Published Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 12:01 am / Updated at 4:02 pm
FOOTBALL
Chatelain: Comeback kids adding to Husker tradition
Penn State At Nebraska
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln
TV: ABC
Radio: 1110 AM KFAB

Big comebacks

Nebraska's remarkable comebacks against Northwestern and Michigan State are fresh in fans' memories. But where do they stack up all-time? Here's the 10 most memorable late-game rallies prior to 2012. (Note: You won't find Ohio State 2011 or Texas A&M 2002 because those comebacks were complete early in the fourth quarter.)

1. 1995 Miami: Down 17-9 in the fourth quarter, it appeared unbeaten Nebraska would again leave the Orange Bowl brokenhearted. Then Tommie Frazier jumpstarted the offense. Cory Schlesinger scored at the 7:38 mark — and again with 2:46 left — giving Tom Osborne his first national title.

2. 1997 Missouri: With national title hopes fading, NU took over at its 33 with 1:02 left. Scott Frost's 27-yard pass to Kenny Cheatham started the rally. Eight plays later, Frost aimed for Shevin Wiggins at the goal-line. The ball was broken up, but Wiggins kicked it into Matt Davison's arms as time expired. Nebraska won in overtime.

3. 1971 Oklahoma: The climax of the Game of the Century. Trailing 31-28, Nebraska marched 74 yards in 12 plays, culminating with Jeff Kinney's touchdown. Oklahoma, with just 1:38 left, couldn't answer. How different is Nebraska tradition without that drive?

4. 1984 Miami: Didn't Nebraska lose the Orange Bowl? Yes. But the rally was so remarkable — so inspired — it can't be left out. Down 31-17 with Heisman winner Mike Rozier injured, the Huskers scored twice in the final 7 minutes. Only a failed 2-point conversion spoiled it.

5. 2006 Texas A&M: After NU blocked a field goal with 1:57 left, Zac Taylor led an 11-play, 75-yard drive in one of the loudest environments in the country. Maurice Purify capped it with a leaping catch in the corner of the end zone. It may have been Bill Callahan's finest moment.

6. 2005 Michigan: We mentioned Nebraska hadn't rallied from two scores down in the final 8 minutes since 1964. Well, NU scored 15 points in the final 8:08 of the Alamo Bowl. The 32-28 win is remembered most for Michigan's wild, desperation final play that nearly worked.

7. 2008 Colorado: Down 31-30 with 2 minutes left, Nebraska was in serious trouble when Joe Ganz got sacked for a 15-yard loss. A third-down incompletion put the pressure on Alex Henery. He booted a 57-yard field goal to win. Ndamukong Suh's pick-six put an exclamation point on it.

8. 1991 Oklahoma: Nebraska trailed 14-13 in the rain when freshman Calvin Jones took over. He carried for 78 of NU's 80 yards on the final drive, including a fourth-down conversion with 3:08 left. He scored from 15 yards out on the next play, sending Nebraska to the Orange Bowl.

9. 2000 Colorado: The Buffs nearly spoiled Nebraska's Thanksgiving so many times. This may have been the most dramatic. After Colorado's 2-point conversion gave it a 32-31 lead with 47 seconds left, Eric Crouch twice hit Bobby Newcombe, setting up Josh Brown's game-winning 29-yard field goal as time expired.

10. 1991 Kansas State: Down 31-24, Derek Brown scored twice in the final 7 minutes. But it wasn't over until the Blackshirts stopped K-State at the 7-yard line in the final minute. It's the closest Tom Osborne ever came to losing to Bill Snyder.

Little Frankie Solich was open!

It was Sept. 26, 1964, when Nebraska — in the midst of a 16-game win streak that put Bob Devaney's program on the map — traveled to Minnesota for the national TV game of the week.

The Gophers led 21-12 midway through the fourth quarter when Fred Duda sparked a rally. The junior quarterback faked a handoff to Solich, rolled out and found his 156-pound fullback sprinting down field. Touchdown.

21-19, 7:31 left.

The Husker defense forced a quick punt and Duda got it back at the Minnesota 44. Three plays later, Nebraska had fourth-and-13. Duda hit Freeman White for 14. The drive continued to the 18-yard line, where Duda fired again for Kent McCloughan.

The ball split a Gopher's hands and skipped off his helmet. McCloughan lunged for the deflection, grabbed it and bulled over the goal line for the game-winner.

“We practiced that a lot,” Duda says, tongue-in-cheek.

Duda, a 68-year-old investment adviser in Chicago, is an odd name to see in your sports page nearly half a century after his last Husker game. Reached by phone Thursday, he hadn't thought of the Minnesota rally in years.

But there's a reason for the flashback.

The Huskers have played 596 football games since McCloughan's catch. They have won by 10 touchdowns. They have won by one point. But never had they rallied from a two-score deficit with less than eight minutes left.

Until Oct. 20, when Duda was in the north end zone at Northwestern to see Taylor Martinez lead two touchdown drives.

Two weeks later, Duda was in his living room a few miles away, watching Martinez do it again at Michigan State, this time with just six seconds to spare.

Duda prefers to watch blowouts from the back of his chair.

“Games like this, I'm sitting on the edge,” Duda siad.

This is the life of Husker fans everywhere in 2012, a season that has quickly become improbable, not because of where Nebraska stands — 7-2 and leading the Legends Division — but because of how it got there.

If, three weeks from now, NU breaks its 13-year conference championship drought and reaches the Rose Bowl, we won't remember 2012 for signature wins and All-America players.

It will be the Year of the Comeback. A campaign in which the Huskers did something they hadn't done in 48 years — then waited a whole two weeks to do it again!

Look at it another way.

From September 1964 to October 2012, Nebraska faced a two-score deficit in the last eight minutes of a game 51 times.

That list includes the '84 Orange Bowl, when the Huskers nearly rallied from 31-17 down; the '02 Texas game, when Jammal Lord played his best game before throwing an interception in the end zone; the '08 Virginia Tech game, Bo Pelini's first disappointment.

Fifty-one games, zero wins. Now, suddenly, they're 2 for 2.

That doesn't even count Wisconsin, when NU rallied from 17 down in the second half. Yes, Nebraska accomplished a similar feat against Ohio State last year, but that 21-point rally was so clearly influenced by the Joe Bauserman Effect, it almost deserves an asterisk.

There will be no asterisks attached to these comebacks, especially Michigan State, one of the best single drives in school history.

Martinez's touchdown pass to Jamal Turner conjured images of Scott Frost to Matt Davison in 1997 at Missouri. Or Zac Taylor to Maurice Purify at Texas A&M in 2006.

Had Matt Barkley or A.J. McCarron executed the drive against one of the nation's best defenses, it would've been surprising enough. But consider the actors and their track records:

Ľ This was a head coach who — entering the Wisconsin game — had a dismal record in close games. Pelini was 5-10 in games decided by seven points or less. He's 3-0 since.

Ľ This was an offense notorious for melting down in clutch moments away from home.

In 2010, Nebraska had 19 second-half drives away from Memorial Stadium in which it took possession trailing or tied. It managed a whopping three field goals — and gave up a safety.

In '11, the offense had 15 drives in those circumstances. One touchdown, one field goal. At UCLA, nine drives produced two field goals and a safety.

Cumulatively, that's 43 drives — the equivalent of three full games. Net production: 21 points.

Ľ This was a quarterback whose passing was openly mocked by the nation's most prominent TV analysts. A Wisconsin defensive end compared Martinez's throwing motion to “skipping rocks.”

Yet at Northwestern, Martinez completed 10 of his last 11 passes, including two touchdowns.

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At Michigan State, he threw a perfect ball to Quincy Enunwa on the sideline, converted a fourth-and-10 to Kyler Reed over the middle, threw a precise touch pass to Kenny Bell (which drew a pass interference), then hit Turner with pinpoint accuracy in the corner of the end zone.

Ľ Don't forget the defense. Nebraska collapsed last year against Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan and South Carolina. It gave up 653 yards at UCLA and 63 points at Ohio State.

But on Wisconsin's final five possessions, the Badgers didn't score. Northwestern didn't score on its final three drives. Same for Michigan State.

Put it all together and it's hard to describe.

“They're exciting,” Duda says. “I'm pretty sure the coaches wish they didn't have to come back all the time. But they have a lot of character.”

Why now?

I suppose a depth chart stocked with veterans is partly responsible — these Huskers are no strangers to adversity. Nebraska's newfound comfort with passing and playing up-tempo is a factor — eight minutes feels like more time than it used to. The volatility of this team surely has something to do with it — you can't rally if you don't first fall behind.

But in the Year of the Comeback, perhaps it's best not to demand answers. Better to join Fred Duda on the edge of a seat.

Just don't fall off.

Contact the writer:

402-649-1461, dirk.chatelain@owh.com; twitter.com/dirkchatelain

* * *

>> Video: See this week's edition of "The Big Ten Preview Show":

Contact the writer: Dirk Chatelain

dirk.chatelain@owh.com    |   402-649-1461    |  

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments.

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