For many national championship teams over the years, a little bit of luck was necessary along the way. In 1997, Nebraska saw that firsthand.
In one of their closest games of the season, the Cornhuskers were one play from defeat. Following an improbable touchdown pass on the final play of regulation, Nebraska topped Missouri in overtime, 45-38.
Setting the Stage
Nebraska was 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country as it arrived at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo. on Nov. 8, 1997. Going back to 1993, the Cornhuskers had lost a grand total of three games in five seasons. To that point in 1997, Nebraska had not won any contest by less than 13 points.
After alternating wins and losses over its first six games, Missouri was on a 3-game winning streak. The Tigers had upset No. 12 Oklahoma State in double-overtime the week prior and were looking to pull a stunner in front of the home crowd for the second time in as many weeks.
Nebraska Gets a Miracle
Two touchdown runs from Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost put the Cornhuskers in front 14-7 after a quarter. In the second, it was Missouri quarterback Corby Jones’ time to shine. Jones tossed a pair of touchdown passes to give the Tigers a 24-21 halftime lead.
In the second half, the teams alternated scores. After rushing for a touchdown in the third quarter, Jones’ 15-yard toss to Eddie Brooks with less than five minutes to go gave Missouri a 38-31 lead.
The Missouri defense was able to come up with a key stop, but Nebraska returned the favor. With 1:02 remaining, the Cornhuskers began at their own 33-yard-line.
For Frost and the offense, it took nine plays to march to the Missouri 12. With seven seconds remaining, time was left for just one play — maybe two.
Well protected, Frost hung in the pocket before firing over the middle for Shevin Wiggins. The ball was well placed by Frost, but a Missouri defender made a better play and slapped the ball toward the ground. As Wiggins was going down, he swung his leg toward the ball.
It popped into the air behind him. There to dive under it in the end zone was wide receiver Matt Davison. With no time left, Nebraska had scored on an improbable touchdown catch. The ensuing PAT from Kris Brown forced overtime.
On the opening possession of overtime, Frost rolled into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown. It was his fourth rushing touchdown of the day and fifth total.
Jones finished with 293 total yards for Missouri and four touchdowns of his own — three passing — but in overtime, it was a fourth-down sack by Nebraska’s Grant Wistrom that ultimately ended the contest. Frost finished with 175 yards passing to go with 141 rushing in the win. Nebraska’s Ahman Green led all rushers with 189 yards as the Cornhuskers racked up 528 yards of total offense.
Story and box score:
Despite the loss, Missouri would jump into the polls at No. 25. The Tigers topped Baylor the following week, but closed the year with a 35-24 loss to Colorado State in the Holiday Bowl to finish 7-5.
Nebraska fell from No. 1 to No. 2 with the loss, but proceeded to run the table. After blasting Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship and Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, the Cornhuskers earned a share of the national championship with Michigan.
Nebraska would knock off four ranked opponents, including two top-3 teams throughout the course of the 1997 season. The biggest scare of the season, however, came at unranked Missouri. It happened on this day a quarter-century ago.
Featured image courtesy of Nebraska athletics