By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
Big 12 Sports.com CorrespondentARLINGTON, Texas -
Call it ugly. Call it lucky. Call it too close for comfort. Call it anything you want but when you do, you have to call Texas the 2009 Big 12 Champions.
The third-ranked Longhorns came within less than a tick of the clock of seeing their perfect season end but senior kicker Hunter Lawrence saved the season with his 46-yard field goal as time expired. The kick gave third-ranked Texas a 13-12 victory over No. 20 Nebraska in Saturday night's Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship game.
When the final Bowl Championship Series standings are announced Sunday, it's likely that Texas will move up from No. 3 to No. 2 and will face Alabama, the Southeastern Conference champions, in this year's national championship game.
"These guys know how to win," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "What a credit to these kids. They've won 25 of 26 games. We did what we needed to do in the end to win."
Minutes after his kick sailed through, Lawrence was hugged by a sweaty Colt McCoy. Lawrence was as dry as a deodorant commercial.
"I knew this would be a close game, just not this close," said McCoy, who finished 20-of-36 for 184 yards and three interceptions. "Hunter is clutch."
Lawrence's longest kick before his game winner had been a 44 yarder.
"I was trying to stay focused and tried not to get too nervous," said Lawrence, who has made 22 of 25 field goals this season. "It was a great feeling when it went through and it feels great to be going to the national championship game. I had to make it for these guys"
There are over 3,000 flat screen televisions throughout Cowboys Stadium. As the Longhorns left their locker room to take the field for the game, they were checking out the Southeastern Conference championship game.
So before kickoff, Texas knew its duty. Alabama slapped defending national champion Florida, 32-13, to win the SEC title and a spot in the BCS Championship game on Jan. 7 in Pasadena, Calif. The Cornhuskers, though, played well enough and hard enough to upset the matchup. TCU and Cincinnati fans likely died a thousand deaths when Lawrence kicked the game winner.
McCoy, playing in his first Big 12 Championship game, might not have piled up Heisman numbers but Brown believes that McCoy came through with two clutch drives. One moved Texas off its own 1-yard line (he found buddy Jordan Shipley for 15 yards on third and 10). Then the senior quarterback got his 45th career victory by driving the Longhorns into position to kick the winning field goal.
The teams finished with 308 yards of total offense; there were nearly as many punts (17) as points (25). This was a game about defense and special teams. Nebraska intercepted McCoy twice in the first quarter to set up two Alex Henery field goals. A 42-yard punt return by Niles Paul set up a fourth quarter field goal to make it 10-9.
Henery's 42-yard yard field goal with 1:44 remaining gave the Cornhuskers a 12-10 lead. To that point, the game had unfolded fitting a perfect Nebraska game plan.
"I knew there was time left after I made it," said Henery, who came within 104 seconds of going down in Nebraska lore.
And as it turned out, just enough time.
Texas got two breaks on its final drive. First, Adi Kunalic's kickoff went out of bounds so the Longhorns started on their own 40. On the first play of the drive, McCoy found Shipley for 19 yards and then picked up 15 more when Larry Asante was flagged for a horse collar tackle.
That gave Texas a first-and10 at the Nebraska 26. McCoy was sacked (for the ninth time) and then rushed for a loss of 1 yard. On third and 13 from the Nebraska 29, McCoy took the snap with about nine seconds remaining and the clock running. He scrambled, then threw the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack.
The Cowboys Stadium clock showed 0:00. The Huskers poured on to the field. One Nebraska player hurled a football into the stands. Helmets were flying, towels were waving. The celebration was interrupted by the announcement from referee Tom Walker that one second remained.
"A lot of us were upset," said receiver/returner Niles Paul whose 43-yard punt return jump started a struggling Nebraska offense. "The refs felt there was a second left. It's their decision. That's all I have to say about that."
Texas had one timeout remaining and Brown nearly became a national laughingstock because of poor time management. Brown, though, had a logical explanation.
"I was trying to get a timeout and the official couldn't hear me," Brown said. "Colt looked at the clock and threw it away. He thought there was two seconds left. I wasn't worried about there being enough time left on the clock."
Walt Anderson, Big 12 coordinator of football officials, explained that the timing issue was reviewable and that the replay official determined there was one second left when McCoy's pass land out of bounds.
Nebraska fans will remember the game for that replay decision and for the heroic effort of senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. While the Cornhuskers' defense was dominant, Suh was magnificent. He closed his Cornhuskers career with 10 unassisted tackles, 4.5 sacks (a Big 12 Championship game record) and seven tackles for loss.
"It's very unfortunate the way things unfolded," he said. "We played really, really hard. We did everything we could. When we play the way we're coached, we can be very good. Coach tells us to do that and let the chips fall where they may."