Nebraska dashes Buffs’ bowl hopes
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
LINCOLN, Neb. ” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini had no doubt Alex Henery would make his 57-yard, game-winning field goal.
Henery wasn’t so sure.
But Henery said yes, anyway, when Pelini asked if he thought he could get the distance with Nebraska trailing by a point late in Friday’s game against Colorado.
Henery made the kick with room to spare with 1:43 left, and defensive end Ndamukong Suh ran back an interception 30 yards for a touchdown seconds later to punctuate the Cornhuskers’ 40-31 victory.
“I love games like this. The crazier the better,” Pelini said. “I just wish we had ended it a little bit earlier.”
Colorado, an 18-point underdog, hung with Nebraska until the end, thanks to a couple big offensive plays in the first quarter, a botched Nebraska fake field goal that led to a CU touchdown and Joe Ganz’s fumble inside the Buffs’ 5 early in the fourth quarter.
“Our guys battled and scrapped and gave it everything they had. Not an inch left,” CU coach Dan Hawkins said.
The Huskers (8-4, 5-3 Big 12) are in position to end Pelini’s first season as head coach in a New Year’s Day game at the Gator Bowl. The Buffaloes (5-7, 2-6), who beat the Huskers last year to keep them out of a bowl, will stay home this time.
Roy Helu Jr. ran for 166 yards for the Huskers, and Ganz threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns and set Nebraska’s single-season passing record.
But Nebraska found itself behind 31-27 late in the third quarter when Demetrius Sumler bulled into the end zone from 4 yards on a fourth-and-1.
The Huskers were back within a point when Henery kicked the second of his three field goals, a 37-yarder, with 8:09 left.
The Huskers got the ball back for their go-ahead drive after their defense forced a Colorado punt. It looked as if the Buffs would make a stand even though they were playing without linebacker Shaun Mohler, who made 11 tackles before going out with a concussion late in the fourth quarter.
After Helu ran 25 yards to the Colorado 25, Buffs’ blitzing safety Patrick Mahnke sacked Ganz for a 15-yard loss. Ganz passed incomplete over the middle to Mike McNeill on third down, leading Pelini to summon Henery for the 57-yarder.
The two talked during a timeout.
“I wanted him to look me in the face and tell me he had it in him,” Pelini said.
Henery hesitated at first.
“I have to admit I was a little iffy,” he said. “I knew it was a long ways, and there wasn’t much wind. I knew I’d have to hit it real well.”
Pelini walked away briefly and consulted with offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.
Did Watson have a play in mind for fourth-and-25?
“I had none,” Watson said. “I said, ‘Bring on Alex.’ “
Pelini went back to Henery and asked what he thought. Henery had made a 52-yarder in warmups. With the chance to win the game, he figured, what’s 5 more yards?
“I told him I would make it,” Henery said.
That’s all Pelini needed to hear.
With a 5-mph south wind at his back, Henery put all his leg into a perfect hold by Jake Wesch. Henery’s kick cleared the cross bar, comfortably inside the right upright, touching off jubilation on the Nebraska sideline. It was Nebraska’s longest field goal since Chris Drennan kicked a 55-yarder against Northern Illinois in 1989.
“I don’t remember watching it go through at all,” Henery said. “I was pretty sure I made it. It was on target. I don’t remember much after hitting it.”
Suh snuffed the Buffs’ last hope with 55 seconds left. Fellow defensive end Zach Potter deflected Cody Hawkins’ pass and Suh made the catch and ran it back for his second interception return for a touchdown this season.
“There have been some fun games around here. Some of them we pulled out. Some of them we didn’t,” Suh said. “This is one of the best we’ve pulled out since I’ve been here.”
Colorado went into halftime tied at 24 after a crazy turn of events on a Nebraska fake field goal.
The Huskers lined up as if Henery would try a 50-yarder into a slight breeze. At the snap, Henery broke to his right and Wesch, the holder, blindly flipped the ball over his head. Colorado’s Jimmy Smith ran full speed between Henery and Wesch, snatched the ball and ran 58 yards untouched.
Three plays totaling 148 yards got the Buffs out to a 14-0 lead. Hawkins threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Riar Geer on the second play of the game. Hawkins passed 44 yards to Josh Smith and then Sumler took an inside handoff and went around left for a 36-yard touchdown.
Nebraska tied it at 14 on touchdown passes by Ganz to Nate Swift (2 yards) and Mike McNeill (53 yards.
Ganz broke Zac Taylor’s 2-year-old single-season school passing record on the touchdown to McNeill. Ganz has thrown for 3,332 yards.
Colorado finished the season with losses in seven of its last nine games after a 3-0 start. The Buffs are winless in six true road games since October 2007, and they scored more than 18 points in only two Big 12 games.
The Buffs’ inexperience was exascerbated by 10 season-ending injuries and three academic disqualifications. There were 27 sophomores or freshmen on the two-deep chart.
“We’ve got a lot of upset dudes, including myself,” Cody Hawkins said. “Eveybody in there really put their heart and soul into this game. We were right there in it until the end but unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”
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