown, gutted out 126 yards on 19 carries. Dailey threw for 230 yards and helped Nebraska cut the lead to seven with 5:01 to play.
But like so many other times this season, the blunders were too much for Nebraska. Dailey had zero interceptions for nearly
12 straight quarters but underthrew his receiver on the final throw. DeAngelis missed a PAT in the second half when it seemed the Huskers finally had some momentum.
"We left seven points out there on the field,'' Callahan said. "To me that's disheartening.''
So is November in Ames, when a 5-4 team from the other side of the border is in the driver's seat.
|Yards per carry||2.8||5.6|
Nebraska is 86-17 all-time against Iowa State.
|Western Illinois||Sept. 4|
|Southern Miss||Sept. 11|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 9|
|Kansas State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
Nebraska has played 16 games on Nov. 6. See them all »
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