Few championship teams cakewalk through an entire season. Almost without exception, there are one or two nail-biters that swing on a single play. Winning such games is a test of championship mettle.
The same goes for somewhat lesser teams, too.
The 2008 Red Raiders were the greatest Texas Tech football team since 1976, and late in the season looked to be probably the best football team in America. The Red Raiders swooned late that season, but it was still a magical year.
But truth be told, Tech’s marvelous campaign was almost derailed by a 3-2 Nebraska team in Lubbock in week seven.
On October 11, 2008 the Red Raiders were 5-0, ranked No. 7, and were coming off a 58-28 thumping of Kansas State in Manhattan. Nebraska, on the other hand, was riding a two-game skid comprised of a 35-30 loss to Virginia Tech in Lincoln and a 52-17 pounding by Missouri, also in Lincoln. What’s more, the Cornhuskers’ last trip to Lubbock in 2004 resulted in a 70-10 loss, then the worst in school history. In other words, the odds did not look good for the visitors that day.
And indeed, the Red Raiders dominated the scoreboard most of the afternoon before a crowd of 53,449.
Tech drew first blood in the first quarter on a tunnel screen from Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree for 35 yards and a touchdown. The Huskers responded with a tying touchdown run by Quentin Castille early in the second period.
The Red Raiders concluded the half with a flurry, however, notching a short field goal from Donnie Carona and a four-yard Shannon Woods TD jaunt. Tech led at the break 17-7.
The Red Raiders won the third quarter too as they held NU to a field goal while scoring a touchdown of their own on a four-yard “Crab grab.”
But the wheels very nearly came off in the final stanza.
Nebraska’s first drive of the fourth quarter, aided by a successful fake field goal on 4th-and-seven from the Tech nine-yard line, resulted in a touchdown to make the score 24-17.
Tech had its only three-and-out on their next series and the Cornhuskers capitalized by going 68 yards for a touchdown to tie the game with 6:06 remaining. The Red Raiders’ dream season was in grave danger.
Tech’s next drive contained one of those miraculous plays teams need if they’re going to survive a season-long gauntlet in a Power Five conference. With the Red Raiders facing 4th-and-five at their own 35-yardline, Mike Leach sent his offense onto the field in the hope of drawing Nebraska offside’s.
The Cornhuskers didn’t bite. However, Tech center Stephen Hamby snapped the ball anyway and a shocked Harrell lobbed the ball deep downfield to Crabtree who snagged it for 47 yards and a fresh set of downs at the NU 17. Four plays later Harrell snuck the ball across the goal line and the Red Raiders seemed fairly safe with a touchdown lead and only 3:45 showing on the clock.
But nothing was to come easy for Tech on this day.
Joe Ganz completed all six of his pass attempts—including the payoff of 17 yards and a TD to Todd Petersen—on an eight-play drive that again knotted the score, this time with a scant 29 seconds remaining.
Overtime was in the offing and the Red Raiders opened it with a 24-yard scamper from Baron Batch. Moments later Eric Morris scored six on a fly sweep. But hold on! Donnie Carona’s extra point was partially blocked and Tech was left with a dangerously vulnerable six-point lead.
The suspense didn’t last much longer, however, as on Nebraska’s second play in overtime, Ganz, under heavy pressure, lobbed the pigskin directly to Jamar Wall who cradled it and stepped out of bounds. 37-31, and the Red Raiders lived to fight another day.
The Cornhuskers shredded Tech’s secondary during this game, with caretaker quarterback Ganz completing 36 of 44 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns. However, the Red Raiders didn’t turn the ball over, and committed only two penalties for 20 yards
Retro Red Raiders: Nebraska Disaster Averted
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