With four seconds left on the clock, the stage wasset. Kansas, who hadn’t beaten Nebraska since 1968 would have one play near midfield to try and sneak a win out of Lincoln on a day when not much had gone right offensively.
The Jayhawks had been driving, but an offensive pass interference call against Mark Simmons stuck the team in a hole. On the next play, Charles Gordon caught a pass and tried to get out of bounds and was tackled with eight seconds left to go in the game. The officials said that he was in bounds and started to run the clock.
Gordon protested profusely, as he felt, and many of the fans felt, that he had gotten out of bounds.
“I caught the ball on the sidelines and started to move out of bounds,” Gordon said. “Then the guy tackled me and when he did he pushed me past the line.”
Gordon was upset. After all, he had two interceptions on the day and helped in a stellar defensive effort. But the call cost the Jayhawks four seconds, one timeout, and possibly, one more play.
All of which set up the Barmann attempt. Barmann hadn’t played poorly, but the offense had bogged down near Nebraska’s goal on several occasions, leading to the 14-8 Husker lead. The passing game had been just a little bit off all game, with Barmann completing just 50 percent of his passes.
The fault had been on both sides. Barmann missed some open targets, including a wide open Lyonel Anderson on a couple of occasions. He threw the ball a second too early on a fourth down play that resulted in his overthrowing to an open Gordon in the end zone. Brandon Rideau and Gary Heaggans each dropped a potential touchdown pass, and Mark Simmons dropped a ball that bounced into Nebraska cornerback Fabian Washington’s arms for an interception. Nebraska is thought to have one of the top secondaries in the nation, but on this day, it seemed that most of Kansas’ offensive struggles were self-inflicted.
The team committed almost 100 yards of penalties, and possibly none more costly than Simmons’ attempt to knock that pass down. Simmons had to reach through the defensive back to prevent an interception, but the play moved the Jayhawks back.
The team would look for something historic to end the 35-year long streak. It would have to be Kordell Stewart or Doug Flutie, tossing the ball just beyond the defenders to get the six and the win. Or, Barmann would have to play the Bill Whittemore to Charles Gordon card that gave Kansas a touchdown at the end of the half against Colorado last season.
In the past two games, Kansas had come up just short against Northwestern and Texas Tech to make the Jayhawks 2-2 when the potential for 4-0 existed. Kicking errors led to both of those defeats, but not today. Scott Webb missed a field goal, but professional scapegoat Johnny Beck knocked two kicks right down the middle to keep Kansas in the game.
Watching from the sideline was Cory Ross, Nebraska’s star I-back who had run for 107 yards in the game. He had both of the Nebraska touchdowns, one receiving and one rushing. But the Jayhawks had bottled up Ross in the second half, allowing just 22 yards on eight carries.
“It was like night and day,” Nick Reid would say about the defense, which just last year was bullied and pushed all over the field. “This is a fun group of guys to play with.”
But now, the game rested on the offense.
The crowd started to scream. Loud the whole game, the fans were now making the goalposts shudder. The announced attendance of over 77,000 were not going to make this easy on the sophomore quarterback for the Jayhawks.
“Just knock it down Fabian,” one fan yelled to Washington. “Just bat that sucker down, don’t try to catch it.”
Washington nodded in agreement.
The offensive line straightened up as they waited for the snap. They would have to hold blocks while the final play developed. Maligned all week for the performances against both Northwestern and Texas Tech, Mangino had said all of their jobs were in jeopardy.
They responded, big-time. The offensive line moved around a Nebraska defense that ranked first in the Big 12 against the run. John Randle burst for 16 yards in the first quarter, the longest run against Nebraska all season. Later, the line parted the defense and the sophomore sliced for 29. The line opened up holes enough for Randle to run for 105 yards, while keeping Nebraska off of Barmann’s back. And that was a tough enough task.
“It seemed like they sent everybody — they loved to blitz,” Barmann said. “Our offensive line did a great job of picking that up.”
Randle was the first back to top 100 yards since what seemed like the Reagan administration.
Now, as the ball was snapped, the linemen each did their jobs. Barmann had plenty of time to look down toward the end zone. As everybody jockeyed for space, he released the ball. The pass was perfect, right into the middle of the crowd. The sea of red all held their
“I just wanted to put it up there for somebody to make a play,” Barmann said. “It was one of those where you throw it and just think, c’mon guys. You just hope.”
Kansas fans have had hope squashed in the Nebraska series several times by now. There was the game last year, where salted away red zone trips would be the story. Then a few years back, Kansas had a late lead overcome by a Bobby Newcombe touchdown catch-and-run. But surely somebody would save the day, stop the streak from becoming 36 games.
This would be different, they all hoped.
The ball passed through the group and fell softly to the turf without a hand underneath it. The crowd exploded and Kansas walked slowly off the field, defeated as they had been the past 35 years.
After the game, a red-faced Mangino used the same words as he had the last two weeks, saying the game was hard-fought, and a tough one to deal with. Certainly tired of coming close and falling short, Mangino was asked if he would take something positive from this game, a moral victory of sorts.
“I’m so proud of our kids, they really played their tails off,” Mark Mangino said. “But as long as I’m coach at this university, we won’t have moral victories.”