For more than a year, the Texas Longhorns agonized over falling 1 second short of getting into the Big 12 and national championship games.
This season, they’re conference champions and headed to the BCS title game because a video replay showed they still had 1 second left.
Given a chance for one last play, Hunter Lawrence nailed a 46-yard field goal as time expired for good, giving a roughed-up Colt McCoy and the Longhorns a 13-12 victory over No. 21 Nebraska in the Big 12 championship on Saturday night and a spot in the BCS final against Alabama.
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“We had so many things not go our way tonight,” McCoy said, “but we found a way.”
A loss to Texas Tech with 1 second left in 2008 kept the Longhorns out of the Big 12 and national championship games, letting in a team they’d beaten by 10 on a neutral field. That grueling memory helped convince McCoy to return for his senior season and it drove this club all year. In fact, back in July, Texas coach Mack Brown said: “Obviously, the only thing Colt wants is to be 1 second better.”
The Cornhuskers rushed the field thinking they’d pulled off the upset when McCoy threw a pass out of bounds and the clock inside Cowboys Stadium showed all zeros. The victory would’ve given them a spot in a BCS bowl and revenge for a Texas upset in the 1996 title game that kept the Cornhuskers from playing for the national championship.
But officials immediately asked for a replay.
According to Walt Anderson, the Big 12 supervisor of officials, they were able to superimpose the clock over the replay of McCoy’s pass, and they clearly saw 1 second left when the ball hit the railing of a luxury suite about 15 yards behind the sideline. The rules say the clock runs until the ball hits something.
“When I saw everyone rushing the field, I thought, ‘No way. We have 1 or 2 seconds left,”‘ McCoy said. “I was just trying to get Hunter back in the middle.”
Lawrence had never kicked a game-winner, but he remained calm, even when Nebraska called timeout to make him think about it more. It helped that he had sixth-year senior Jordan Shipley, his holder, talking to him, giving him a Bible verse. McCoy, meanwhile, sat on one knee, head looking down and a hand over his eyes, overcome by what was at stake.
“I knew I had to make it,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence’s kick was perfect. The pro-Longhorns crowd of 76,211 went wild, then Texas players flung their helmets and rushed the field to celebrate the title and their trip to Pasadena, Calif.
The Cornhuskers slunked off, unable to believe they weren’t going away with the upset.
“From one of the best feelings I’ve ever had to one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had,” Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee said. “I don’t really have a way to describe the way I feel right now.”
McCoy may not win the Heisman Trophy after this performance, but that’s not why he came back for his senior year. He wanted to match predecessor Vince Young’s feat of leading Texas to a national championship, and that dream is alive and well – even if he might need the time off until the Jan. 7 game to heal from this punishment.
After never being sacked more than four times, McCoy was taken down nine times, 4 1/2 by Ndumakong Suh. The abuse dazed the winningest QB in college football history, prompting him into making a bunch of freshman mistakes – including the nearly costly flub of letting time run out.
But after a 42-yard field goal by Alex Henery put the Cornhuskers up 12-10 with 1:44 left, an out-of-bounds kickoff put No. 3 Texas (13-0) at its 40. McCoy drove to the Nebraska 26, then faced third-and-13 from the 29 when he made the controversial pass out of bounds.
“I thought time was over,” Suh said, “but obviously it wasn’t.”
Lawrence was carried off on the shoulders of his teammates. That just as easily could’ve been Henery, who accounted for all of Nebraska’s points, also making kicks of 45, 52 and 28.
McCoy was 20 of 36 for 184 yards with three interceptions; he had only two over the previous six games. This victory was all about the defense, which had its best performance right after its worst, giving up 39 points to Texas A&M on Thanksgiving.
Nebraska managed just three first downs through three quarters, yet the Cornhuskers were always within a play of the lead because McCoy couldn’t shake the defense.
Lee was 6 of 19 – with three more passes completed to Longhorns – for 39 yards. The Cornhuskers (9-4) had only 106 total yards, their lowest total in 25 years. This was their third loss by two points or less.
McCoy threw interceptions on two of the first three series, but Lee only managed to get field goals. Up 6-0, Nebraska had another great chance to break things open when it blocked a punt and took over at the Texas 37. But Lee threw an interception on the next snap.
The Cornhuskers wouldn’t even get a first down the next seven times they had the ball. Yet McCoy was still struggling, too.
Texas didn’t crack midfield until its seventh possession and even then it was only because of a short punt by Henery. McCoy started at the 42 and capped it with a 2-yard plunge into the end zone that stood up to a video review. It put the Longhorns up 7-6, and it turned out to be the game’s only touchdown.
McCoy faced mostly poor field position in the first half, but in the third quarter he started three straight drives within 53 yards of the end zone and managed only one field goal out of it. Texas did so poorly that the first two series ended with pooch punts on fourth-and-long. On the first, McCoy took a sack that knocked the Longhorns out of field-goal range. They finally got points on the third one, with Lawrence making a 39-yarder.
Up 10-6, McCoy hit wide-open James Kirkendoll with a lob down the left sideline that looked likely to be a 75-yard touchdown because his defender was several yards away.
But Kirkendoll dropped it.
Henery made a 28-yard field goal on Nebraska’s next series to make it 10-9. Then Texas’ Marquise Goodwin slipped and fell at the 1 on the kickoff return.
McCoy was facing third-and-10 from his 1, and taking a shotgun snap several yards into the end zone, when he hit Shipley for a first down. Several big plays followed and McCoy seemed ready to put the game away. Only to have a pass intercepted by Dejon Gomes.
Lee followed with a 17-yard run, Nebraska’s longest play of the game, then hit a 16-yard pass to set up Henery’s go-ahead kick.