6 Degrees: Nebraska Late-Game Drama
Welcome back to six degrees! Here’s how it works…every week, I’ll start with Northwestern’s opponent and follow my stream of consciousness until I get to something interesting and rankable. Then, I’ll rank the top six of that category which relates to the Wildcats’ opponent for the week.
This week: Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers enter this weekend’s game at 3-4, but they are better than their record indicates. All four of Nebraska’s losses came when the opponent scored in the last ten seconds: a Hail Mary by BYU, an overtime loss to Miami, a late touchdown by Illinois, and a late field goal by Wisconsin. Mike Riley is in his first year as the Huskers’ head coach, but he inherits a program with a history of playing down-to-the-wire games. Here are the top six finishes in Nebraska football history.
6. 2009 Big 12 Championship Game. The Huskers, under Bo Pelini, had little shot heading into the conference title game. They were 9-3 and ranked 22nd in the BCS rankings, while their opponent was the unbeaten and third-ranked Texas Longhorns. Ndamukong Suh and the Husker defense didn’t hand the game to Colt McCoy and the Longhorns, though. Suh sacked McCoy four times, and the quarterback threw three interceptions (one to Prince Amuknamara) to keep Nebraska in the game, and Alex Henery’s fourth field goal of the night gave the Huskers a 12-10 lead with 1:44 to play. McCoy completed a 19-yard ball to Jordan Shipley, and a 15-yard penalty put the Longhorns in field-goal range. Time appeared to run out as McCoy threw the ball away on third down, but after review officials put one second on the clock, allowing Hunter Lawrence to boot a 46-yard field goal and send Texas to the BCS Championship game.
5. Ron Kellogg III’s 2013 Hail Mary. Sorry in advance, Wildcat fans. Northwestern built a 21-7 second quarter lead, but the Huskers rallied back with a Tommy Armstrong, Jr. touchdown pass and a pick-six of Trevor Seimian. The game remained tied until late in the fourth quarter, when defensive lineman Tyler Scott intercepted Armstrong and returned the pick to the Nebraska seven. Northwestern faced second-and-goal from the Cornhusker one, but settled for a short field goal and a 24-21 lead. Nebraska got the ball back with 67 seconds remaining, and Kellogg III replaced Armstrong at quarterback. Kellogg completed three passes to Ameer Abdullah and two to Sam Burtch to bring the Huskers to midfield. From there, Kellogg threw towards the end zone, and Jordan Westerkamp snagged the ball and fell forward for a game-winning Hail Mary, giving Nebraska an improbable 27-24 win.
4. The 1971 Game of the Century vs. Oklahoma. Rarely do matchups between the top two teams in the country live up to the hype, but this one did. Nebraska headed to Norman to face the second-ranked Sooners with the Big Eight title on the line. Oklahoma out-gained Nebraska 467-362, but three Sooner turnovers proved critical. Nebraska built a 14-3 lead when flanker Johnny Rodgers returned a punt 72 yards for a score in one of the signature plays of college football history, but the Sooners rallied to take a 17-14 halftime lead. The Huskers scored twice in the third quarter to take a 28-17 advantage, but Oklahoma rallied to take a 31-28 lead with just over seven minutes to play. Nebraska got the ball back, and running back Jeff Kinney’s fourth touchdown of the game gave the Huskers a 35-31 advantage they would not relinquish. Nebraska then blew out Alabama in the Orange Bowl to win the national title.
3. 1994 Orange Bowl vs. Florida State. The Cornhuskers entered this one-vs.-two battle ranked second to the Seminoles, and the game became a duel between quarterbacks Charlie Ward and Tommie Frazier. Heisman winner Ward threw for 286 yards, while Frazier threw for 206 yards and ran for 77. Nebraska led 7-6 at halftime, before Florida State used a 9-0 third quarter to take a 15-7 lead. The Huskers started out strong in the final frame, with Lawrence Phillips running for a touchdown to cut the lead to two. Byron Bennett kicked a field goal to give Nebraska a 16-15 lead with 78 seconds to play, but Ward led the Seminoles down and Scott Bentley kicked Florida State to an 18-16 lead with 21 seconds left. 21 seconds was too much time, however, as Frazier got the Huskers to the Seminole 28-yard line as time expired. Officials put one second back on the clock, but Bennett missed the 45-yard field goal and the Seminoles won the title.
2. 1995 Orange Bowl vs. Miami. The Huskers returned to the Orange Bowl the next year to play for the championship again, and this time they faced the Hurricanes. Led by the strong play of quarterback Frank Costa, Miami led Nebraska 17-9 after three quarters. That’s when the Huskers got on the comeback trail. Fullback Cory Schlesinger brought Nebraska within two on a 15-yard run, and Tommy Frazier threw to Eric Alford for the game-tying conversion with 7:38 to play. The Husker defense stopped Miami, and Schlesinger ran it in again with 2:46 left to give Nebraska a 24-17 lead. Nebraska stopped Miami again, outscored the ‘Canes 15-0 in the final frame, and won the championship.
1.1984 Orange Bowl vs. Miami. In this Orange Bowl, the unbeaten Cornhuskers faced up-and-coming Miami with the national title on the line. The Hurricanes started fast, using two Bernie Kosar touchdown passes to take a 17-0 lead into the second quarter. Nebraska used a second-quarter fumblerooski to score their first touchdown and turn the tide of the game, then added a sneak by quarterback Turner Gill to cut the Miami lead to 17-14 at halftime. After the Huskers tied the game early in the third quarter, Miami scored two touchdowns to re-take a two-possession lead. Facing a 14-point deficit and with Heisman-winning running back Mike Rozier sidelined with an injury, Nebraska rallied again. The Huskers scored, Miami missed a field goal, and the Huskers scored again on a fourth-down option pitch to Jeff Smith with 48 seconds to play. Trailing 31-30, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne opted to go for two and the win instead of settling for a tie (there was no overtime at the time), but Gill’s pass fell incomplete and the Hurricanes won their first title.