Nebraska parties in Arizona with Fiesta win
Posted: Thursday January 06, 2000 07:25 PM
Bobby Newcombe started the game on a positive note for the Huskers, returning a first-quarter punt for a touchdown. AP
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - At its best, the option is unstoppable, and Nebraska was at its best in the second half of the Fiesta Bowl.
In touchdown drives of 96 and 99 yards, followed by a marathon, 7-minute, 25-second march to end the game, the third-ranked Cornhuskers used a deadly combination of speed and strength Sunday night to beat No. 6 Tennessee 31-21.
"We had to be the most physical team," Eric Crouch said. "I think it showed."
Crouch was the game's MVP. The shifty, lightning-quick sophomore at the controls of Nebraska's offense never was corralled by the Volunteers for long.
It was all too familiar to Tennessee. Two years ago, Nebraska wore down the Vols in the second half for a 42-17 victory in the Orange Bowl.
"I'd say we got another good lesson tonight," Vols coach Phillip Fulmer said.
This time, after Tennessee cut the lead to 17-14 following a fumble by the Huskers on the first play of the second half, the stage seemed set for a come-from-behind victory. Then, Nebraska's offense took over.
The Cornhuskers (12-1) went 96 yards in nine plays, with Crouch throwing to wide-open tight end Aaron Goliday for a 13-yard touchdown and it was 24-14 with 4:44 left in the third quarter.
Crouch never threw another pass.
A perfect punt pinned the Huskers at their own 1 the next time they got the ball, and they went 99 yards in 10 plays to take a 31-14 lead on Correll Buckhalter's 2-yard touchdown run with 12:01 to go.
"Once we started running, we found out that maybe we can keep running it," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "That's what we ended up doing. That worked very well."
The Huskers ran the ball their last 23 plays, gaining 156 yards.
When Tennessee (9-3) cut the lead to 31-21 on a trick 44-yard pass play from wide receiver Cedric Wilson to Donte' Stallworth with 7:25 to play, it looked like a comeback was possible.
But the Huskers, whose only loss was by four points at Texas, never gave up the ball again and the Vols could do nothing as time ran out.
It was a sobering end to Tee Martin's magnificent college career, and it happened on the same field where he directed Tennessee to a national championship a year ago.
In his last college game, Martin completed 19 of 34 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. He threw two interceptions. One of them bounced off of Wilson's chest into the hands of Nebraska's Joe Walker. Mike Brown, the game's defensive MVP, made a diving catch of Martin's long bomb for the other interception.
Martin also had several passes dropped.
"It's a bad feeling, you know, to actually lose the last football game," he said. "It's the last football game, the last few minutes I'm going to be in this uniform. You know, I'm just recollecting on all my career, the guys I've met, the great experiences I've had here. It's going to be hard to say goodbye."
Crouch was 9-of-15 passing for 148 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 64 yards on 17 carries.
The Huskers rushed for 321 yards and had 469 yards overall. Dan Alexander gained 108 yards on 21 carries, Willie Miller added 87 yards on eight carries, and Crouch had 64 yards on 17 carries.
After the game, Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride announced his retirement after 23 seasons as a Cornhuskers assistant, the last 18 as defensive coordinator.
In his last game, his defense held Tennessee, the SEC rushing leader the last two seasons, to just 44 yards in 26 carries.
"We did a good job of stopping the run," Nebraska defensive back Ralph Brown said. "We made them one-dimensional. When you are one-dimensional, you can't win."
Bobby Newcombe, Nebraska's starting quarterback when the season began but switched to wingback after two games, returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown in the first half to help his team take a 17-0 lead.
The Volunteers finally got their offense in gear just before halftime. Martin completed 6 of 7 passes for 66 yards, with the only incompletion an intentional spike, as Tennessee scored on an 8-play, 65-yard drive that used up just 1 minute, 19 seconds.
Martin threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Stallworth to make it 17-7 with 18 seconds left in the half.
Alexander fumbled on the first play of the second half and Tennessee's Dominique Stevenson recovered at the Nebraska 25. Four plays later, Travis Henry scored on a 4-yard run to cut the lead to 17-14.
It was the only turnover of the game for the Cornhuskers, who led NCAA Division I with 25 fumbles lost.
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