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College Football Week 8

Nebraska Still Has Missouri's Number

Big 12: Tigers' late drive fails and Cornhuskers win another nail-biter, 20-13, their 20th consecutive victory in the series.

October 25, 1998|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LINCOLN, Neb. — Shevin Wiggins did it with his feet.

Again.

Matt Davison scooped a ball off the turf and the referee called it a catch.

Again.

A ball slipped through a receiver's hands in the last minute in the end zone.

Again.

Missouri quarterback Corby Jones was sacked to end the game.

Again.

Nebraska beat Missouri, again, and the Tigers will relive it again, again and again.

Nebraska's 20th consecutive win against Missouri, a 20-13 victory on Saturday before a crowd of 76,425 at Memorial Stadium, was not quite as gut-wrenching as last year's 45-38 overtime loss at Columbia, Mo.

But it was close enough to cry.

You figured it might have been the hand of justice that poked the ball loose from Nebraska quarterback Monte Christo with 1:38 left, giving Missouri the ball for one last chance to tie the score.

"I thought it would have been ironic if we would have scored on the last play and took it into overtime," Missouri Coach Larry Smith said.

Last year, in college football's play of the decade, Nebraska forced overtime when Wiggins bobbled a pass in the end zone before he somehow, en route to the ground and what seemed like certain defeat, kicked the ball backward over his head into the diving hands of Davison. Nebraska tied the score, won the game in overtime, finished 13-0 and won a share of the national championship.

Did not Missouri deserve restitution?

The Tigers (5-2) had their chance, and have only themselves to blame for not plunging the lance into a wounded Nebraska (7-1) that is begging to be removed from the ranks of national prominence.

Given the gift of Christo's fumble at the Nebraska 45, Missouri advanced the ball to the 34 with 40 seconds left.

After three consecutive incompletions, Jones completed a 12-yard pass to John Dausman on fourth and 10 to the Cornhusker 22.

With nine seconds left, Jones let fly a pass to the right corner of the end zone. Circling around defender Erwin Swiney, Dausman positioned himself for the catch, but the ball somehow squirted through his arms.

As the drama unfolded, Christo, whose fumble had put his team in this mess, knelt on one knee on the Nebraska sideline with his fingers crossed.

Christo could breathe easier seconds later, when Eric Johnson blitzed from his linebacker position to sack Jones to end the game.

"This was a team we could have beat and probably should have beat," a disgusted Missouri tailback Devin West said.

No argument there. No. 7 Nebraska was on the ropes.

No. 19 Missouri led at the half, 13-6, turning two second-quarter Nebraska blunders into touchdowns. The first came when Missouri defensive lineman Steve Erickson picked up Christo's errant option pitch and returned the ball 41 yards for a touchdown.

On Nebraska's next possession, Jeff Marriott stormed up the middle and blocked Kris Brown's 38-yard field goal attempt. Wade Perkins picked up the ball and advanced it 11 yards before pitching to teammate Harold Piersey, who ran 44 more to the Nebraska 25.

That led to Jones' one-yard touchdown run to put Missouri ahead, 13-3, with 3:52 left in the half. Nebraska added a field goal before halftime, but the six points were the fewest the Cornhuskers had scored at home in one half since 1991.

"My mood was not great," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said later.

So bad, in fact, that Solich benched hobbled starting quarterback Bobby Newcombe in favor of Christo, a senior walk-on who is a crowd favorite when he is not fumbling.

More than Christo in the third quarter, though, it was the dastardly duo of Wiggins and Davison who tormented Missouri. Wiggins, naturally, made good use of his feet, returning a Vince Sebo punt 53 yards to the Missouri 14.

Asked later if he thought Missouri would be glad to see him graduate, Wiggins said, "I'd kind of figure that."

Davison ultimately kept the drive alive, getting his fingernails between the turf and Christo's third-down pass for a seven-yard gain to the five.

How did it rate with last season's backbreaker?

"One was in the end zone, one wasn't," Davison said. "Both of them were really close to the ground."

Wiggins, who watched last year's miracle catch from his back, said he had a clear view of Davison's grab.

Catch?

"No doubt," Wiggins said.

Just like last year?

"No doubt," he repeated, smiling.

Davison's reception set up Christo's one-yard touchdown to tie the score, 13-13, with 1:32 left in quarter.

Then, aided significantly by Sebo's crippling six-yard punt, Nebraska took the lead for good with 10:27 left, Christo's three-yard scoring run capping a 49-yard, eight-play drive.

The win was Nebraska's 47th consecutive at home, but there appears little joy in Husker Nation. Nebraska held on, but not without sounding a Big Red alert and sparking a controversy. Solich wouldn't say whether Christo or Newcombe would start next week against Texas.

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