35-Year CFB Anniversary: Late TD Lifts No. 2 Nebraska Past Arizona State in Back-and-Forth Contest

Photo courtesy of Nebraska athletics

The series history between Nebraska and Arizona State is relatively small. All-time, the teams have met on just eight occasions.

The first in the regular season, however, didn’t disappoint. In a top-15 matchup in Tempe, a late Nebraska touchdown was the difference as the Cornhuskers prevailed in a back-and-forth contest, 35-28.

Setting the Stage

Ranked No. 2 in the country, Nebraska was coming off a 42-33 win over UCLA in a battle of top-3 teams as it arrived at Sun Devil Stadium on Sept. 26, 1987. The Cornhuskers were 2-0 on the season.

Arizona State had won the only prior meeting between the schools in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 1975 season. Also 2-0, the Sun Devils were ranked 12th after opening the year with wins over Illinois and Pacific.

Nebraska Outlasts the Sun Devils

After a scoreless first quarter, touchdown runs by Steve Taylor and Micah Heibel gave Nebraska a 14-3 lead. In the second half, however, the Sun Devils went blow for blow with the Cornhuskers.

Alan Zendejas’ second field goal on the final snap of the first half cut the lead to eight. The second half was less than five minutes old when Arizona State drew even.

Daniel Ford’s short touchdown toss to Chris Garrett, followed by a successful 2-point try tied the game at 14. Before the quarter was over, Nebraska’s Keith Jones and Arizona State’s Darryl Harris traded touchdown runs.

Nebraska regained the lead early in the fourth on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to Rod Smith. With less than five minutes to play following a Nebraska turnover, Harris’ second touchdown run drew the Sun Devils even once again, 28-28.

It took Nebraska just 78 seconds to answer. Jones’ 62-yard run set the Cornhuskers up with goal to go. With 3:37 to play, Taylor capped the drive with a 3-yard run — his third total touchdown of the day — to put Nebraska in front for good, 35-28.

With plenty of time remaining, Arizona State mounted one last drive, but Steve Forch’s interception helped seal the win. It was the Cornhuskers’ third interception of Ford, who finished with 200 yards passing.

Nebraska finished with 364 yards rushing with Taylor (19 carries for 122 yards) and Jones (17 carries of 145 yards) each eclipsing the 100-yard mark. Harris finished with 110 yards rushing for the Sun Devils. Arizona State’s Aaron Cox led all receivers with five receptions for 109 yards.

Box score and recap:
Husker Max


In Hindsight

Nebraska would begin the season 9-0 and ascend to No. 1 before losing to Oklahoma and ultimately, Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl. At 10-2, the Cornhuskers finished No. 6 in the final AP Poll.

In what would be the final season under head coach John Cooper, the Sun Devils had somewhat of a disappointing campaign. Arizona State finished 7-4-1 and No. 20 in the final AP Poll following a Freedom Bowl win over Air Force.

Arizona State didn’t beat a ranked team in 1987, but it did play two very close games against top-10 opponents. The first of those came against Nebraska on this day 35 years ago.

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.