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College Football

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INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Hallowed Be His Name

Matt Davison's unforgettable catch

by Ivan Maisel

Posted: Wed November 12, 1997

Sports Illustrated

In years to come, they will invoke his name in Scottsbluff and Wahoo, in Omaha and Juniata. In cities and towns across Nebraska, the mention of Matt Davison will be sure to bring a smile.

CF1117 07a.jpg (15k)
 
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Wiggins's game of footsie with Missouri's Jones (14) kept the ball in play for the catch by Davison (3).
photos by David E. Klutho (2); Ted Kirk/Lincoln Journal-Star
If Davison, a freshman from Tecumseh, Neb., never catches another ball for the Cornhuskers, it won't matter. Last Saturday his diving retrieval of a deflected pass in the end zone with no time remaining in regulation allowed the Huskers to tie Missouri 38-38. When Nebraska won in overtime, 45-38, Davison forever won a place in the hearts of Huskers fans.

"I'm hearing what everybody's saying," Davison said two days after the catch. "It doesn't seem as big to me as everybody else. If we go on to win the national championship, then it will be a bigger thing."

College football has a way of making no-names memorable. At Auburn, mention David Langner and men will take off their hats and place them over their hearts. A quarter century ago Langner returned two blocked punts for touchdowns in the fourth quarter, leading the Tigers to a 17-16 upset of undefeated, No. 2-ranked Alabama. Southern Cal fans revere Doyle Nave, the fourth-string quarterback who led the Trojans to the winning touchdown in the 1939 Rose Bowl. Against a Duke defense that hadn't allowed a point all season, Nave threw a 19-yard TD pass to Al Krueger, and the Trojans prevailed 7-3.

Nebraska-Missouri isn't quite the rivalry Alabama-Auburn is. The Huskers haven't lost to the Tigers since 1978. However, behind the wondrous running and passing of quarterback Corby Jones, Mizzou led 38-31 with seven seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Nebraska had the ball at the Tigers' 12. The Cornhuskers had no timeouts.

The 6'1", 170-pound Davison had caught only seven passes for 117 yards and no touchdowns until his memorable reception; nevertheless he wasn't the unlikeliest of heroes. As a high school senior he was all-state in football, basketball and baseball. Two newspapers named him Nebraska's male high school athlete of the year. He even had made a similar catch as a high school freshman in the final minute of a district championship game to give Tecumseh a 21-20 victory over Randolph. "I caught a pass in the end zone where I had to dive," Davison said. "I was only 14 years old, and here I am 18, just turned 19, and it happened again." By the time of the Missouri game he had become the fourth receiver on a running team and was getting more playing time than usual for a Huskers freshman.

On the game-tying play, Davison lined up as one of two receivers on the left side; two others lined up on the right. Quarterback Scott Frost looked over the middle and threw hard to wingback Shevin Wiggins, who had the ball momentarily before it slid down his legs as Missouri free safety Julian Jones tackled him. When Wiggins hit the ground, his legs popped up, kicking the ball back into the air.

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"I saw the ball get deflected off Shevin," Davison said. "It was floating like a punt, kind of end over end. It seemed like it took forever to get there. I dived, and I guess the Lord was watching over me. I was in the right spot at the right time."

Missouri fans didn't wait for the call, pouring into the end zone to tear down the goalpost in celebration of an apparent victory. But then the officials signaled touchdown, and the field was cleared for the Huskers' extra point attempt. "My parents were sitting in the opposite end zone, way up in the stands," Davison said. "They didn't even know it was me who caught the pass until a half hour after the game."

A buoyant Nebraska scored a touchdown on the first possession in OT and clinched the victory by stuffing Jones on fourth down of Missouri's possession. By then Huskers fans were jubilant over any victory, even one so precarious that it resulted in Nebraska's falling from No. 1 to No. 3 in the polls. For that win, the Cornhuskers can thank Matt Davison.

Remember the name.

Issue date: November 17, 1997



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