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Monday, November 20, 2006

Birth of a Rivalry - The Close Games

My rivalry-envy continues. It is often said of rivalry games that you can "throw out the records", as the two teams seem to fight hard no matter their supposed chances. As the late 1990s began, the Nebraska-Colorado rivalry began to take on this quality. Check out the battles that took place between 1996 and 2000.

1996 Nebraska 17 – Colorado 12. The 1996 contest featured 4th ranked Nebraska (9-1, 7-0), versus 5th ranked Colorado (8-2, 6-1), as a constant rain fell in Lincoln. Colorado jumped to a 6-0 lead on field goals of 45 and 40 yards by Jeremy Aldrich in the first 7:17 of the game. The Buffaloes got the ball back 83 seconds after the second field goal, but Jay Foreman picked off a Koy Detmer pass and raced 21 yards untouched for a score that put Nebraska up 7-6.

Kris Brown then kicked a 30-yard field goal 2:14 into the second quarter and DeAngelo Evans bulled in from the seven as Nebraska extended the lead to 17-6 before halftime. Colorado had more luck stopping Nebraska in the third quarter, but the Buffaloes were able to manage only a 38-yard field goal by Aldrich with 7:57 left in the period, cutting the deficit to 17-9. Aldrich later booted a 27-yarder with 8:46 to go in the game as Colorado closed within 17-12. The Buffaloes got the ball back and drove into Nebraska territory again, but Koy Detmer's pass on 4th-and-11 fell incomplete with 2:53 remaining. DeAngelo Evans finished with 123 yards on the ground and Scott Frost was 6-of-14 for 56 yards. Grant Wistrom led the Blackshirt attack recording 13 tackles and a pair of sacks. The win clinched the Big 12 North title for Nebraska setting up a showdown with Texas in the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game.

1997 Nebraska 27 – Colorado 24. 2nd ranked Nebraska (10-0, 7-0), came into the game over unranked Colorado (5-5, 3-4) looking for a lopsided win to impress the pollsters. Nebraska scored on its first two possessions, but had only a 10-3 halftime lead over the Buffaloes who were 21-point underdogs coming into the contest. On the first play of the second half Ahman Green bolted 64 yards to the CU 16-yard line. He then scored on the next play. Colorado then countered quickly as John Hessler found Darrin Chiaverini for 45 yards, and then lofted a screen pass to Dwayne Cherrington who went 35 yards to cut the deficit to 17-10. Nebraska then struck right back when Green capped a 77-yard drive with an 11-yard run and Kris Brown then added a 46-yard field goal late in the quarter for a 27-10 lead.

The Buffs would rally, however, late in the fourth quarter as John Hessler threw two TD passes -- a 32-yarder to Marcus Stiggers with 3:16 left and, after a successful onside kick, an 18-yarder to Robert Toler with 2:37 left. Colorado regained possession with 52 seconds remaining. Facing a key fourth down with time running out Phil Savoy caught a pass off the right side and struggled toward the first down marker, but was stopped three yards short by Erwin Swiney with 12 seconds left. Ahman Green finished the day with 202 yards and 2 TDs and Scott Frost passed for 92 yards and ran for another 76 yards and a score for the Huskers.

1998 Nebraska 16 – Colorado 14. In his first season as head coach, Frank Solich led the 14th ranked Huskers (8-3, 4-3) into Boulder to face the unranked Buffaloes (6-3, 4-3). With its offense struggling, Nebraska looked to its defense for help. In the first quarter Clint Finley returned an interception 42 yards for Nebraska’s only touchdown on the day, putting the Huskers up 7-0. Colorado soon answered when Mike Moschetti found Javon Green with a 17-yard scoring strike. Nebraska would then take a 10-7 halftime lead when Kris Brown connected on a 30-yard FG as time expired in the half. Brown would then add another FG in the third quarter to make the score 13-7. Colorado took their first lead of the game with 2:11 left in the third period when Moschetti rolled right and threw to tight end Andy Peeke, who went untouched 15 yards into the end zone. In the fourth quarter with the Buffs facing 3rd and-22 at their own 35 Moschetti went back to throw. Mike Rucker got a hand on Moschetti's throwing arm as the pocket collapsed, knocking the ball loose. Jeremey Slechta recovered for the Huskers at the Nebraska 43. The Huskers then marched 49-yards in 10 plays to set up a 25-yard goal by Brown with 8:48 to play. Brown’s third FG would prove the difference as Nebraska squeaked out a 16-14 win.

1999 Nebraska 33 – Colorado 30 (OT). The 1999 edition saw 3rd ranked Nebraska (9-1) with national title hopes enter Folsom Field to face another unranked Colorado (6-4) team. Nebraska started quickly when Dan Alexander bolted 50-yards for a score on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Alexander later busted an 80-yard run in which he outraced CU’s Ben Kelly (see video below), as well as a 1-yard TD to help NU to a 24-3 halftime lead. After a sluggish 3rd quarter marred by Husker fumbles, Nebraska led 27-3 with 14 minutes remaining in the game. Much like the year, before, however, CU mounted a 4th quarter comeback. CU managed to roar back with three touchdowns in 5 minutes, 48 seconds to tie the game 27-27 with 2:59 left in the regulation. The game-tying touchdown was set up by Nebraska's seventh fumble when All-America rover Mike Brown couldn't handle an onside kick.

Nebraska had a chance to win in regulation when Colorado's Cortlen Johnson fumbled at his own 16 with 1:49 left. With three runs into the line, Solich and Nebraska could have set up a chip-shot field goal for the win. Instead, Colorado got the ball back six seconds later when Crouch tossed an errant pitch to Alexander for NU’s 8th fumble of the day. The Buffs then marched through Nebraska's suddenly porous defense 69 yards to set up Jeremy Aldrich with a game-winning 34-yard field goal attempt with two seconds left. Aldrich missed wide right -- barely -- as time ran out. Nebraska escaped with the win on Eric Crouch's game-winning 1-yard sneak, after the Blackshirts held CU to a field goal on their first OT possession. Although Nebraska won on the scoreboard, the listless second half cost them any chance they had at that point to meet Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.

2000 Nebraska 34 – Colorado 32. In 2000, Nebraska hosted Colorado at Memorial Stadium. The Husker defense got on the scoreboard first as Carlos Polk intercepted Craig Ochs' first pass at the 39 and returned it for the early touchdown. Offensively NU struggled early and when their second drive stalled, Colorado blocked the Husker punt giving the Buffs the ball on the NU 23. Colorado, however, went 3-and-out and Randy Stella blocked the CU FG attempt, which was picked up by Chris Kelsay and returned to the Buff 27. Eric Crouch took it on the next play 27 yards for the touchdown and a 14-0 Husker lead with 4:48 left in the first. The Buffaloes dominated the second period and put a 32-yard field goal on the board in the opening moments of the period and added a touchdown later when Cortlen Johnson dove in from one yard out. At halftime the Husker lead had been trimmed to 14-10.

Colorado then took their first lead of the game midway through the third quarter after a 12 play, 73 yard drive was capped by a 2-yard TD run by Johnson. Nebraska regained the advantage following a 75-yard drive that ended with an Eric Crouch 3-yard TD run giving NU a 21-17 lead with 5:39 left in the third. The see-sawing continued as the Buffs took the lead on Johnson’s third rushing score of the day early in the 4th quarter. Josh Brown tied the game for the Huskers with a 20-yard field goal on the subsequent drive to tie the score up 24-24. Keyou Craver then blocked another CU FG attempt and Crouch capped a five play drive with a 26 yard keeper for a touchdown giving the Huskers a 31-24 lead 5:20 left in the game. Colorado then drove the field scoring on a TD pass with less than a minute remaining. Trailing by one, the Buffs then converted a two-point conversion giving them a 32-31 lead. Starting on their own 42 with 47 seconds left, Crouch completed four of five pass attempts to move them down to the CU 22 with four seconds left. Sophomore kicker Josh Brown, who had already kicked a 20-yard field goal and missed a 32-yard attempt, lined up and booted the winning kick as time ran out.

Although Nebraska won all five of these contests, we have a stretch of five games decided by a combined 15 points. By comparison the Michigan - Ohio State games during those same years were decided by 44 combined points. I'm starting to convince myself this rivalry actually exists.