At long, long last, the quest is over for Tom Osborne, and the national championship almost certainly belongs to Nebraska.
After 22 seasons, including two heartbreaking losses at the Orange Bowl that cost him national titles, Osborne was finally vindicated Sunday night when the top-ranked Cornhuskers beat No. 3 Miami 24-17 behind the fourth-quarter leadership of quarterback Tommie Frazier and a stellar defense.
“It means a lot,” Osborne said after the game, savoring the victory but still not smiling. “I’m proud of the players. They showed a lot of heart.”
Frazier, playing for the first time since being sidelined with blood clots in late September, guided the Cornhuskers to two touchdowns by Cory Schlesinger in the last 8 minutes after sitting out the second and third quarters.
“I said all along we could beat them here,” Frazier said. “They’re not unbeatable here.”
In a controversial decision, Osborne chose Frazier to start the game instead of Brook Berringer, who was 7-0 as a starter in Frazier’s absence. The decision paid off when, with Frazier at the controls, Schlesinger scored on runs of 15 and 14 yards in the fourth quarter to rally Nebraska from a 17-9 deficit.
The final Associated Press poll won’t be released until early Tuesday morning, after all bowl games are played. But even if second-ranked Penn State (11-0) beats Oregon in the Rose Bowl, Nebraska (13-0) seems certain to finish No. 1.
Every other No. 1 team that has won its bowl game has won the national championship.
“I don’t know if we’ve won it. I suppose we have a chance,” Osborne said. “I told (Penn State coach) Joe Paterno that I wouldn’t lobby, and I won’t. I’m sure he won’t, either.”
The Cornhuskers ended a seven-game bowl losing streak and a five-game skid at the Orange Bowl, including losses to Miami in 1984 and Florida State last year that cost Nebraska national titles.
It was only the Hurricanes’ second home defeat in their last 64 games. The loss also snapped their 24-game night winning streak at the Orange Bowl.
Nebraska tied it at 17 with 7:38 remaining when Schlesinger scored his first touchdown, and the Cornhuskers added a 2-point conversion pass from Frazier to tight end Eric Alford. The catch was made in the same end zone where a failed twopoint try against Miami cost Nebraska the national title in 1984.
The Cornhuskers took a 24-17 lead on Schlesinger’s 14-yard run with 2:46 left, and sealed the victory when Kareem Moss intercepted Frank Costa’s fourth-down pass with 1:01 remaining.
Frazier threw only five passes, but ran seven times for 31 yards, including a 25-yard dash on a third-and-4 play that kept Nebraska’s final drive alive. Berringer, 8 of 15 for 81 yards and one touchdown, was pulled after being intercepted in the Miami end zone on Nebraska’s first play of the fourth quarter.
Miami quarterback Frank Costa was 18 of 35 for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
Trailing 17-9 early in the fourth quarter, Nebraska got a break when Miami (10-2) was plagued again by its season-long punt-snapping problems.
Jeffrey Taylor snapped the ball over the head of punter Dane Prewitt and it rolled to the Miami 10. Prewitt kicked it into the end zone with his left foot, drawing an illegal kick penalty that gave Nebraska the ball at the Hurricanes’ 4. It was Miami’s eighth botched punt of the season.
But on the next play, Berringer rolled out and his pass was picked off in the end zone by Earl Little, who had come out of the game twice previously due to injuries.
There was a controversial call on the next-to-last play of the third quarter, when Berringer fumbled a handoff to Clinton Childs. After a long delay, the officials signaled a Nebraska recovery. But after another pause, they changed their ruling and credited Miami’s James Burgess with the recovery at Hurricanes’ 36.
Miami, beset by poor field position and penalties, opened the second half with a 78-yard touchdown drive to take a 17-7 lead. The score came on a 44-yard connection from Costa to Jonathan Harris, who caught a short pass, juked several defenders and zigzagged to the end zone.
While Nebraska struggled on offense, the Cornhuskers’ highly rated defense came up with a big play later in the period. After Miami was forced back to its 14-yard line by a double penalty, Costa was sacked in the end zone for a safety by linebacker Dwayne Harris, cutting Miami’s lead to 17-9.
After stopping Nebraska on the game’s opening possession, Miami drove 31 yards in 10 plays and took a 3-0 lead on Prewitt’s 44-yard field goal. It was Prewitt’s 14th straight successful field goal attempt and his longest of the season.
Miami made it 10-0 on a 35-yard catch by freshman Trent Jones with 4 seconds left in the first quarter.
The touchdown capped a five-play, 97-yard drive, the longest of the year for Miami. The big play was a 43-yard pass from Costa to A.C. Tellison, who separated his shoulder on Miami’s next series and did not return.
After Nebraska failed to score on its first two series, Osborne replaced Frazier with Berringer at the start of the second quarter.
The second time Nebraska got the ball, he rolled right and hit tight end Mark Gilman with a 19-yard touchdown pass.
Nebraska 24, Miami 17
Nebraska 0 7 2 15 - 24
Miami 10 0 7 0 - 17
Mia-FG Prewitt 44, 7:06.
Mia-T.Jones 35 pass from Costa (Prewitt kick), 14:56.
Neb-Gilman 19 pass from Berringer (Erstad kick), 7:06.
Mia-J.Harris 44 pass from Costa (Prewitt kick), 1:41.
Neb-Safety, Costa sacked by D.Harris in end zone, 3:25.
Neb-Schlesinger 15 run (Frazier pass to Alford), 7:22.
Neb-Schlesinger 14 run (Sieler kick), 12:14.
Mia Neb First downs 14 20 Rushes-yards 28-29 46-199 Passing 248 106 Return Yards (-6) 17 Comp-Att-Int 18-35-1 11-20-2 Punts 7-40 7-41 Fumbles-Lost 2-0 2-1 Penalties-Yards 11-92 3-20 Time of Possession 27:28 32:32
RUSHINGMiami, J.Stewart 17-72, J.Harris 1-6, L.Jones 1-2, Ferguson 2-1, Costa 6-(minus 17), Prewitt 1-(minus 35). Nebraska, Phillips 19-96, Schlesinger 6-48, Frazier 7-31, Benning 3-18, Washington 1-9, Childs 3-1, Berringer 7-(minus 4).
PASSINGMiami, Costa 18-35-1-248. Nebraska, Frazier 3-5-1-25, Berringer 8-15-1-81.
RECEIVINGMiami, C.T.Jones 6-63, German 3-22, Tellison 2-53, Wimberly 2-18, J.Harris 1-44, T.Jones 1-35, Chambers 1-14, Ferguson 1-3, Y.Green 1-(minus 4). Nebraska, Muhammad 4-60, Phillips 4-13, Gilman 1-19, Holbein 1-7, Baul 1-7.
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