A week after seeing its national championship hopes dashed in a loss to Texas, No. 8 Nebraska faced the prospect of an even more embarrassing loss to a team that hadn't beaten the Cornhuskers since 1968.
"We came into the locker room at halftime a little down," said wingback Bobby Newcombe, who caught the game-winning, 49-yard touchdown pass from Eric Crouch with 3:24 left. "We were disappointed with our play. But we went back out there with a lot of enthusiasm. There was a lot of drive and fire."
But before Nebraska could go those last 49 yards to victory, the Cornhuskers first had to move just 6 inches.
"I think the team showed a lot of character for us to come back and win," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "They really responded when they had to."
Crouch also ran for one score and Newcombe returned a punt 86 yards for another for Nebraska (7-1, 4-1 Big 12).
"I don't think anyone walked out of the stadium, whether he was from Nebraska or Kansas, without appreciating the great athletic skills that Bobby displayed today and what he got done," Solich said.
Kansas (3-6, 1-4) saw its hopes for a winning season end just a week after a 21-0 victory over archrival Missouri.
"I think we're getting better every week. I think the people who follow us know that," coach Terry Allen said. "But in order to beat a team like Nebraska you have to believe you can beat a team like Nebraska. So you don't compliment yourself when you lose with a good effort, even against a good team."
Correll Buckhalter ran for 116 yards on 22 carries for Nebraska, which won despite a lost fumble at Kansas' 1-yard ine and two missed field goals by Josh Brown.
The Cornhuskers, who managed only 64 of their 366 yards in the first half, went up 10-9 on Newcombe's third-quarter punt return and led 17-9 after Crouch's 8-yard keeper with 12:09 left in the fourth.
But Kansas tied it one play after Crouch's score, on Dylen Smith's second touchdown pass of the game. Smith found Michael Chandler at the Nebraska 45, and Chandler sprinted down the right sideline to complete a 77-yard scoring play. Smith then threw to Chandler for a 2-point conversion.
"The whole team was pumped up out there," Smith said. "We didn't just think we could stay in there. We knew we could win, but we just didn't get it done."
Two freshmen gave the Jayhawks the halftime lead.
Matt Jordan blocked Dan Hadenfeldt's punt out of the end zone for a safety in the first quarter, and tight end David Hurst beat linebacker Tony Ortiz for a 22-yard touchdown catch with 9:12 remaining in the second.
Nebraska drove deep into Kansas territory late in the first half, but a holding penalty wiped out Buckhalter's 15-yard gain to the 3 and Brown missed a 41-yard field goal attempt.
His second miss came with the game tied 17-17 and just over eight minutes remaining.
A 63-yard pass from Crouch to Matt Davison on the first play of the second half gave the Cornhuskers a first down at the Kansas 17, but Dan Alexander fumbled two plays later and Andrew LeClair recovered for the Jayhawks at the 1.
At that point, Solich said, "We knew we had our backs to the wall."
Kansas was unable to move the ball, and Gregg List's partial block of Joey Pelfanio's punt set up Brown's 31-yard field goal with 10:23 to go in the third.
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