Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: No Winner, No Loser at Boulder in 1991

April 30, 2020

Rewind to Derek Brown’s comment following the second game of the 1991 season, against Colorado State: “People think we get on TV in big games and lose.”

That’s what had happened the next week. The No. 9 Huskers had been unable to hold a third-quarter lead at home against No. 4 Washington. 

ABC televised the game regionally. 

The loss was Nebraska’s seventh, including bowls, of a televised game, dating to mid-November of 1988. Not all of the opponents were ranked, which made it even more frustrating.

The week after the Washington loss, the Huskers snapped a streak of six consecutive losses to teams in the Associated Press poll by winning at No. 24 Arizona State, a game that wasn’t televised.

They would get their next shot at an AP-ranked opponent the eighth week of the 1991 season, against No. 15 Colorado in Boulder. 

ESPN would televise the game nationally.

In addition to being ranked, the 5-2 Buffaloes were defending AP national champions. Nebraska had another chance to prove itself on television. 

This time, it didn’t lose.

Nor did it win.

Final score: 19-19.

The tie was Nebraska’s first since 1976, 191 games.

Unlike the Washington game and the Colorado game in Lincoln the previous year, however, the Huskers didn’t see a third-quarter lead—12 points in both cases—disappear. In fact, Nebraska was the stronger team in the second half. And almost pulled off a last-second victory.

Briefly, it went like this:

Folsom Field was frozen, the game punctuated by students tossing snowballs in Nebraska’s direction. The temperature at kickoff was 12 degrees, with sub-zero windchills.

The Huskers scored first, on Byron Bennett’s 27-yard field goal 3:40 into the game. Colorado responded with an 11-yard touchdown run by quarterback Darian Hagan, and a Jim Harper extra-point kick, midway through the first quarter.

Harper kicked a 27-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, but Nebraska was in position to tie the score at halftime when Keithen McCant teamed with split end Jon Bostick on a 49-yard touchdown pass with 1:17 remaining. But Colorado nose tackle Jeff Brunner blocked Bennett’s extra-point kick, and linebacker Greg Biekert took the ball 85 yards for two points and a 12-9 lead.

The Huskers managed only four first downs and 10 yards rushing in the half.

Nebraska had 11 first downs and 102 yards rushing in the second half, 92 of the rushing yards by Brown, who had a net of 4 on 10 carries in the first half.

After seven-consecutive games with 100 or more rushing yards, the sophomore from La Habra, California, came up short. Even so, he surpassed 1,000 yards (1,033) for the season, becoming the 11th Husker to do so. Only four of the previous 10 had been sophomores.

After Colorado regained the lead on a Hagan touchdown and extra-point kick with 27 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Nebraska took control. Brown rushed for 54 yards in the fourth quarter and scored the tying touchdown (with Bennett’s extra-point kick), with 6:41 remaining.

The Huskers took possession for the final time at their 46-yard line with 1:05 remaining. They moved to the Colorado 23-yard line and called timeout with 4 seconds remaining.

Bennett came on to attempt a 4-yard field goal.

With snowballs pelting the field, the Buffaloes called three timeouts.

The ball was snapped, Bennett’s attempt blocked by Colorado free safety Greg Thomas.

There were no winners . . . and no losers.

Because both teams were undefeated in Big Eight play, there was talk of a possible rematch in the Orange Bowl if they won their remaining conference games. 

Colorado’s Thomas didn’t seem to think that would happen, probably because the Buffaloes had been to the last two. A tie for the title probably would mean a bid for Nebraska.

“We’ll just have to crowd around the TV set when Nebraska plays Oklahoma and hope things work out in our favor and we go back to the Orange Bowl,” said Thomas.

The Huskers defeated Kansas (59-23) and Iowa State (38-13) before the Oklahoma game.

Colorado had already finished its regular season, with a 6-0-1 Big Eight record.

Tom's Time is a regular feature that will take a closer look at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne's 25 years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater detail. Click here for all of the entries in the series.

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