Wildcats Outlast Game Huskers
San Diego, Calif -- Just when Nebraska and Arizona were settling into a defensive struggle, the Holiday Bowl reverted to its wild past.
Keith Smith, half of Arizona's two-quarterback system, threw for one fourth-quarter touchdown and his scrambling set up the game-winning, 1-yard plunge by Kelvin Eafon with 6:08 to go as the No. 5 Wildcats beat the No. 14 Nebraska Cornhuskers 23-20 Wednesday night.
Arizona added to its school-record victory total by finishing 12-1, while Nebraska dipped to 9-4.
Chris McAlister, Arizona's All-America cornerback, capped a big game with a leaping interception of Eric Crouch's pass with 3:03 left. McAlister jumped in front of Shevin Wiggins at about the 8-yard line and returned it 22 yards.
Nebraska had one final desperation shot, but McAlister deflected Crouch's pass as time expired.
After a scoreless third quarter, there were three lead changes in the fourth.
Arizona went ahead 16-13 on Smith's 15-yard pass to Brad Brennan, who made a fingertip catch before tumbling into the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Wildcats converted one fourth down and one third down on the 66-yard drive.
McAlister had a chance to really swing the momentum when he intercepted Crouch's pass deep in Nebraska territory, but split end Kenny Cheatham forced and recovered a fumble.
Nebraska went on to complete the eight-play 88-yard drive thanks to two big catches by freshman tight end Tracey Wistrom, including a 4-yard TD pass from Crouch with 10:55 left for a 20-16 lead. Wistrom, who had just two catches in the regular season, had a 33-yard catch three plays before the score.
Smith then led the Wildcats 68 yards to the winning score. He had scrambles of 20 yards, 8 yards on a third-and-6 and then 7 yards to the Cornhuskers 1 to set up Eafon's TD.
The Cornhuskers' option game continued to struggle, and their 87 rushing yards was their second-lowest total of the season.
The Cornhuskers did get hot right before halftime, scoring 13 points in the final 4:58 of the second quarter to take a 13-9 lead. It was the first time all year that Arizona trailed at halftime.
The defense was already well on the way to holding Arizona to just nine yards in the second quarter when Chad Kelsay forced Ortege Jenkins to fumble, which Loran Kaiser recovered at the Arizona 34. That set up Kris Brown's 25-yard field goal.
Crouch threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Shevin Wiggins for a 10-9 lead. Nebraska got the ball right back when Billy Legate hit kick returner Dennis Northcutt head-on, forcing a fumble and recovering it at the Arizona 9. Brown kicked a 23-yard field goal as time expired.
Wiggins atoned for fumbling a punt in the game's opening minutes, which McAlister recovered to set up the first of Mark McDonald's three field goals.
Arizona had two touchdowns called back due to penalties and another scoring chance negated, all in the game's first 18 minutes. The biggest one came on special teams, when Dennis Northcutt caught Bill Lafleur's punt and handed off to McAlister, who was sprung by Derek Hall's block and raced 75 yards for an apparent touchdown.
But Hall's hit on Brian Shaw was deemed an illegal block in the back and the play came back.
San Diego--In Nebraskas 30th consecutive bowl (continuing NCAA record), No. 14/16/11 (AP/Coaches/BCS) lost to No. 5/6/7 Arizona, 23-20, in Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif. The loss improves Arizona to 12-1 and gives NU a final 9-4 record in Head Coach Frank Solichs first season. The loss ended Nebraskas second-longest bowl winning streak at four consecutive (school record is six from 1969 Sun Bowl to 1974 Sugar Bowl). This was NUs fifth ranked opponent of the year, third top 10 opponent. NU is 2-3 vs. ranked opponents (1-2 vs. top 10) this season. NU has faced a top five team in 13 of the last 14 bowls. NU has won at least nine games in each of the last 29 years dating back to a 6-4 record in 1968 (last time NU lost four games).
* Turnovers...Nebraska 4 (2 fumbles, 2 interceptions) (UA converted to field goal; field goal; DNC; DNC)...Arizona 3 fumbles (NU converted to field goal; field goal; touchdown). Nebraska forced UA 3 and out on its first possession, but Shevin Wiggins fumbled the punt. UAs Chris McAlister recovered at the NU 14, and the Wildcats converted to three points in a 38-yard field goal by Mark McDonald. Monte Christo fumbled on the third play of NUs third drive, and Sprotte recovered at the NU 15, but again the defense held and UA only got a 48-yard field goal after losing 16 yards. UA also blocked a Kris Brown 51-yard field goal attempt on NUs first possession and began their third possession at their own 49, but were forced to punt after 3 and out. Nebraskas Chad Kelsay and Mike Rucker forced Ortege Jenkins to fumble, and DT Loran Kaiser recovered at the UA 34 yard line. Seven plays later Kris Brown hit on a 25-yard field goal to put NU on the board but down 6 (9-3) with 4:58 remaining in the first half. On NUs next possession the defense held UA to 4 and out, and after a short punt, NU got the ball at the UA 49. Two plays later, Eric Crouch connected with Wiggins for a 45-yard TD pass to put NU up 10-9. (Wiggins scored a rushing TD in last years bowl game victory vs. Tennessee). On the ensuing kickoff, NU headhunter Billy Legate (NUs US Admiral Trophy winner this week), forced Dennis Northcutt to fumble and made the recovery himself. With no time remaining, NU converted the turnover into a 23-yard field goal to go into the locker room with a 13-9 halftime lead. In the fourth quarter, Crouch was intercepted by McAlister, but intended receiver Kenny Cheatham caught him from behind and caused and recovered the fumble at NUs own 12 yard line. NU drove 88 yards to score and go up 20-16 when Crouch completed a 4-yard TD pass to Tracey Wistrom. After Arizona answered NUs scoring drive to go up 23-20, McAlister intercepted Crouch with 3:10 at the UA 30-yard line on NUs next drive--did not convert but used up all but 34 seconds.
* Bowl Records...PK Kris Brown broke the school record for most career points in a bowl game with his first field goal in the second quarter. He now has 36 points (eight tonight). It betters Scott Frost (1996-97) and Johnny Rodgers (1970-72) record of 30 career bowl points. CB Ralph Brown tied the school bowl record of pass breakups in a game. Brown had three in the first half. Brown tied the three PBU by NUs Michael Booker (1996 Fiesta), Barron Miles (1995 Orange) and Tyrone Williams (1994 Orange). Three PBU in a bowl game ties the NCAA record.
* Second Quarter...After totaling five yards rushing and 85 total in the first quarter, the Husker defense held UA to minus six yards rushing and nine yards total in the second quarter.
* Fourth-Quarter Comeback Falls Short...Trailing 13-9 entering the fourth quarter, NU executed an eight-play, 88-yard drive to go up 20-16. On the drive, Crouch was 4-5 for 69 yards passing completing a 10-yard pass to Kenny Cheatham, a 33-yard pass to TE Tracey Wistrom, a 22-yard pass to FB Joel Makovicka and a 4-yard TD pass to Wistrom. This marks the seventh game NU has trailed this season, (3-4 record). NU overcame a fourth-quarter deficit in its last game against Colorado (down 14-13, won 16-14). Arizona responded with a nine-play, 68-yard, 4:37 drive (Kelvin Eafon 1-yard TD run) to go back up 23-20. With 5:57 remaining, NU began its second-to-last drive on the NU 30, Crouch completed a 17-yard pass on 3rd and 14 to Matt Davison; Crouch gained 12 rushing and a first down on the next play; but Crouch was intercepted by McAlister at the UA 30-yard line (did not convert but used up all but 34 seconds). NU got the ball on its own 27-yard line with 34 seconds remaining, but did not score on four pass attempts (one completion).
* QB Sacks...Nebraska had three sacks for 24 yards lost in the game. RE Aaron Wills had 1-10; RE Mike Rucker had 1-9; and DT Jason Wiltz had 1-5. Rucker finished the game with one sack, three tackles for loss, one fumble caused and two QB hurries. NUs other rush end, Chad Kelsay, had a 15-yard tackle for loss, a fumble caused and one QB hurry. The defense held Arizona to 107 rushing yards, 158 passing and 265 total. NU out-yarded UA with 280 yards (87 rushing, 193 passing). Six different Huskers had eight tackles for losses.
* Other Quickies...for the second straight bowl game, NU did not allow a TD in the first half.
* Injuries...In the first half, WLB Eric Johnson re-injured his left shoulder, which he dislocated in NUs season finale vs. Colorado on Nov. 27--did not return. Center Josh Heskew sprained left ankle in third quarter--re-entered game.
* Defensive Player of the Game -- NUs Mike Rucker. Offensive Player of the Game -- UAs Keith Smith.