MIAMI GARDENS, Florida — The most memorable game in the Nebraska-Miami rivalry was decided on a pass to the right, and the Hurricanes' defense making a play at the goal line.
So was this one.
And with that, a shot at what would have been the biggest comeback in Nebraska's storied history was gone.
Tommy Armstrong threw four touchdown passes and led the Cornhuskers on an improbable rally, one from being down 33-10 in the fourth quarter. But Armstrong was intercepted by Miami's Corn Elder on the first play of overtime at the goal line, and Michael Badgley's 28-yard field goal on the ensuing drive gave the Hurricanes a 36-33 win in a game that they nearly let slip away in an epic collapse.
"I thought at halftime we were our own worst enemies," Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. "We couldn't do anything without doing something wrong. Make a play, get a penalty, something. We were sloppy, very sloppy. We waited a long time to start playing. That was my message at halftime. 'This is our fault, the way it's going down, and we can change it.'"
He was right, on both counts.
It was Nebraska's first true road game in the Sunshine State since visiting Miami in 1951. The Huskers' last 22 Florida trips were for bowl games, 17 of them Orange Bowls including three where this Nebraska-Miami rivalry was forged. In all, they've played four times to decide the national championship, Miami winning three — starting with 1983, when Nebraska went for a two-point conversion when an extra-point probably would have been enough to clinch the title.
Hurricane football forever changed that night when Ken Calhoun deflected the pass away, basically in the same spot on the field where Elder was when he hauled in his interception in this one.
And, ironically, two 2-pointers for Nebraska in the fourth quarter weren't enough on Saturday. The Cornhuskers have never won game in which they trailed by 21 points — but nearly changed that.
"Give Nebraska credit for the way they played," Miami coach Al Golden said. "But give our kids a lot of credit for fighting, scratching, clawing, staying together, having poise and finishing it in overtime."
Nebraska got the tying touchdown when Armstrong found Stanley Morgan with 33 seconds remaining, and the Cornhuskers then tied it when Jordan Westerkamp hauled in a 2-point conversion toss.
Yet in the end, the Cornhuskers (1-2) have a losing record after three games for the first time since 1981.
"We're going to keep battling," Westerkamp said.
They did Saturday, for certain. And it nearly paid off.
Miami gave Nebraska plenty of help in the final minutes. The Hurricanes lost safeties Deon Bush and Jamal Carter after both were ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter, and Nebraska found the end zone on both of those drives — with Armstrong hitting wide-open receivers against a rapidly depleting Miami defense. The Hurricanes had two would-be scores from running back Mark Walton taken off the board by holding penalties in the second half as well.
But the last mistake was made by Nebraska, and it basically decided everything.
"I didn't really see the corner. That's on me," Armstrong said. "I made throws. Some were great. Some were bad. That one cost us the game. There were three guys on the pattern. There was only one I could throw to. I underthrew it."
Brad Kaaya threw for 379 yards and two touchdowns for Miami, while Joe Yearby ran for 125 yards and a score and Rashawn Scott caught nine passes for 151 yards. Artie Burns became the first Miami player since Sean Taylor in 2003 with an interception in three straight games, and Christopher Herndon and Tyre Brady had their first career touchdown catches in the first quarter as Miami raced to a 17-0 lead.
In the end, the Hurricanes needed every bit of that cushion.
"I didn't have a receiver to my side so I was basically just playing the field," Elder said of his interception at the goal line to start the extra period. "I saw him scramble, I took off deep, he threw it and it came right to me."
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