LINCOLN — The football laid on the Memorial Stadium turf for just a moment, then was snatched up by Texas in such a cruel twist that Nebraska coach Bill Callahan later struggled to explain what had happened.
It's a funny ball, Callahan said in a tired and philosophical tone. It takes funny bounces.
Only humor was not easily found by the Huskers after No. 5-ranked Texas escaped with a 22-20 win Saturday, the result of a late fumble giving the Longhorns one last chance to avoid the upset.
"We had an opportunity to close the game, and misfortune occurred,'' Callahan said, "and victory was more or less swept away.''
Ryan Bailey kicked a 22-yard field goal with 23 seconds left as Texas won the battle of Big 12 leaders. The Longhorns' Big 12 and road winning streaks — now at 19 and 16, respectively — had been in serious trouble just moments before.
Nos. 16 and 17 Nebraska was trying to freeze a 20-19 lead when Zac Taylor completed a short pass to Terrence Nunn that would have produced a first down. Because Texas had used its timeouts before the pass, a first down almost certainly would have nailed down the win for Nebraska.
As Nunn turned, cornerback Aaron Ross hit him low and knocked the ball loose, and safety Marcus Griffin smothered it almost immediately.
Texas took over on the Nebraska 45-yard line with snow starting to swirl and 2:17 left on the clock, just about the right amount of time for the Longhorns to take the Huskers' third turnover and make them regret it.
Helped by a 14-yard pass from quarterback Colt McCoy to Quan Crosby and a 12-yard run by Selvin Young, Texas moved inside the NU 10. The Longhorns eventually called on Bailey — instead of Greg Johnson, who had missed two earlier field-goal attempts and an extra-point kick — and the sophomore walk-on put the final three points on the scoreboard.
"I just said, 'Kick it like you do in practice,''' McCoy said. "He never missed in practice.''
It was too appropriate for Nebraska (6-2, 3-1 Big 12), which probably had needed to be a little closer to perfect to handle the Horns (7-1, 4-0) before a Memorial Stadium-record 85,187.
Taylor threw an interception that led directly to a Texas touchdown, and NU watched both of its fumbles go to UT defenders. The Longhorns fumbled it five times in the wet and cold, yet scooped up four of them in what might have amounted to the difference.
That funny ball, remember.
"The ball's going to bounce however it chooses to do so,'' said safety Andrew Shanle, who had the Huskers' lone recovery. "Unfortunately, it went right back into their hands. It's frustrating when it happens, but we have no control over that.''
Nebraska had little control of the game Saturday until scraping together a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns against the defending national champion Longhorns.
The Huskers trailed 16-7 through three quarters, failing to repeat its recent rushing success and making mistakes other than turnovers -- seven penalties, two dropped passes, special-teams misplays. Brandon Jackson then put them right back in it with his 49-yard catch on run on a Taylor shovel pass starting the fourth. Jackson shed three tacklers on the play, picking up a crushing block from fullback Dane Todd to change the look of things.
Texas blew a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line and settled for Johnson's 22-yard field goal and a 19-14 lead. Nebraska immediately answered with two trick plays to get its late lead, although an interception on a 2-point try left the Huskers with only the 20-19 edge.
On the touchdown, I-back Marlon Lucky took a pitch, started right and faced a charge of defenders. But he pulled up and lobbed a 25-yard pass to Nate Swift with 4:54 remaining.
"That was probably the best throw he's ever made in his entire life,'' Taylor said. "It looked like he was trying to throw it up in the stands. But it was a great throw, and it was a great call at the right time.''
Even though Texas had to punt on its next possession, it caught a break that kept NU from taking over inside the UT 40. Barry Cryer hit McCoy as he was about to pass on second down, but Longhorns tackle Adam Ulatoski got to the football before the Huskers.
"We knew coming in whoever had the most turnovers was probably going to lose the game,'' NU I-back Cody Glenn said. "You saw we had three, and they had one. They had everything going for them.''
NU took over with 2:58 left and Jackson had runs of 6 and 1 yards, both followed by Texas timeouts. Then Nunn fumbled.
"It's not Terrence's fault,'' Callahan said. "This is a team game. We had opportunities to win that game sooner than that. I don't fault anybody. I really don't.''
The 12 seconds that remained after Texas' field goal left time for NU to make the finish even stranger.
Taylor threw a pass to Lucky that he pitched to Nunn to move the Huskers 20 yards. On the following play, Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo was called for roughing the passer on a Taylor incompletion that would have ended the game, giving NU one more play from the Longhorn 41.
Taylor's last heave wasn't meant to be, much like the Huskers' attempt to beat a Top 5 team for the first time in five years.
"It was just a tough game,'' Taylor said. "We thought we were going to win it until the last few minutes. They made a play, and they beat us. Obviously you're going to be dejected when you lose a game like that, but we had our chances and we just didn't finish the game out.''
Texas stayed on pace to represent the South Division in the Big 12 championship game Dec. 2. Nebraska fell back into a tie for the North Division lead with Missouri.
The Longhorns didn't lose any of the Huskers' respect, but they said they definitely want another shot at them.
"They kept their composure,'' NU cornerback Cortney Grixby said. "That's the mark of a champion. And that's what they are.''
|Yards per carry||3.8||1.6|
Nebraska is 4-10 all-time against Texas.
|Louisiana Tech||Sept. 2|
|Nicholls State||Sept. 9|
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Sept. 23|
|Iowa State||Oct. 7|
|Kansas State||Oct. 14|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 28|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 11|
Nebraska has played 19 games on Oct. 21. See them all »
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