Husker look back: Nebraska corral Cowboys

It wasn't supposed to be this close of a game in 1994.

October 1, 1994

Lincoln, Neb. - It wasn't supposed to be this close of a game.

Even though starting quarterback Tommie Frazier was out due to a blood clot in his leg, second-ranked Nebraska (4-0) was still supposed to handle the Wyoming Cowboys (2-2), 40-point underdogs, with relative ease.

NU had its vaunted Blackshirt defense and I-back Lawrence Phillips, the third-leading rusher in the country with an average of 154 yards per game. And even though its quarterback Brook Berringer was getting his first start at the helm, his coaches and teammates were confident in his ability to lead the team.

"He hasn't really had a chance to lead the offense yet. I wasn't really in the game too much when he was in the last game," Phillips told AP. "But I think as far as everybody else is concerned who's played with him, they're pretty confident in his leadership abilities."

Like the Huskers, the Cowboys had a quarterback making his first start in the game, but also featured one of the nation's top rushers. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Dombek broke all of Troy Aikman's high school passing records in Oklahoma, and the 240-pound Ryan Christopherson was fifth in the nation in rushing with an average of 152 yards.

But the sun never showed its face during a gray day, reflecting a sense of uneasiness that settled on the Memorial Stadium crowd of 76,234 during the game.

Dombek and the Cowboys struck first with two first-quarter touchdown passes by Domek. The first was a 39-yarder to Marcus Harris on their second possession, and the second was a six-yarder to Jeremy Gilstrap with 25 seconds left in the opening quarter.

"It was one of the more memorable games for me," said Phil Ellis, a junior linebacker at the time. "We played just our base defense at first, but later had to call defenses that we were saving for teams we would play later in the season. I remember we ran a blitz and (Troy) Dumas hit their quarterback and bent his face mask up."

Meanwhile, the Huskers were using a conservative approach on offense with Berringer. The Big Red only managed 58 yards in the first quarter as they tried to lean on Phillips and the rushing attack.

"We went away from a lot of the bread-and-butter option stuff when Tommie (Frazier) was in there," said Abdul Muhammad, a senior wingback at the time, who tied for the team lead in catches with four for 30 yards in the game. "I remember a lot more of Lawrence Phillips and some more passing."

But Wyoming made that plan difficult to stay with. After a one-yard touchdown leap by Phillips cut the lead to 14-7 with 5:25 remaining in the half, the Cowboys came up with an interception at the NU 22-yard line.

A one-yard run by Terry Hendricks made the score 21-7 with 2:12 remaining, as the day just got gloomier for Husker fans.

"Wyoming had a bunch of guys on its team from Nebraska," said Joel Wilks, a senior starter at left guard. "I actually played with five or six of them in the Nebraska Shrine Bowl and in an all-star game over in Australia, so I knew them pretty well. They didn't receive a scholarship to Nebraska, so they had a chip on their shoulder and were really fired up, causing it to be an intense game."

But Berringer led a comeback just before halftime, completing seven straight passes on a 64-yard drive, running for a tough five-yard touchdown with just 12 seconds left to make the score 21-14.

"I remember us waking up towards the end of the first half," Muhammad said. "I made a couple catches to help get us in position to score. That got us going into the second half. There was no panic at halftime…We could have been down 30-0 and we still would think we would win."

On his touchdown run at the end of the first half, Berringer suffered a collapsed lung, but he played the entire second half and turned in one of his best performances of the season. The junior tied the game four plays into the second half on a nifty 24-yard touchdown run, which came on the heels of a 25-yard run.

The Husker onslaught began to catch fire as the defense made a key play, with cornerback Barron Miles intercepting a Wyoming pass at the Cowboy 40. On the next play, Phillips, who ran for 168 yards on 27 carries, raced in for a score to make it 28-21 NU.

Berringer, who ran for 74 yards on 12 carries, added his third touchdown at the 8:11 mark when he faked an option pitch to Phillips, cut inside and ran in from 10 yards out.

Wyoming added a field goal to make it 35-24 going into the fourth quarter, but Husker fans felt more at ease with the way Berringer and the offense were playing.

"It took us a little while to get it going and get acclimated to Brook being the quarterback, but once we did, we started putting some points up on the board," Muhammad said.

But it was the Blackshirts that gave fans heartburn as they gave up an 86-yard scoring drive to backup quarterback John Gustin and the Cowboys. After a two-yard touchdown pass from Gustin to Gilstrap, the two hooked up again for a successful two-point conversion.

The score now read 35-32 with 9:09 left in the game.

Berringer and the offense was forced to punt, and it looked like the Cowboys had a great chance to take the lead, or at least tie late. But Lady Luck was on the Huskers' side this day.

Wyoming returner Je'Ney Jackson bobbled a fair catch, and back-up I-back Damon Benning pounced on it at the Cowboy eight-yard line.

The air went out of the Wyoming sideline as Phillips ran it in from there on the very next play to make it a final score of 42-32.

"We just know we can play better," Berringer said after the game. "But 42 points? We must have done something right."

Even though the Blackshirts gave up 32 points and 344 yards passing, they held Christopherson to zero yards on 12 carries and came up with a key interception and stops to help preserve the win.

A win was all Muhammad wanted. "All I cared about was when that scoreboard clock hit zero that we had more points than the other team."

Big Red Report Top Stories