By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
The opportunity to finish a turnaround season in a New Year's Day bowl, to end coach Bo Pelini's debut season as a head coach with a victory, was dependent on Alex Henery's right leg.
And all he had to do was convert a school-record 57-yard field goal.
The Cornhuskers faced a fourth-and-25 and trailed visiting Colorado 31-30 with 1:43 remaining. Before deciding to attempt the field goal, Pelini asked offensive coordinator Shawn Watson if he had a play ready to convert on fourth-and-25?
“I had none,” Watson said. “I said, ‘Bring on Alex.'"
Before sending Henery on the field, Pelini met with his kicker on the Nebraska sideline.
“I wanted him to look me in the face and tell me he had it in him,” Pelini said.
Henery wasn't sure. He had made a 52-yarder in pre-game warmups.
“I have to admit I was a little iffy,” said Henery, who had pulled the Huskers within a point with a field goal earlier in the fourth quarter. “I knew it was a long ways, and there wasn’t much wind. I knew I’d have to hit it real well. ... I told him I would make it.”
He did, with room to spare. Henery's kick gave Nebraska 33-31 lead. Colorado was trying to move into position for its own game-winning kick when the Huskers clinched the 40-31 victory. Nebraska defensive end Zach Potter deflected Cody Hawkins’ pass and Ndamukong Suh made the catch and ran it back 30 yards for an exclamation point touchdown - Suh's second interception return for a touchdown.
Nebraska's late-game rally gave the Cornhuskers an 8-4 overall record, 5-3 in the Big 12. The victory earned Nebraska an invitation to the Gator Bowl, where it ground out a 26-21 victory over Clemson. The defeat of Colorado gave the Huskers their fifth victory in six games to close out Pelini's first season, which started with three victories and was followed by three defeats.
Colorado, which needed a victory to become bowl eligible, made the Huskers sweat. Three plays totaling 148 yards gave the Buffs out to a 14-0 lead. Hawkins threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Riar Geer on the second play of the game. Then, Hawkins passed 44 yards to Josh Smith to set up Sumler's 36-yard touchdown run.
Nebraska rallied and had a 24-17 lead late in the first half. But the Buffs ruined a fake field goal attempt when Colorado’s Jimmy Smith picked off a pitch from holder Jake Wesch to Henery and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown that made it 24-all at intermission.
“I love games like this. The crazier the better,” Pelini said. “I just wish we had ended it a little bit earlier.”