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Rozier passes
Rozier passes ...
TD catch by Steels
... to Anthony Steels.

No. 1 Clemson denies Nebraska's title bid

Rozier passes
Rozier passes ...

TD catch by Steels
... to Anthony Steels

Miami, Fla. (Jan. 1, 1982) — Nebraska's quest for a third national championship came mighty close in 1981, but the Tigers of Clemson could not be denied in an exciting, hard-fought Orange Bowl game.

As had happened to the Cornhuskers in 1970, the stage was set for a charge to the top by events earlier on New Year's Day, 1982. Clemson, undefeated Atlantic Coast Conference champions and ranked No. 1, dug in for the challenge from Big Eight champion and No. 4-ranked Nebraska.

Meanwhile, Texas and Pittsburgh were giving the Cornhuskers their chance at No. 1. Pitt beat No. 2 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and Texas toppled No. 3 Alabama, 14-12, in the Cotton Bowl. Would 1970 repeat? Could No. 4 Nebraska knock off No. 1 Clemson and claim the title?

It was not to be as the fired-up Tigers capitalized on their own outstanding abilities and Cornhusker miscues to win their 12th consecutive game, 22-15, and earn a well-deserved national championship.

With 72,748 fans in the Orange Bowl and millions of TV viewers shaking off the weariness of the Fiesta, Cotton and Rose Bowls during the afternoon looking on, Nebraska dug a first-half hole from which it was never quite able to escape.

Two Husker fumbles and five first-quarter penalties gave Clemson solid field position and two scores. Early in the first quarter, Husker quarterback Mark Mauer was hit as he pitched and the ball bounced free, with Clemson recovering. That led to a 41-yard Donald Igwebuike field goal — the first of three — and Clemson's huge Orange Bowl delegation went wild.

Nebraska's 12,500 loyalists didn't have long to wait before staging a similar celebration. The Huskers took the kickoff and marched 69 yards to score as Tom Osborne went to his bag of patented tricks — a 25-yard touchdown pass from I-back Mike Rozier to wingback Anthony Steels.

Clemson again took advantage of excellent field position and added another Igwebuike field goal to pull up, 7-6, at the quarter. The Tigers then broke on top near the end of the half, thanks to another Husker fumble at the NU 27. Five running plays later, Cliff Austin scored from the two for a 12-7 lead. Clemson's two-point try failed and the second half started with a heart-throbbing national championship game as tight as a bow string.

That tightness didn't last long as the Tigers broke it open with a 10-point third quarter, while the Huskers offense was continually stymied by the Clemson defenders. Clemson staged an impressive 75-yard drive in the third quarter to gain a 19-7 lead via Homer Jordan's 13-yard TD pass to Perry Tuttle. Later in the period, Billy Davis returned a Husker punt 37 yards to the Nebraska 22, setting up Igwebuike's third and frosting field goal.

Trailing 22-7 in the fourth quarter, Nebraska battled back in typical Cornhusker fashion, moving 69 yards to score on battering runs by Roger Craig. The leading ground-gainer of the game with 87 yards on 10 carries, Craig got the Huskers back in the game with a 26-yard TD run to make it 22-13. An eight-yard two point conversion run by Craig was successful and tension built as Nebraska found itself within striking distance of a tie or a win.

The Huskers got one more chance with 7:49 left as the Black Shirts stopped Clemson at the NU 37, aided by big plays from tackle Henry Waechter and linebacker Steve Damkroger. But, helped by another Nebraska penalty, Clemson's defense was equal to the test, refusing to yield a first down and the Tigers took over to run down the clock to the final six seconds.

Mauer got off a desperation heave toward the end zone at the gun, but it was deflected by the Tiger secondary and Nebraska's No. 1 hopes were dashed while Clemson's celebration commenced.

Two great teams had met in an unexpected national championship game and what a battle was staged for the 1982 bowl fans!