The whole situation looked a bit bleak for the Texas Longhorns.
“When you’re on the road, the crowd’s against you, the momentum’s against you, the wind’s against you and it was blowing snow,” explained Texas coach Mack Brown. “It’s hard for us to practice the snow.”
All of the elements appeared to be against No. 5 Texas. Nebraska had just taken the lead and forced Texas to punt. It looked as if the Huskers were going to pick up a first down and run out the clock.
Suddenly, Aaron Ross knocked the ball loose from NU’s Terrence Nunn and the Longhorns took over at the NU 45-yard line. Eight plays later, kicker Ryan Bailey walked on the field.
The sophomore walk-on was set to attempt his first kick for Texas. After a Nebraska timeout and then an officials’ review of the previous play, Bailey made a 22-yard field goal with just 23 seconds left.
Texas survived Nebraska’s final bit of trickery on the ensuing kickoff and, after a penalty, one final Hail Mary pass to earn a 22-20 victory.
“The long wait didn’t bother me at all. We work on that a lot in practice, just staying calm,” said Bailey, who was making just his third road trip with the team. “I was just trying to keep my leg warm.”
Bailey came on after starting kicker Greg Johnson, who had an extra point blocked and missed a pair of field-goal attempts, told Brown his leg had tightened up after he gave Texas a 19-14 lead with a 22-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
“Ryan Bailey has not missed a kick in practice,” Brown said. “I told him, ‘You’re the luckiest guy in the world. You have a chance to be Dusty Mangum on your first kick. It took Dusty four years.’
“‘You’re going to be a hero and you’ve only kicked one kick in your whole life.’”
Mangum made a 37-yard field goal as time expired in the 2005 Rose Bowl to lift Texas to a 38-37 win against Michigan.
Bailey told a gaggle of reporters that he had probably kicked just 10 field goals in his life, making 6 of 7 his senior year at Anderson High School in Austin.
Was this the biggest moment in his sports career?
“This is probably the best thing,” he admitted.
And before that?
“Probably just making the team last year,” he said.
There is a serendipitous feel to everything about Bailey’s presence with the Longhorns.
“I was just here (in Lincoln) along for the ride. My job was to be a backup,” he said. “I just came to Texas for the school and I came out and walked on.”
A more celebrated youngster for the Longhorns, freshman quarterback Colt McCoy, said he and his teammates never lost hope.
“It was like a movie. You can’t script it any better,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of things go our way the whole game, missing field goals and some big opportunities to put points on the board.
“But this team never lost heart. We had it in our minds we were going to come in here and win.”
McCoy, also a Texas native, said the weather conditions made things difficult.
“I couldn’t hear anything and I couldn’t see anything,” he said. “That snow was sticking in your eyes. The wind started swirling and the snow was coming down. It was loud, a tough environment.”
Brown said McCoy is showing the presence of a veteran.
“Colt has done an outstanding job taking care of the ball,” the coach said. “He’s throwing completions and he’s not turning the ball over much, and that’s such a key thing for a young quarterback on the road.”
McCoy pulled off Texas’ third narrow victory in Lincoln in the recent history with former Longhorn quarterback Vince Young on the sidelines.
“How nice of Vince to take his week off and come out here and freeze,” Brown said. “He congratulated Colt in front of the team, and I thought he was kind of passing the torch.”
Brown said the lessons from the victory should serve his team well.
“This is like the Oklahoma win except even tougher because it was on the road and the momentum had turned so late,” Brown said. “If you will learn from it and not feel too good about yourself, you realize you can’t quit.”
The Texas offense and kicking game provided the Hollywood ending, but it was the defense that allowed the Longhorns to be on the stage.
Texas limited Nebraska, which was averaging more than 200 yards rushing per game, to just 38 yards on the ground and also had three takeaways — an interception and two fumble recoveries. Scott Derry led the Longhorns with four solo tackles and four assists.
“We call ourselves road warriors,” Derry said. “The defensive line did a great job. I felt like I was running around unblocked and making tackles because of those guys.”
Reach Ryly Jane Hambleton at 473-7314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.