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The teams no longer share a conference or meet on a regular basis, but for a long time, the rivalry between Nebraska and Oklahoma was one of the biggest in college football.
The game usually came with national championship implications. On this day 40 years ago, it served as a de facto Big 8 Championship. The lead changed twice in the final quarter, but Buster Rhymes’ last-minute touchdown lifted the Sooners to a thrilling 21-17 victory.
Setting the Stage
Oklahoma had overcome a 2-2 start to win five straight games as it arrived in Lincoln on Nov. 22, 1980. The Sooners were undefeated in Big 8 play and ranked No. 9 in the country.
Although a national championship was a long shot for the Sooners, it was still very much in play for the fourth-ranked Cornhuskers. Since falling to Florida State, Nebraska had won six straight contests. Over that stretch, the average margin of victory was 39.5 points and no opponent had scored more than 16 points.
The Final Moments
Neither team had scored in the second half as the clocked ticked under five minutes in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma held a 14-10 lead, but Nebraska was driving yet again.
The Cornhuskers had twice stalled inside the 10-yard-line earlier in the quarter, but that finally changed. With 3:16 to play, quarterback Jeff Quinn scored from a yard out to put the Cornhuskers back in front, 17-14.
Oklahoma was forced to score on the ensuing drive, but Nebraska did itself no favors early on. A personal foul penalty pushed the ball out near the 40-yard-line of Oklahoma. Nebraska also missed a golden opportunity to seal the game when Sooners’ fullback Stanley Wilson fell on his own fumble.
It would prove costly.
One play later, Rhymes took a pitch from Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts and raced 43 yards inside the Nebraska 15. Nebraska stiffened over the next two plays, but on 3rd-and-10, Watts was able to find a diving Bobby Grayson just shy of the goal line. With 56 seconds to go, Rhymes scored from a yard out to put the Sooners ahead for good.
Prior to the fourth quarter, all of the scoring had come in the first half. Jarvis Redwine’s 89-yard touchdown run gave Nebraska the early lead before Kevin Seibel’s 47-yard field goal in the final minute of the first quarter put the Cornhuskers up 10-0.
Oklahoma responded with 14 second-quarter points to take a lead into the locker room. Watts scored from three yards out with just over four minutes to play in the first half before Chet Winters added a 3-yard touchdown of his own less than three minutes later.
Nebraska finished with 390 yards to 275 for Oklahoma, but miscues served as the difference. Wilson led the Sooners with 91 yards rushing on 19 carries. Redwine and Andra Franklin combined for 274 yards rushing for Nebraska.
The win clinched the Big 8 title for Oklahoma, but the Sooners finished the year strong with eight straight wins. Following the victory in Lincoln, Oklahoma blasted Oklahoma State 63-14 before topping Florida State in an 18-17 Orange Bowl thriller.
Nebraska topped Mississippi State in the Sun Bowl to close the year. Both teams finished 10-2 and in the top 10. Oklahoma finished No. 3 while the Cornhuskers finished seventh in the AP Poll.
The victory for Oklahoma served as its ninth in 10 ties against the Cornhuskers and gave the Sooners at least a share of the Big 8 title for a ninth straight season. It happened on this day four decades ago.