Heroic efforts by Blackshirt defenders and the longest play from scrimmage in Nebraska football history sent a determined bunch of Husker seniors out with a dramatic 24-19 victory over No. 22 Georgia in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl at EverBank Field on New Year’s Day.
Nebraska, which secured its sixth consecutive nine-win season under Coach Bo Pelini, finished the 2013 campaign with a 9-4 record. Georgia closed its season at 8-5.
Senior wide receiver Quincy Enunwa capped one of the top receiving careers in school history with a career-high 129 yards on four receptions to earn TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl MVP honors.
Enunwa hauled in a pair of touchdown passes on the day, including a decisive 99-yard catch from sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. on 3rd-and-14 midway through the third quarter.
The game-winning pass play was the longest play from scrimmage in Nebraska football and Gator Bowl history. The play was set up after Armstrong fumbled a shot-gun snap on second down and managed to recover it just inches outside the NU end zone to save the Big Red from a safety that would have trimmed the Husker lead to 17-14.
Instead, Armstrong dropped eight yards deep into his own end zone on third down, and unleashed a 50-yard strike to Enunwa. Nebraska’s big receiver took an immediate hit from a Georgia safety, but held onto the ball and bounced away from the contact, sprinting from midfield into the end zone untouched the rest of the way.
The touchdown catch was Enunwa’s 12th of the season, breaking a 42-year-old school record of 11 touchdown receptions previously set by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers in 1971.
The Husker lead grew to 24-12 and Georgia was jolted. The Blackshirts forced a three-and-out on UGA’s next drive, and the Big Red hoped to add to the lead. But Armstrong threw behind Kenny Bell on a slant and Georgia’s Shaq Wiggins intercepted it at the NU 39 on the ensuing drive.
The Blackshirts kept the Bulldogs at bay for the rest of the third quarter, as Nebraska took its 12-point lead to the fourth. But Mason hit Gurley on a 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter to cut NU’s margin to 24-19 with 14:49 left.
While the Bulldog defense kept the Big Red offense quiet the rest of the way, the Blackshirts did the same. The young Husker defenders gave up 138 yards on the Bulldogs’ final three drives, but no points to seal Nebraska’s first bowl victory since winning the Gator Bowl with a 26-21 win over Clemson on Jan. 1, 2009.
Nebraska produced 307 yards of total offense, including Armstrong’s 163 yards on 6-of-14 passing. He threw two touchdown passes to Enunwa, but did have an interception for the Huskers’ only turnover of the day. Armstrong added 26 rushing yards on 10 carries.
Freshman tight end Cethan Carter added one catch for 23 yards, while junior wide receiver Kenny Bell added one reception for 11 yards. Bell also returned four kicks for 72 yards, including a 31-yarder to lead the Husker return game.
Junior I-back Ameer Abdullah powered the Big Red ground game on a rainy day in Jacksonville, pounding his way for 122 hard-earned yards on 27 carries with one touchdown. It was Abdullah’s 11th 100-yard rushing game of the year, tying a school record for the most 100-yard games in a season held by Mike Rozier (1983), Lawrence Phillips (1994) and Ahman Green (1997).
Abdullah closed the season with 1,690 yards, which ranks as the fourth-best rushing total in the storied history of Nebraska football.
Abdullah added an 18-yard kickoff return to finish with 140 all-purpose yards on the day, closing the season with 1,999 all-purpose yards to rank as the third-best total in Nebraska history.
The Blackshirts surrendered 416 total yards on 82 offensive plays to a Georgia offense that entered the game averaging nearly 500 yards per game.
Mason completed 21-of-39 passes for 320 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was also sacked three times by the Blackshirts, finishing with minus-18 yards rushing.
Husker senior defensive end Jason Ankrah sacked Mason twice for 21 yards, while also forcing a fumble that was recovered by Mason.
Sophomore end Randy Gregory notched the other sack of Mason for seven yards, while adding a tackle for three yards loss.
Senior cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste contributed a three-yard sack of his own on Brendan Douglas to thwart a halfback pass attempt in the third quarter. Jean-Baptiste added another tackle for loss of four yards. Jean-Baptiste finished with six tackles and a breakup.
Todd Gurley led the Georgia rushing attack with 21 carries for 86 yards, while hauling in a game-high seven receptions for 97 yards and UGA’s only touchdown. Arthur Lynch added six catches for 69 yards but dropped the final ball of the day on 4th-and-3 from the NU 16.
Safety Corey Cooper led the Blackshirts with a game-high 10 tackles – all solos, while linebacker Michael Rose added nine stops. Senior defensive tackle Thad Randle closed his career with eight tackles, including four solos.
After a scoreless first quarter, Georgia took its only lead of the day on Marshall Morgan’s 38-yard field goal with 10:37 left in the first half. It was the first of four field goals for Morgan on the afternoon.
The Bulldog lead lasted just 1:32, before Armstrong hit Enunwa on a five-yard touchdown pass to give the Huskers a 7-3 edge with 9:05 left in the second quarter. The scoring strike came just two plays after junior cornerback Josh Mitchell recovered a fumbled punt by Georgia’s Reggie Davis. The special teams miscue by UGA set the Huskers up with their best field position of the day at the Georgia 14.
Morgan’s second field goal of the day from 28 yards out trimmed the Husker lead to 7-6 with 6:53 left in the half, before Pat Smith answered with a season-long 46-yard field with 3:18 remaining in the second quarter.
The teams went to halftime with Nebraska leading 10-9, after Morgan’s third field goal of the half, again from 38 yards out, as time expired.
Georgia opened the second half with the ball, but it was the Blackshirts who struck first. After the defense forced the Bulldogs into a 3rd-and-7, Mitchell came up with his second turnover of the day by intercepting a Mason pass at the UGA 42.
Mitchell returned the pick four yards to the 38. Seven plays later, Abdullah plunged over the left side of the line for a one-yard touchdown to extend Nebraska’s lead to 17-9 with 10:08 left in the third quarter. The short drive included an 18-yard pass from Armstrong to Enunwa, and three carries for eight yards by Abdullah.
After Morgan kicked his fourth field goal of the day with 6:32 left in the quarter, this time from 30 yards, Nebraska was flagged for a block in the back on Bell’s kick return. The penalty buried the Big Red at the NU 5 to start the drive. After a four-yard gain by Abdullah on first down, the fumbled snap put the Huskers in 3rd-and-14 with the back tip of the ball on the goal line.
The rest is Nebraska, Gator Bowl and college football history.