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Huskers hold off Cowboys

Kansas City, Mo. -- No. 2 Nebraska used a fourth-quarter touchdown return by Joe Walker and a decisive goal-line stand in the final seconds to hold off an upset-minded Oklahoma State squad, 24-17, in Kansas City, Mo.

Walker’s 73-yard punt return with 7:29 remaining broke a 17-17 tie as the Huskers extended their winning streak to 19 games in the Big 12 opener.

The Cowboys had a chance to send the game into overtime, driving to the NU 1 before Mike Rucker, who finished with a career-high 11 tackles, stopped OSU’s Nathan Simmons short of the end zone on the final play to preserve the win.

After a scoreless first quarter, OSU scored first on a Tim Sydnes 37-yard field goal before senior Kris Brown answered back with a season-long 48-yard field goal with 1:06 remaining.

The Huskers broke the halftime deadlock marching 76 yards on seven plays before quarterback Bobby Newcombe scored from six yards to give the Huskers a 10-3 lead. The key play in the drive was a 40-yard pass from Newcombe to Sheldon Jackson to the OSU 12-yard line.

Nebraska increased its lead to 17-3 on its next possession, using a 30-yard pass play from reserve quarterback Eric Crouch to Jackson to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Evans.

The Huskers had a golden opportunity to put the game out of reach when defensive tackle Jason Wiltz intercepted an OSU pass, but it was nullified by a penalty. The play was costly as the Cowboys scored on a Jamaal Fobbs 3-yard run five plays later to cut the margin to 17-10. Oklahoma State tied the score at 17 on a 67-yard TD pass from Tony Lindsay to Ethan Howell setting the stage for Walker’s game-winning punt return with 7:29 remaining.

Sophomore cornerback Erwin Swiney and junior linebacker Tony Ortiz topped the Huskers with 14 tackles each. In all, six NU players had 10 or more tackles.

The Huskers struggled offensively, managing just 73 yards rushing, the lowest regular-season total since November 1975.

Nebraska Postgame Notes vs. Oklahoma State, Oct. 3, 1998

In a nail-biter to the end on a neutral site, the No. 2/2 (AP/Coaches) Nebraska Cornhuskers improved to 5-0 on the season with a 24-17 win over Oklahoma State in Kansas City. The league win improves the Huskers to 5-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big 12, while OSU drops to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in conference action. Nebraska extended its nation-leading overall winning streak to 19 games, won its 10th straight road game, and won its 65th game in the last 68 tries. NU has not lost to OSU in 35 games and has defeated the Cowboys in 23 straight tries.

OSU scored first on a Tim Sydnes 37-yard field goal with 13:48 in the first quarter. It was the first time NU trailed this season. Nebraska's Kris Brown answered with a season-long 48-yarder with 1:06 to play in the first half. The Huskers scored on their first and second drives of the third quarter (Bobby Newcombe 6-yard run, and DeAngelo Evans 1-yard run) to go up 17-3, but OSU tied the scored at 17-all, putting up two TDs of their own. Joe Walker took the lead back for NU with a 73-yard punt return with 7:29 remaining in the fourth. OSU had the last drive to end the game and moved to the Nebraska 1-yard line. With five seconds remaining, OSU's Nathan Simmons was stopped at the line of scrimmage by preseson All-American rush end Mike Rucker.

 * Split End Kenny Cheatham...caught three passes for 32 yards, before injuring his left shoulder and leaving the game. Cheatham moved the chains on two of his three catches. The first was a 13-yard reception on 2nd and 9; the second was an eight-yard catch on 2nd and 12; and the third was an 11-yard gain on third and 10. SE Matt Davison also had three ctches for 31 yards.

 * Tight End Sheldon Jackson...was again a big-play go-to guy for Nebraska. Jackson recorded his third reception of the season of 40-yards or more, catching a 40-yarder from Newcombe on Nebraska's first drive of the second half. Newcombe scored on a 12-yard run the next play. Jackson had a 46-yard TD vs. Louisiana Tech and a 48-yard catch vs. La Tech (NU scored two plays later). Jackson also had a 30-yard catch (from Eric Crouch) on NU's second drive of the second half to set up DeAngelo Evans 2-yard TD run four plays later to put NU up 17-3.

 * Joe Walker...Cornerback Joe Walker got the lead back for NU with 7:29 remaining in the fourth quarter with a 73-yard punt return. It is NU's first punt return for a TD this season, and Walker's first, but it was Walker's third career TD on a return. Walker had seven punt returns on the season for 65 yards entering tonight's game. Walker scored on a 99-yard kickoff return against Louisiana Tech in the '98 season opener and on a 71-yard interception return vs. Kansas State last season.

 * The Quarterbacks...Bobby Newcombe...played most of the game, still hampered by a knee injury. He rushed 13 times for 20 yards and completed 9 of 15 passes for 112 yards and 0 TDs (no interceptions). Newcombe scored NU's first TD on a 6-yard run to open the second half. In relief of Newcombe, Eric Crouch completed one pass for 30 yards.

 * I-back DeAngelo Evans...hampered by a bruised bone on the ball of his foot by his big toe, Evans rushed 15 times for 41 yards and caught one pass for five yards. Evans scored NU's second TD of the game on a 1-yard run with 7:43 remaining in the third quarter to give NU a 17-3 lead.

 * Place-Kicker Kris Brown extended his school record of consecutive PATs to 105, hitting on three PTs. He now has 334 career points scored--a continuing school record. Brown also connected on his third field goal this season and 46th of his career to tie the score at three-all with 1:06 remaining in the first half. The field goal was his third longest in his career at 48 yards. Brown has hit on two of 50-yards or more.

 * NU Defense...Nebraska extended its streak with at least one sack to 17 games. Against OSU, NU had one (CB Erwin Swiney's first career sack)...After giving up 27 points in the season-opener vs. Louisiana Tech, NU has given up just 24 in the last four games. Unofficially, Erwin Swiney had a career-best 14 tackles (career-best 11 solos) with three for 16 yards lost, including the 11-yard sack. Five Huskers had 10 or more tackles including Swiney, Jay Foreman (12), Tony Ortiz (11), Mike Rucker (10, including the game-stopper on the 1-yard line), and Mike Brown (10)

 * Turnovers...DT Jason Wiltz had intercepted his third pass of the season (4:07 in third), tossed to LB Jay Foreman who ran it to the OSU 2--but it was called back on a NU roughing the passer penalty (OSU scored its first of two TDs of the game on that drive--Jamaal Fobbs 3-yard run). In the game, there were no turnovers for either team, but each team had two fumbles not lost. Nebraska had just one penalty (for 15 yards) to OSU's 10 (59 yards), but it cost NU a TD which would have given the Huskers a 23-3 lead late in the third.

 * Highs and Lows...The three first-half points scored by Nebraska is a season low, and lowest since being shut out by Arizona State on Sept. 21 in 1996...OSU held a 3-0 second-quarter lead, marking the first time this season and first time since the Nov. 8, 1997 Missouri game that NU has trailed in a game, at any time. NU went into locker room tied with OSU 3-3, marking the first time this season that NU did not lead at halftime (last time NU trailed at halftime was also 1997 vs. Missouri). After totaling just four rushing yards and 43 total yards in the first half, NU finished the game with 73 yards rushing and 215 overall respectively. Both figures are season lows, and there were no lower marks in 1997. They do not rank on the NU top 10 worst outputs, and the last time NU had such low numbers could not be determined at game time. The 114 yards rushing by Nathan Simmons is a season best, as was his 26 attempts. NU still has not allowed a rush of 25 yards or more in a game this season.

* Known Injuries...Split End Kenny Cheatham, left shoulder, first half, did not return; OG Brandt Wade, left knee, did not return

Additional notes and quotes

CLOSE CALL: Nebraska's defense came up with the big play when the Huskers needed it most Saturday against Oklahoma State. The Huskers stopped Oklahoma State a foot short of a possible tying touchdown on the game's final play, preserving a 24-17 victory over the Cowboys before 79,555 in the Western State Trucks Classic at Arrowhead Stadium. Rush end Mike Rucker led the defensive surge that buried Oklahoma State tailback Nathan Simmons on the final play. Rucker blew through the right side of the Cowboys' offensive line, wrapped up Simmons' legs and waited for teammates Jay Foreman, Jason Wiltz and others to supply the final crushing blow to Oklahoma State's upset hopes. "On a play like the last one, you've got to be pumping blood," rush end Chad Kelsay said. "If you're pumping Kool-Aid, you're not going to get the job done. We had 11 guys pumping blood there on the last play."

SEASON ON THE LINE: The heart-stopping finish enabled the second-ranked Huskers to improve to 5-0 with their 19th straight win. Nebraska also ran its regular-season winning streak in conference games to 40 with its 65th victory in the past 68 games. Those numbers do little to indicate what was at stake for the Huskers as they lined up for the game's final play. "We told ourselves before the last play that the whole season boiled down to five seconds," Rucker said. "This was everything we've been working for. The whole season came down to a foot, and we were there."

PRAISING THE DEFENSE: Rucker's tackle was his 10th and signaled that the senior from St. Joseph, Mo., might have finally shaken the groin/hip problems that plagued him in the Huskers' early season games. A preseason All-American, Rucker had just four tackles in the Huskers' first four games. But he came up big against the Cowboys, who dropped to 2-2 with the loss. "I thought both defensive units should be given a great deal of credit for what they got done on the field today," coach Frank Solich said. "They made it tough on both offenses to get much going. We were able in the second half to get a few big plays through the passing game. I thought that was instrumental in us being able to get some things done."

WALKER COMES THROUGH: The Huskers also got a big play from Joe Walker, whose 73-yard punt return for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter produced Nebraska's winning points. Burned minutes earlier on a long pass play that allowed Oklahoma State to tie the score early in the fourth quarter, Walker redeemed himself with the biggest play of his two-year career as a Husker. "Big players make big plays," said Walker, a sophomore rover back. "I hope to continue making big plays for this football team." It could be awhile before Walker comes up with one of greater value for the Huskers, who won in spite of being outgained by 140 yards by the Cowboys. Nebraska finished with a season-low 215 yards, including just 73 yards rushing. The rushing total was the Huskers' lowest since they were held to 82 yards in a 22-0 loss to Miami in the 1992 Orange Bowl. "We really got no big plays out of our running attack, which is somewhat bothersome," Solich said. "But we were able to move the ball to some degree when it counted and we were able to put some points on the board."

GAMBLE FAILED: Nebraska used two big pass plays to tight end Sheldon Jackson to ignite scoring drives on its opening two possessions of the second half. That allowed the Huskers to break from a 3-3 halftime tie to a 17-3 lead with 7:43 left in the third quarter. Oklahoma State countered with some big plays of its own, including a 67-yard pass from Tony Lindsay to Ethan Howell that produced a 17-17 tie with 12:08 to play. Walker, defending Howell on the play, made an a leaping attempt to tip the ball away from the Oklahoma State receiver that failed. "Everyone is going to make mistakes," Walker said. "I gambled on the pass and got beat. Sometimes you gamble and lose. But when you do, you have to put it behind you and try to make something else happen." Walker did less than five minutes later, fielding Scott Elder's punt at the Nebraska 27 and blowing through the middle of the Cowboys' coverage. He slipped a tackle by Adam Edwards at midfield, then raced untouched to the end zone for his second return touchdown of the season. He had a 99-yard kickoff return against Louisiana Tech in Nebraska's season-opening win.

NU DIDN'T WANT OVERTIME: Walker's punt return came with 7:29 to play. Oklahoma got two chances to get even, the last one coming with 2:21 to play. Taking over at their own 41-yard line, the Cowboys twice converted fourth-down plays, the final one on Lindsay's 11-yard, two-foot completion to Sean Love that put the ball inside the Huskers' 1-yard line. Lindsay spiked the ball, stopping the clock with 5 seconds to play. On the Nebraska sidelines, some of the Huskers were asking for divine intervention. "I was down on one knee, praying," center Josh Heskew said. "I didn't want this one to go into overtime." In the Nebraska defensive huddle, the Huskers were trying to size up the situation. "All game long, they were coming right up the gut and getting a lot of yardage," Kelsay said. "Whey you have a quarterback like that, you know they might not put all of their eggs in one basket. But when you're down on goal line with one foot to go, you figure they're probably going to come right at you."

COWBOYS HIT SNAG: On the Oklahoma State sideline, coach Bob Simmons called for a play referred to as the "Claw" in the Cowboys' playbook. An extra lineman is inserted on the left side of the formation, and the tailback is supposed to follow that path. But the Cowboys had difficulty getting into the right formation, and center Reynell Lavigne, the extra lineman on the play, lined up in the wrong spot, Rucker said. Rucker took advantage of it, knocking Lavigne backward to find an open path to the ballcarrier. "The last play was a blur the way it started," Rucker said. "I just remember backing my guy up and then seeing the running back coming up the middle. I came off the tight end, grabbed his legs and wrapped him up."

CONTROLLING COWBOYS: Nathan Simmons, who ran for 114 yards, couldn't get one more when it counted most. "When the ball's on the one-inch line, you have to get it in," Bob Simmons said. "We failed to do that, so consequently we came up short." It wasn't for lack of effort, Solich said. "I think we played a good football team," Solich said. "All along, our feeling was that Oklahoma State can line up, they can run the ball at you, they can control the clock on you. They have the type of offense, those kind of people up front, those kind of running backs that can control the ball and make it difficult. You don't get many chances and when you do, you have to make the most of them. At times we did OK with that, at times we did not."

EXTRA PREPARATION PAYS OFF: The Cowboys owned a big advantage in time of possession, controlling the football for 35:10 compared to Nebraska's 24:50. Oklahoma State ran 79 offensive plays and gained 355 yards, an average of 4.5 per play. Nebraska, which came into the game with the country's second-ranked rushing attack (303-yard average), rushed 36 times and averaged 2.0 yards per carry. Quarterback Bobby Newcombe passed for 112 yards, competing 9 of 15, while Eric Crouch threw a 30-yard pass to Jackson. "They had two weeks to prepare for us, and they did some things we didn't expect," Newcombe said. "We tried to adjust but they were really fired up. Oklahoma State played with a lot of emotion and aggression tonight."

BACK AND FORTH: Oklahoma State, in taking a 3-0 lead on Tim Sydnes' 37-yard field goal early in the second quarter, became the first team to own a lead on Nebraska since the Missouri game last November. Nebraska trailed by a touchdown until tying the game on the final play of regulation against the Tigers, then winning 45-38 in overtime. Nebraska settled for a 3-3 tie at halftime when Kris Brown kicked a 48-yard field goal with 1:06 left in the first half, then scored on its opening two possession of the second half for a 17-3 lead. The Cowboys countered with two touchdowns, the second on the long pass over Walker, to tie the game with 12:08 remaining. "Joe about did me in with a couple plays on defense and then with the punt return," Solich said. "But Joe's an electrifying player, and he made the plays when they needed to be made."