The turning point came when State had a fourth and one on the Nebraska 13 early in the final quarter. Kush sent in his son for yet another field-goal attempt, but Sproul waved Kush Jr. back and then talked Kush Sr. into going for the first down. "I could tell by Dennis' eyes he wanted it so bad that he couldn't miss," said the coach later. Sproul got the first down with a keeper off guard, but he pinched a nerve in his left elbow on the play. Fred Mortensen, who had started at quarterback while Sproul was having his confidence problems, came off the bench and hit John Jefferson in the chest with a 10-yard touchdown pass. He followed that completion with a perfect lob into the corner of the end zone to the other wide receiver, Larry Mucker, and the two-point conversion tied the game at 14-14.
By now the crowd was booming out its pleasure. Luck repeatedly had to interrupt his signal calling to ask for quiet, and any friendly-rivalry feelings between the teams had worn away. A fight broke out between Linebacker Larry Gordon and Rik Bonness, Nebraska's All-America center, and both were ejected, which did not prevent the sportswriters from voting Gordon the outstanding defensive player, apparently reasoning that "outstanding" means hard-hitting.
Sproul went back into the game when State got the ball, and completed a 17-yard pass to Jefferson, the outstanding offensive player. After three short rushes by Fast Freddy Williams, who gained 111 yards, Dan Kush was sent on the field again. This time he stayed, and with 4:50 left, kicked a 29-yard field goal. "It was a typical Polish Christmas present to me," said his father. It came a day late."
Still, Nebraska almost pulled it out. With 1:18 remaining, Luck hit Fullback Davis at the ASU 21, but a solid tackle by Safety John Harris caused Davis' second costly fumble of the day, and State recovered. The field was covered by Arizona fans before the clock reached zero.
State linebackers had read Nebraska's plays well all afternoon, and the secondary, whose pass defense was no better than 107th in the nation, had outdone itself. "Their linebackers and secondary are as good as Oklahoma's," said Osborne. "In fact, Arizona State has as much talent man-for-man as any team Nebraska has faced, with the probable exception of Oklahoma."
"This game will give the nation an opportunity to compare us," said Kush. "And I hope people see we're big time." As Nebraskans must grudgingly admit.
Nebraska's defeat in Tempe was the Big Eight's third bowl failure, as Kansas, and Colorado went down in the Sun and Astro-Bluebonnet games. The Buffaloes lost the hard way when Texas turned a 21-7 halftime deficit into a 38-21 victory.
The Longhorns' stampede was played to the tune of The Campbells Are Coming. Sophomore Earl Campbell was the game's top offensive player with 95 yards rushing and a two-point conversion catch. Freshman brother Tim, an end, was the best defender, blocking a Colorado punt and recovering the ball for a touchdown, and sacking the quarterback twice.
Texas also got an emotional boost from Quarterback Marty Akins, who was due to be operated on four days later. His injured right knee eliminated Akins as a running threat, but his leadership, timely passes (four for five and a touchdown) and quick pitches, including a new outside play to Campbell, were decisive.
The Longhorns were outplayed in the first half but devastating in the second, scoring 24 points in 7:41 of the third period. The explosion reminded television analyst Ara Parseghian (and a few million viewers) of USC's recovery against his Notre Dame team last year.