COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Two minutes left, no timeouts remaining and 75 yards separating Nebraska from ugly loss and beautiful victory.
Husker quarterback Zac Taylor had seen this before, albeit with his eyes closed and his head on the pillow.
"That's what you dream about right there,'' Taylor said. "You dream about being in the shotgun and letting your receivers go to work, and making plays with no time left. That's definitely been a dream of mine my whole life.''
As darkness fell on Kyle Field, it was all very real Saturday night as Taylor led Nebraska to its 28-27 win over Texas A&M.
After taking over on the 25-yard line with 1:57 on the clock, the Huskers moved 75 yards to clinch their first Big 12 North championship since 1999. The last of Taylor's five final-drive completions was a 9-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Purify, who set his feet, leaped high and pulled down the curtain on Texas A&M with 21 seconds left.
"I wouldn't have wanted to win this game any other way,'' Taylor said. "It's something that everybody's going to remember.''
It could have been easier, no doubt. Far less dramatic. But this finish made for better stories — and dreams.
"These kids, I wish you could see their faces in that locker room,'' NU coach Bill Callahan said. "They poured a lot of effort and time, sweat and tears, into this. I'm just so happy to see it culminate in a North Division championship and an opportunity to play for the Big 12 championship.''
Nebraska (8-3, 5-2 Big 12) wasted a 21-7 lead as Texas A&M rallied before a crowd of 83,336. Before the successful two-minute drill, the previous 28 minutes of the second half were more about ineptitude and the distinct possibility that the Huskers were about to throw one away.
Taylor had, in fact, when he was intercepted by Mark Dodge with 2:50 left in the game. But the NU defense immediately stopped Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3), and allowed less than a minute to elapse thanks to Aggies back Mike Goodson going out of bounds on first down and Husker timeouts on second and third.
Then attempting to turn a 27-21 lead into a 30-21 advantage, the Aggies had Layne Neumann's 42-yard field goal blocked by Barry Turner.
Out trotted Taylor and the NU offense, which hadn't produced points since early in the second quarter and hadn't started a second-half drive beyond its own 20-yard line.
Taylor threw passes of 7 yards to Brandon Jackson, 22 to Todd Peterson, 16 to Dan Erickson and 13 to Peterson. The first completion to Peterson came on fourth-and-3 from the NU 32.
Taylor tried a fade pass to Purify on third-and-10 from the Texas A&M 17 that fell incomplete. But Marques Thornton hit Taylor late, and the roughing-the-passer penalty meant first-and-goal from the 9.
With Callahan and Taylor in agreement, the Huskers went right back to the 6-foot-4 Purify against 5-10 cornerback Jordan Peterson on the left side of the end zone.
Reporters asked Purify what he was thinking. He said it wasn't all that complicated.
"I'm thinking I've got to get it,'' Purify said. "I've got to catch it.''
It was a special catch by a Husker receiver who's starting to make them more and more often. Offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said that's why NU didn't think twice about calling a play that hadn't worked the time before.
"An old coach told me a long time ago that, in times of crisis, you think of players, not plays,'' Norvell said. "Mo has such a height advantage and strength advantage over those corners. They can't play him in that situation.''
The finish wasn't anything unusual for Texas A&M, which has had six of its past nine games decided by four points or fewer. Yet it couldn't keep jaws from dropping as NU stole back a game it looked to have given away.
"I don't think I've ever seen a season with as many last-minute games as this one,'' Aggies coach Dennis Franchione said. "It's amazing. Just comes down to you need to make one more play. We needed a field goal, needed a first down, needed a stop -- and we didn't get it.''
Nebraska dominated the first half, rolling up 240 total yards by midway through the second quarter, including 11 plays of 8 yards or more on its first five possessions. I-back Cody Glenn ran for two touchdowns and Taylor found Peterson for a 4-yard score in the rush to a 21-7 lead.
As has been the case in recent weeks, the Huskers couldn't sustain it. And when A&M scored twice in the fourth quarter, it had a 27-21 lead, the stands were swaying and visions of past NU collapses were coming to mind.
"We knew we had a lot of game left to play,'' NU linebacker Corey McKeon said. "We kept the defense up. We kept getting in people's faces, getting in their ears, just letting everyone know the game was not over yet.
"It worked out just like in everyone's minds — stop them, block it, go down the field.''
|Yards per carry||5.7||3.2|
Nebraska is 10-4 all-time against Texas A&M.
|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 Nov. 11. See them all »
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