Photo credit: Jim Sigmon/Texas Athletics
With the exception of maybe Florida State, Nebraska holds the claim of “Team of the 1990s”.
During the decade, Nebraska won three national championships and played for two more. The Cornhuskers might have had the opportunity for another had it not been for the upset that took place on this day 25 years ago.
Needing a win to get a shot to play top-ranked Florida State, Nebraska was stunned by Texas in the first-ever Big 12 Championship, 37-27.
Setting the Stage
Representing the North division in the newly-formed Big 12, Nebraska was ranked third as it arrived in the Trans World Dome in St. Louis on Dec. 7, 1996. The 2-time reigning national champions, the Cornhuskers had bounced back from an early-season loss to Arizona State. Nebraska had won nine straight games coming in.
Despite being unranked, Texas was also red hot. The Longhorns had bounced back from a 3-4 start with four straight wins to close the regular season. Few however, expected them to run that streak to five.
Longhorns Shock the World
Early on, the teams traded scores. First, it was touchdowns, then field goals and then touchdowns again. Phil Dawson’s field goal with a minute left in the first half however, allowed Texas to take a 20-17 lead to the locker room.
Dawson extended the lead to six with a 47-yard make midway through the third quarter, but it looked as though Nebraska might finally pull away. DeAngelo Evans’ third rushing touchdown of the day gave Nebraska a 24-23 lead after three quarters. The Cornhuskers pushed that lead to four early in the fourth on Kris Brown’s second field goal of the game.
Down 27-23, it took Texas just three plays and 78 seconds to answer. On the ensuing drive, quarterback James Brown put Texas ahead for good with a 66-yard touchdown strike to Wayne McGarrity.
Nebraska proceeded to reach the Texas 40-yard-line, but head coach Tom Osborne elected to punt on fourth down with more than four minutes to play. It looked as though the Nebraska defense had did its job as the Longhorns were stopped just short on third down on the ensuing possession.
Head coach John Mackovic kept his offense on the field.
Facing 4th-and-inches from his own 29-yard-line, James Brown rolled to his left before finding a wide-open Derek Lewis. The tight end rumbled for 61 yards and a first down. On the very next play, running back Priest Holmes scored his third touchdown of the day — this one from 11 yards out — to put the contest away with less than two minutes remaining.
Despite possessing the ball for just over 20 minutes, Texas put up 503 yards to 398 for Nebraska. James Brown passed for a career-high 353 yards in the victory while Holmes rushed for 120 yards on just nine carries. He scored on touchdown runs of five, 61 and 11 yards.
Evans led the Cornhuskers with a game-high 130 yards rushing. He scored on runs of two, 23 and six yards. McGarrity was the game’s top receiver with 96 yards and a touchdown on three catches.
The loss would take Nebraska out of the national title hunt, but the Cornhuskers would bounce back to beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, 41-21. Nebraska finished 11-2 and ranked No. 6. It was their fourth straight top-10 finish.
Texas wrapped up the season with a Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State, 38-15. The Longhorns fell to 23rd in the final polls, but they still ended the 1996 season with the distinction of being the first Big 12 champion. They earned that honor on this day a quarter-century ago.