BOULDER, Colo. — In the end, it wasn't even football.
This was something else — a diversion to delay the inevitable, Bill Callahan calling a timeout with 30 seconds left as Nebraska trailed by three scores on a bitter day in more ways than one at Folsom Field.
Callahan, in all likelihood, coached his final game at NU on Friday. And what a fitting finish, this 65-51 loss to Colorado, the Huskers' highest tally ever in defeat, to secure a second losing season out of four for the coach.
There will be no New Year's Eve in Phoenix. Only a meeting today, between the NU coaches and their boss, Tom Osborne, in which Callahan is expected to be fired.
"They've been great years," Callahan said. "I have no regrets being here at Nebraska."
He said he knew nothing of his future but seemed accepting of whatever happens. Osborne, the interim athletic director and former coach hired five weeks ago to make this very decision, walked past reporters Friday outside the NU locker room without offering any answers.
Callahan, after his team led 35-24 at halftime but surrendered 34 straight points over the next 26 minutes, brushed off an ABC interview request as he marched through the end zone.
NU players said the coach was emotional in delivering his postgame message. Callahan exited the locker room to survey the scene of gathered news media before taking several moments to start his press conference.
"It's tough," quarterback Joe Ganz said, "because I'll be thinking about it all night. I hope Coach stays. We want him. It will be real difficult if he goes, especially for a lot of these guys, because he's the one who brought them here."
As for the meeting with Osborne, it's expected to come this morning. If Callahan is gone, a press conference would follow almost immediately.
Then, perhaps, will be the official search for a new coach that could keep Nebraskans intrigued even as their team sits home in December for only the second time in 39 years.
"I'm going to wake up tomorrow and deal with whatever we have to deal with and move along," Callahan said.
"I'm sure Coach Osborne has a lot of things that he'd like to talk about."
NU tantalized its fans with hope that a bowl game might be in the cards. It looked probable, in fact, at halftime as the Huskers exploded for 393 yards in the two quarters that followed a 73-point outburst Nov. 10 against Kansas State on the heels of a five-game losing streak.
Nebraska (5-7) showed up Friday after two weeks of secretive practices and displayed elements of the same spread offense that has tortured its defense much of this season.
Ganz ran it with efficiency on the Huskers' second offensive possession. He scurried for a 28-yard score on a read-zone option to give Nebraska its first lead of the day.
CU led 17-7 when Nebraska forced three straight punts. Ganz directed three TD drives, the last of which featured receiver Maurice Purify bowling through the Colorado defense for a 25-yard score to put NU on top 28-17.
The Buffs answered with an 80-yard drive as freshman QB Cody Hawkins hit wide-open tight end Tyson DeVree for an 11-yard TD with 1:25 left in the first half.
But Ganz stayed hot. The junior quarterback directed a 71-yard march in 59 seconds that ended with Todd Peterson's grab of a 16-yard score to give Nebraska its 11-point halftime edge and significant momentum.
Everything changed quickly in the third quarter.
Facing a third down and 2 from its 19-yard line, NU was flagged for an illegal substitution and a delay-of-game penalty. On third and 12, CU cornerback Jimmy Smith intercepted Ganz and raced 31 yards for a touchdown.
On the next play, NU receiver Nate Swift got a hand on a Ganz pass, but it bounced into the arms of Colorado's Anthony Wright. Four plays later, Hugh Charles was in the end zone for the first of his three second-half touchdowns as CU went up 38-35.
"Those two picks are my fault," said Ganz, who was intercepted three times but passed for 484 yards and four touchdowns.
CU defensive end Alonzo Barrett blocked a Dan Titchener punt on the next Nebraska possession. Charles scored again en route to 169 yards rushing. NU went three and out. Colorado quickly scored and then it scored again after a Ganz interception to lead 58-35. You get the idea.
"The second half kind of got away from us, " Callahan said.
Indeed, it did. Colorado, after scoring just 24 points in its previous two home games, posted its highest figure in 12 years. The Huskers allowed more than 50 in two games for the first time since 1945 and 40 or more for the school-record sixth time.
"We literally thought we were going to be national champions in the summer," Nebraska linebacker Bo Ruud said. "I couldn't imagine going 5-7 and not going to a bowl game. I didn't think that was a possibility."
As the Nebraska buses left the stadium, the irony was thick.
Two years ago here, Callahan celebrated perhaps his finest moment at NU, a 30-3 whipping of the Big 12 North champion Buffs. Four years ago, NU won the day before Frank Solich was fired.
Six years ago, Colorado won 62-36 — its all-time scoring high against the Huskers. That is, until Friday.
"I love our coaches, " Swift said. "I think it would be great if they stayed. I want them to stay."
Callahan said he, too, would like to stick around for the next chapter. It's not likely, though.
"I'm more disappointed in myself than anyone," he said. "When you don't reach your expectations and goals, I'm more disappointed than anybody."
|Yards per carry||5.3||6.3|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|Wake Forest||Sept. 8|
|Ball State||Sept. 22|
|Iowa State||Sept. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 13|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
Nebraska has played 23 games on Nov. 23. See them all »
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