1994 Nebraska-Wyoming, Gullberg column
Ron Gullberg Cowboys battered, not beaten LINCOLN, Neb. – In the locker room, the University of Wyoming football players were dazed and confused, bruised and battered, black and blue. But their self-confidence remained intact They had just spit in the face of the nation’s second-ranked team and lived to tell about it “I might be a little slow,” linebacker Jason Holanda said, when asked for an interview following Saturday’s 42-32 non-conference loss to Nebraska before more than 70,000 red-clad football cannibals squeezed into rustic Memorial Stadium. The Pokes’ underdog performance was so inspiring, a row of Cornhuskers fans clapped in appreciation as UW limped, staggered and stumbled from the tunnel to the locker room. Who wants to drive at least six hours from Scottsbluff to see the ‘Huskers rip an opponent 70-3? Those upstart Pokes put up a helluva fight and made every turn of the odometer worth it. ! For the record, Holanda indeed was “a little slow.” , He even bobbed and weaved a little while attempting to get dressed. His responses were not well thought out, just “a little slow.” But, like his teammates, Holanda was confident following the loss, albeit a little woozy. . “We definitely need to build on this,” said Holanda, a junior college transfer, and one reason why the Pokes were able to hold the nation’s top rushing team to 322 yards, well below their 471.5 average. “All week in practice, the coaches pressed us into flying around on defense, playing our kind of football, an aggressive, i attacking, nothing-to-lose kind of football,” Holanda added. “This week, I suspect we’ll practice that same way and build on it” And just maybe, the offense learned something positive, too. Something like, “Hey, we have some pretty good receivers if I can get them the ball.” Senior quarterback John Gustin, who lost his starting job because of 10 turnovers in four games, returned to action Saturday after redshirt freshman Jeremy Dombek was knocked unconscious during a vicious fourth-quarter sack by former Cheyenne East High School star Troy Dumas. “I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow,” Dombek said, himself a little dizzy. “It’s something I was used to in high school, but high school is a little different than the Nebraska Cornhuskers.” Following Dombek’s injury, Gustin stepped in and played with the confidence of a Heisman Trophy candidate. He pulled UW to within 36-32 by completing six of nine passes during a 13-play, 86-yard scoring drLVe that included six first downs. The game marked only the second time this season the Pokes passed for more yards than they ran for, Combined, Dombek and Gustin completed 25 of 46 attempts for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receivers Marcus Harris and Eddie Pratt had 149 and 126 yards, respectively. But despite leads of 7-0, 14-0, 14-7, 21-7 and 21-14, UW came up short in the win column. ‘”We’re frustrated because we very well could have won the game,” Gustin said, “but we’re kinda proud because we played with our hearts, we played with adrenaline. “I’m proud of the team, and proud of Jeremy (Dombek). He stood in there and took some hits.” For the third time in five games this season, UW’s outstanding veteran defense was done in not by the opposition, but by its own youthful offense and special teams. Dombek completed 17 of 35 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. But he forced three interceptions that the Cornhuskers turned into 21 points. Redshirt freshman punt returner Je’Ney Jackson, looking to be the hero rather than the setup man, fumbled away the ball at UW’s 8-yard-line with 5:32 left and the Pokes trailing 35-32. Whether or not UW could have won or tied the game in those final few minutes, we’ll never know. But we do know that this “moral victory” brought a struggling football team closer together. Amazingly, this is a positive group of young men just one week after falling to 1-1 in the Western Athletic Conference because of an embarrassing 41-7 loss at Utah. “1 firmly believed we could play with these guys,” Holanda said. “The key to the game was how many turnovers could our defense force so we could give our offense the ball. “We have a young offense, so we know they’re going to give up turnovers. We just have to create more. “Jeremy showed he could play today. He stepped up and threw the ball and took some hits. He’s not a freshman anymore.” And the Pokes aren’t as bad as a 2-3 record sounds. They have the confidence, grit, guts, determination, talent and heart it takes to win a WAC title. But, about those turnovers ...