Instant Analysis: Colorado-Nebraska

Staff Columnist
Posted Nov 28, 2008

Alex Henery didn't get to kick a 50-yard field goal in the second quarter of Friday's game against division rival Colorado, and as a result, his team lost control of a game it needed to win. But when given a chance to kick a 57-yarder in the final minutes of regulation, the Nebraska placekicker made up for lost time.

Over an hour earlier, Henery watched in horror as his holder, Jake Wesch, made a blind backwards flip on a fake field-goal that Colorado defender Jimmy Smith snuffed out. Smith snatched the floating pigskin and took it 58 yards for a touchdown that turned what could have been a 27-17 Nebraska lead into a 24-all tie. Largely because of that one play, plus a resilient effort from a tireless Buffalo defense, the visitors from Boulder were able to maintain a 31-30 lead heading into the game's final minutes.

As nightfall covered Lincoln's Memorial Stadium, the outlook grew particularly dark for the Huskers when CU's freshman safety, Patrick Mahnke, made a play far beyond his years to sack Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz for a 15-yard loss to the Buffaloes' 40. For most teams, that loss is a death blow, given that a 57-yard field goal is beyond realistic. But for Henery, the thin-limbed and wiry player who looks the part of a kicker, there was a lot of dynamite in a right leg that—unable to kick in the second quarter—gathered up strength following a Bo Pelini timeout, and made the most of the chance his coach gave him.

Instead of going for the first down on a fourth-and-25 play, Pelini sent Henery onto the field, on the upper part of the big red "N" that serves as Memorial Stadium's midfield logo. The daunting distance offered literally long odds to a Nebraska team that, already assured of second place in the Big 12 North, wanted to finish its regular season with a winning record (5-3) in Big 12 competition. One year after beating Nebraska to attain a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility, Colorado and coach Dan Hawkins were oh-so-close to replicating that very same series of events.

This year, however, there would be no bowl in Boulder. Henery's kick, which started out to the right, drifted inside the right upright and then cleared the crossbar by two to three yards. The joint jumped in jubilation, and after grabbing that 33-31 lead thanks to Henery's heroics, a late pick-six snuffed out Colorado's hopes of answering with a field goal of its own.

Bo Pelini's rebuilding project gained very satisfactory remarks for its first year in Lincoln, while the beaten Buffaloes are left to wonder what might have been, after coming up short today, and in other Big 12 battles against the likes of Texas A&M and Kansas. Alex Henery's fabulous field goal gave the term "finishing kick" a whole new meaning in America's heartland.

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