LINCOLN — They did it again.
The Oklahoma Sooners, who have a history of pulling the AstroTurf out from under Nebraska in the final minute, drove 94 yards to score a touchdown with 1:22 left Saturday, then raced 51 yards to set up a field goal with six seconds to play to beat the Huskers 20-17.
A Memorial Stadium crowd of 76,198 the loudest in several years stood in stunned disbelief as the Sooners made a comeback that generated flashbacks from Sooner miracles in 1976, when they scored with 38 seconds left to win 20-17, and in 1980, when they struck with 56 seconds remaining to triumph 21-17.
OU tight end Keith Jackson made a one-handed catch of a Jamelle Holieway pass on the west sideline and turned it into a 41-yard gain with 9 seconds to play, moving OU to the NU 14-yard line.
Placekicker Tim Lashar then booted a 31-yard field goal to give the 10-1 and No. 3 Sooners the Big Eight Conference championship at 7-0 and a berth in the Orange Bowl against Arkansas or Texas A&M.
Nebraska, which will go to the Sugar Bowl at 9-2 to play Alabama or LSU, finished third in the Big Eight at 5-2. Colorado, which will go to the Bluebonnet Bowl, earned the runner-up spot at 6-1 by beating Kansas State Saturday.
“You gotta believe,” OU Coach Barry Switzer told his team in a postgame meeting. “We’ve done this so many times. Nebraska believed we’d do it and we did, too.”
OU’s return from the dead left the Huskers stone-faced.
“This year, I felt we had the best team. We just choked,” NU All-America middle guard Danny Noonan said. “It’s frustrating because we gave up the big play and it seems like we’ve done that every game.”
The Sooners might not have had a chance to make their big plays at the end if not for a controversial face-mask penalty.
Oklahoma, down 10-7 at halftime and 17-7 after three quarters, got the ball at its own 6-yard line with 4:10 to play and trailing 17-10.
Three plays produced 9 yards, so OU went for it on fourth and one at its own 15. Holieway optioned right, gained 5 yards and then fumbled with Nebraska cornerback Brian Davis recovering.
But Husker defensive end Broderick Thomas was called for a facemask penalty the fourth of the day against NU nullifying the fumble and giving OU the ball at its 25.
“I’ve never seen so many facemask penalties,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “I’m sure they must have been justified. But the one on fourth down just killed us. We had the game won there, I think.”
Thomas said this facemask penalty wasn’t justified.
“I did not facemask the guy,” Thomas said. “Every time Jamelle jumped up and hollered face mask, it was called.
“I was not even around his face. I caught him around one of his shoulders and wrapped him up good. There was a fumble, but he jumped up crying as usual.”
The officials at first said Nebraska had recovered the loose ball, then ruled that the facemask violation came before the fumble, allowing OU to keep possession.
Two plays later, Holieway completed a 35-yard pass to split end Derrick Shepard to move to the Nebraska 32.
From there, halfback Spencer Tillman gained 9 yards and Holieway ran for 0, 3 and 3 before OU called its first timeout.
Oklahoma, last in the country in total passing but first in yards per completion at 19.1 yards, then connected on one of its biggest strikes.
Holieway found Jackson behind Davis with a 17-yard touchdown pass.
Switzer sent Lashar out to kick the point because a tie would have given OU the league title. Lashar converted his 135th in a row to knot it at 17-17 with 1:22 to play.
The Nebraska fans booed the decision.
“I was a little bit surprised,” Osborne said. “But I’m not in Barry Switzer’s shoes. I’m in my shoes. He did what he had to do and I did what I had to do.”
What Osborne felt he had to do at that moment was try to score again.
After the kickoff, NU quarterback Steve Taylor, who threw for 131 yards and one touchdown, scrambled for 3 yards and then 1 before throwing incomplete, trying for wingback Von Sheppard. That forced John Kroeker to punt. His kick went 46 yards and Derrick White returned it 5 yards to the OU 35 with 50 seconds to play.
“I certainly could have preserved a tie by running out the clock,” Osborne said. “But I didn’t want to do that. I thought we had to play to win with the situation we were in.
“I guess the loss was probably my fault. But we felt we had to keep trying to move the ball. That put the pressure on our defense.”
On the first play, fullback Lydell Carr gained 12 yards, Holieway threw incomplete, then a holding penalty pushed OU back to its 37.
Holieway scrambled for 8, then launched his pass for Jackson, who burned Nebraska last year with an 88-yard tight end reverse.
The 6-foot-3, 241-pounder reached beyond Thomas to make a one - handed catch and carried it to the NU 14 before Davis dumped him out of bounds.
“Keith Jackson is the greatest tight end in America,” Switzer said. “He’s a big guy with a lot of magic and a lot of talent.”
That set up the game-winning field goal for Lashar.
On the ensuing short kickoff, reserve fullback Doug Dalton returned it to the OU 42, giving Nebraska one more play. But defensive tackle Steve Bryan sacked Taylor to end the game.
“I don’t think it was a comeback,” OU All-America linebacker Brian Bosworth said. “It was a matter of destiny.”
Whatever it was, it will go down in history with OU rallies against Nebraska in 1976 and 1980.
In 1976, Oklahoma used the “hook and trail” a Dean Blevins pass to split end Steve Rhodes, who then lateraled to Elvis Peacock for a 32-yard gain. That set up Peacock’s 2-yard TD run with 38 seconds left that produced a 20-17 OU triumph.
In 1980, Buster Rhymes rambled 50 yards to set up the his own 1-yard touchdown with 56 seconds to play in a 21-17 OU win.
On Saturday, Holieway was the man with a miracle in his hands.
The 5-10, 180-pound sophomore, who hadn’t thrown a pass since Nov. 8, completed 4 of 6 passes in OU’s final two drives for 101 yards and a touchdown.
“Jamelle Holieway is a great competitor, never loses his cool and has great poise,” Switzer said. “He has an understanding of everything that’s going on.”
Through the first half, the understanding was that Nebraska dressed in all red at home for the first time in memory was outplaying Oklahoma.
In the first quarter, NU scored the first rushing TD of the season on OU, breaking the Sooners’ season-long string of spotless first quarters and crushing some Sooners’ prediction of a shutout.
The Huskers’ lead grew to 10-7 at half as they gained 164 total yards, topping the average of 163.7 that OU’s first-in-the-nation defense had been allowing per game.
But the Sooners outgained Nebraska 281 yards to 68 the second half, though things got worse for OU early in the second half before getting better.
After the Sooners stalled on their first drive of the third quarter, Nebraska’s punt-return game ranked No. 2 nationally broke loose.
Wingback Dana Brinson fielded Todd Thomsen’s 38-yard punt, stutterstepped, then darted left up the east sideline with blocker Jeff Tomjack ahead of him. Brinson raced 48 yards before Thomsen slipped in to nail him at the OU 28.
After Taylor gained 3 on the option, he dropped back, waited and rifled a bullet to split end Rod Smith at the goal line for a touchdown, beating OU cornerback Scott Garl. Dale Klein’s extra point gave Nebraska a 17-7 lead with 10:48 left in the third quarter.
“Taylor had a great game,” Bosworth said. “He made some key plays on third down to keep drives alive. You’ve really got to respect his speed.”
After OU punted on its next possession, the teams traded interceptions.
OU linebacker Dante Jones snagged a Taylor pass intended for Smith at the OU 38. A clipping penalty on the return moved the Sooners back to their own 29.
OU moved for one first down, then NU linebacker Marc Munford swiped a Holieway pass intended for Jackson and ran it back 15 yards to the OU 40.
But on the next play, Garl stripped I-back Keith Jones of the ball and recovered it at the OU 35.
The Sooners kept the ball for 5:28 and moved 56 yards, but had to settle for a field goal.
Fullback Earl Johnson gained 13 yards to start the drive, then Carr converted a fourth and one at the NU 43 by half a football.
Runs of 12 yards by Carr and 8 by Holieway moved it to the NU 13.
Then Johnson ran for 2, Carr for 2 and Johnson for 4 more to create a fourth and two at the NU 5. The Sooners went for the field goal and Lashar made the 22-yarder to cut the gap to 17-10 with 10:39 left in the game.
The teams then swapped fumbles.
Jones was stripped again, this time by Bosworth, and OU’s White recovered at the Nebraska 33 with 8:36 to play.
But two plays later, Holieway coughed up the ball after a Noonan hit and Munford recovered at the NU 25 with 7:53 remaining in the game.
After a Nebraska punt, OU tried the 1976 “hook and trail” trick.
But OU lost the ball when Holieway hit Shepard, who lateraled to the trailing Anthony Stafford. He fumbled and NU’s Brian Washington recovered at the OU 44 with 6:18 to play.
But the Huskers couldn’t move the ball, Kroeker had to punt and OU started its rally from the 6.
“Oklahoma obviously has a lot of talent and was able to get some things done at the end because of its talent,” Osborne said. “Our defense got worn down a little, which is to be expected when they are on the field that long.”
To open the game, Oklahoma won the toss and deferred to the second half, so Nebraska took the ball going into a 17-mph north wind.
A near disaster cost the Huskers 19 yards on the second play from scrimmage. Taylor, rolling right on the option, pitched the ball over Jones’ head. Taylor outraced OU safety Sonny Brown to the ball at the NU 4.
Two plays later, the Sooners’ Ricky Dixon fumbled Kroeker’s 37-yard punt, but Dixon recovered it at the Nebraska 44.
OU fumbled again on its first scrimmage play as Patrick Collins took a pitch, turned the corner and was drilled by defensive end Tony Holloway. NU thought it had the ball, but the officials ruled it trickled out of bounds for an 11-yard gain.
After the Sooners earned another first down, the Huskers forced a fourth and one at the NU 14. On an attempted quarterback sneak, Holieway dropped the snap. Tillman recovered, but the 1-yard loss gave Nebraska the ball on downs.
The Huskers then started a 13-play, 85-yard drive that produced the first rushing touchdown against the Sooners by a league opponent in 12 games, dating back to Oct. 26, 1985.
Taylor gained 7 and 12 yards on option plays, then used the pass to drive deep into OU turf.
Taylor drilled a 39-yard strike to Brinson on a deep crossing route to the OU 26. On the next play, Taylor found Smith with an 11-yard pass.
Jones, who finished with 41 yards rushing in 12 carries, ran for 7 and 3 yards to set up a first and goal at the 5. Taylor kept for 3, then Jones took a handoff, danced to the left and bashed in for the touchdown. Klein kicked the extra point to give Nebraska a 7-0 lead with 6:27 left in the first quarter.
Oklahoma came right back with a 70-yard touchdown drive, but it wouldn’t have happened without two penalties against Nebraska.
On the third play of the drive, Holloway nailed Collins for no gain, but was called for a 5-yard facemask penalty that gave OU a third and one at its own 39.
On the next play, the center of Nebraska’s defense stuffed fullback Leon Perry for no gain, starting a Husker celebration.
But after the play was over, NU’s Davis shoved an OU player and was called for a 15-yard personal foul, keeping the drive alive.
Two plays produced nothing for the Sooners. But on third and 10, Holieway completed a 29-yard pass to Jackson, who beat NU cornerback Charles Fryar.
From the NU 16, Oklahoma scored in three plays. Collins ran for 2 yards and Carr bulled for 10 before Holieway wriggled in from the 4. Lashar kicked the extra point to tie it at 7 with 2:36 left in the first quarter.
On its next series, Nebraska was stopped on three plays. So was Oklahoma on its next possession, though you couldn’t convince Switzer.
With 3 yards to go for a first down, Holieway optioned left and was marked down inches short of the first down. Switzer screamed about the spot, but to no avail, and the Sooners punted.
Thomsen bombed the kick 54 yards into the wind and got it to die in the arms of Carl Cabbiness at the NU 2.
Taylor scrambled from the end zone for a 10-yard gain, but Nebraska was stopped after that. On fourth and six from the 18, OU’s Ledell Glenn was called for running into the kicker. Switzer exploded again because it appeared Glenn was blocked into Kroeker and the punt only traveled 15 yards.
But the 5-yard penalty gave Kroeker another chance. He punted only 38 yards with the wind and Dixon returned it 9 yards, but OU had to start at the 50 instead of NU’s 35.
A facemask penalty against Nebraska’s Neil Smith helped OU get to the NU 37. But on a tight-end reverse by Jackson, Smith stopped him for a loss of 8. Two plays later, a blitzing Munford nailed Holieway for a loss of 12, forcing a punt.
Nebraska, taking over at its 28, held the ball for 12 plays, again on the strength of the pass, before settling for a field goal.
Taylor found tight end Tom Banderas for 11 yards, split end Robb Schnitzler for 11 and tight end Todd Millikan for 12 to get to the Sooner 16.
A 15-yard blocking-below-the-waist penalty stopped the drive, so Klein kicked a 32-yard field goal, making it 10-7 Nebraska with 4:46 left in the half.
The Huskers held on three downs and got the ball back at its own 42.
On the third play of the possession, Taylor faked into the line and had Schnitzler open deep. But the pass skimmed off his hands near the OU 20.
“It just slipped off my hands,” Schnitzler said. “There were a couple of times today where we had guys open deep that could have made the difference.”
The Sooners took over after a punt and ran out the clock to end the half.
“You kind of feel good for playing a good game,” Schnitzler said. “But when you give it away like we did, it feels terrible. I guess you have to give them credit for not quitting.”
Osborne wants to give his team credit for not quitting, too, during a season filled with injuries and inquiries.
“There’s been a lot of conversation about how our reputation has been tarnished,” he said. “I don’t understand it. I think these guys displayed a lot of character this year.
“You don’t find bad people who can go out and play like that. I really feel they played well enough to be Big Eight co-champions and I’m really proud of them.”
|Yards per carry||3.5||2.3|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Florida State||Sept. 6|
|South Carolina||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 1|
|Iowa State||Nov. 8|
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