Miami Gardens, Fla. — Miami gave Nebraska the game.
Then Nebraska gave it back.
Corn Elder’s interception on the first play of overtime put Miami in control, and Michael Badgley’s 28-yard field goal gave the Hurricanes a 36-33 win that once seemed absolutely certain and then came perilously close to slipping away in an epic fourth-quarter collapse.
“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.”
For a while, everything was looking great for Miami — sans for the final 8:36 of the fourth quarter, when Nebraska stormed back from a 33-10 deficit on the strength of three touchdown passes by Tommy Armstrong. His fourth scoring throw of the game went to Stanley Morgan with 33 seconds remaining, and the Cornhuskers then tied it when Jordan Westerkamp hauled in a 2-point conversion toss.
But Elder snared Armstrong’s third interception of the night to start OT, an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty allowed Miami to start its ensuing drive at the Nebraska 13 instead of the 25, and after three running plays Badgley’s fifth field goal won it for the Hurricanes (3-0).
“I really like this team,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “You can’t help but appreciate what happened in the second half today, but there’s always going to be something that gnaws at you because you know it didn’t have to be like that.”
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 finding wide-open receivers against a rapidly depleting Miami defense. The Hurricanes had two would-be scores from 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. And Elder helped Miami avoid disaster.
“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.”
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 2-point conversion when an extra-point probably would have been enough to clinch the title.
Miami deflected that pass away, and Hurricane football forever changed that night.
And, ironically, two 2-pointers for Nebraska in the fourth quarter weren’t enough on Saturday. The Cornhuskers have never won a game in which they trailed by 21 points — but nearly changed that.
“We won the game,” Kaaya said. “That’s all that matters.”