Lincoln - The heavens may have been on the side of No. 17 Nebraska, but the first field goal attempt of Ryan Bailey's career with 23 seconds left in the game gave No. 5 Texas a 22-20 victory over the Huskers at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Bailey's kick allowed the Longhorns to escape with a win to improve to 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big 12, while the Huskers slipped to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the league. It also put an end to a miserable kicking day for UT, which missed a pair of short field goals and had an extra-point blocked.
The kick did not end the suspense of a classic college football game between two of the winningest programs in the nation. After the UT field goal, Nebraska used the last few ticks of the clock to sprint to the 45 on a completion and pitch. Then, Zac Taylor threw a Hail Mary pass 55 yards into the NU end zone that fell incomplete, but a roughing the passer penalty on Texas moved the ball to the UT 40 and gave the Huskers one more shot.
Taylor again dropped back and tossed another long shot into the end zone, which was deflected and fell to the ground to end the game.
With three minutes left in the game, it looked like Nebraska was going to secure its first win over Texas since 1999. Not only did the Huskers own a 20-19 lead, but the first snowfall of the season began right after NU's go-ahead touchdown and the Blackshirts had stopped Texas on the ensuing drive to give NU the ball back with the lead.
But a fumble after a completed pass on third down by NU gave Texas the ball in Husker territory with 2:17 left. Texas drove to the Husker 5, and Bailey kicked UT's third 22-yard field goal of the game as the brief snowfall stopped falling inside Memorial Stadium.
Before the kick, each of the school-record 85,187 fans in Memorial Stadium and the fans watching the ABC national telecast at home, had plenty of reasons to think the UT kick would be unsuccessful.
Not only did Greg Johnson misfire on a pair of relatively short field goals earlier in the game to keep the Huskers within striking distance, but the Huskers had also blocked an extra point to keep a total of seven Longhorn points off the board.
Nebraska appeared to have natural and supernatural elements on its side late in the fourth quarter.
Appropriately named sophomore I-back Marlon Lucky slung the go-ahead touchdown pass to another appropriately named wide receiver Nate Swift with 4:53 left in the game to give NU a 20-19 lead. Immediately after the score, the skies produced possibly the largest natural confetti celebration in Nebraska history with Lincoln's first snowfall swirling around inside Memorial Stadium.
Lucky's first career touchdown pass on his first career pass attempt followed on the heels of another big fourth-quarter play by Brandon Jackson to spark the Huskers.
On the opening play of an exciting fourth quarter, Jackson broke three tackles after a short pass from Taylor, and Swift and Dane Todd threw touchdown springing blocks to send Jackson on a 49-yard touchdown to cut the Texas lead to 16-14 with 14:48 left.
UT starting place-kicker Greg Johnson was able to answer the Jackson touchdown run with his second 22-yard field goal of the game with 6:33 left to put the Longhorns up 19-14.
But the Texas field goal was a victory for the Blackshirts, as the NU defense succeeded in keeping the Longhorns out of the end zone on a 1st-and-Goal situation from the 2.
Nebraska answered on the following drive, marching 65 yards on just four plays, capped by Lucky's 25-yard touchdown pass to Swift to give the Huskers a 20-19 lead. Nebraska went for two on the conversion, but Taylor's pass attempt was intercepted by UT's Marcus Griffin.
The Blackshirts forced Texas to punt from the UT 33 on the following drive, giving NU the ball back at the Husker 28 with 2:58 remaining in the game. Jackson carried for six yards on first down to force UT to take a timeout with 2:29 left. Jackson gained two more yards on the next play and the Longhorns took another timeout with 2:23 remaining.
On third-and-three from the NU 36, Taylor connected with Terrence Nunn at the NU 45 for an apparent first down, but as Nunn was falling headlong to the ground, UT defender Aaron Ross forced a fumble that was recovered by Marcus Griffin to give the Longhorns the ball back and the eventual win.
Texas struck first on Johnson's 22-yard field goal less than two minutes into the game, after Greg Smith opened the contest with an 85-yard kickoff return to the NU 9. The Blackshirts kept UT out of the end zone, but the field goal by the Longhorns marked the first time in 2006 that a Nebraska had scored first in a game.
The Huskers answered quickly. After NU's first drive stalled near midfield, Dan Titchener pinned the Longhorns inside their own 20 on his 45-yard punt. The Blackshirts forced a three-and-out, and the NU offense took over at its own 34.
On third-and-seven, Taylor connected with Maurice Purify who broke a tackle and sprinted 63 yards into the end zone to give Nebraska a 7-3 lead with 5:58 left in the first quarter.
Texas regained the lead on Colt McCoy's six-yard touchdown pass to Quan Cosby with 6:43 left in the first half. Cosby's catch capped a six-play, 39-yard drive that was set up by a Johnson punt that pinned NU at its own 1 on the previous drive. The Huskers blocked the UT extra point to keep the Texas lead at just two points, 9-7.
But UT capitalized on a Nebraska mistake just minutes later. Taylor was intercepted by Longhorn safety Michael Griffin to give Texas the ball at its own 45. On the next play, McCoy connected with Limas Sweed on a 55-yard touchdown pass to give UT a 16-7 lead with four minutes left in the second quarter, which was the lead the Longhorns took with them to the locker room at halftime.
The Longhorns threatened to take a larger lead in the third quarter, but Johnson missed his second short field goal of the game to keep the Huskers within striking distance at 16-7, with the ball at midfield and the wind at their backs to start the fourth quarter.
For the game, Taylor completed 15-of-28 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Nunn and Purify both had 84 yards receiving for the Huskers, while Jackson added 77 yards receiving and 40 yards rushing to help the Huskers.
McCoy completed 25-of-39 passes for 220 yards and two scores for the Longhorns, while Sweed hauled in eight catches for 119 yards and a touchdown for UT. Jamaal Charles added 63 yards on the ground, while Selvin Young contributed 50 rushing yards on the day.
Overall, Texas produced 348 yards in total offense, while Nebraska managed 340 yards. Texas did run 21 more plays than NU and produced a 34:36-25:24 edge in time of possession.
The Huskers return to Big 12 road action next week when they travel to Stillwater, Okla., to battle Oklahoma State. Kickoff is set for Saturday at 2:30 p.m. with an ABC regional telecast.
Scoring (Texas 22, Nebraska 20)
First Quarter (NU 7, UT 3)
UT - Greg Johnson 22 FG, 13:02, UT 3-0
NU - Maurice Purify 63 pass from Zac Taylor (Jordan Congdon kick), 5:58, NU 7-3
Second Quarter (UT 16, NU 7)
UT - Quan Cosby 6 pass from Colt McCoy (Johnson kick blocked), 6:43, UT 9-7
UT - Limas Sweed 55 pass from Colt McCoy (Johnson kick), 4:00, UT 16-7
Third Quarter (UT 16, NU 7)
Fourth Quarter (UT 22, NU 20)
NU - Brandon Jackson 49 pass from Zac Taylor (Congdon kick), 14:48, UT 16-14
UT - Johnson 22 field goal, 6:33, UT 19-14
NU - Nate Swift 25 pass from Marlon Lucky (2PAT no good), 4:54, NU 20-19
UT - Ryan Bailey 22 field goal, 0:23, UT 22-20