SAN ANTONIO – It resembled California vs. Stanford in 1982 – but without the fairytale ending.
Down by four with two seconds left, Michigan lined up on its own 36-yard line.
Michigan never considered throwing a 60-yard pass, instead opting for a hook-and-ladder-style finish.
Chad Henne to Jason Avant to Steve Breaston, and so on. All Michigan’s key offensive players were involved, including Mike Hart and Mario Manningham, but in the end – with players and coaches, fans and media members all on the field – Tyler Ecker, who was tackled 13 yards shy of the goal line, was the last player to touch the ball.
The Wolverines went home losers of their third straight bowl game – this time a 32-28 defeat in the Alamo Bowl at the hands of Nebraska. The game capped off a nightmare season for Michigan (5-3 Big Ten, 7-5 overall), which ended the worst football season in more than 20 years with two straight losses.
“Things happened at the end that need to be looked at on film,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “Our players deserved better.”
Avant, a senior co-captain, called it the most poorly officiated game he’d ever played in. Some Michigan players claimed that Titus Brothers, the player who tackled Ecker, was not originally a part of the final play, but review showed that he was in fact one of Nebraska’s deep defensive backs.
But even without the confusion at the end, Michigan had its chances. After a seven-yard touchdown run by Henne early in the fourth quarter, Nebraska trailed by 11. It looked as if the game was out of reach. With less than 12 minutes to play, the Wolverines needed to protect the football and move the chains to pick up their first bowl game win in three years.
But that proved to be a monumental task.
First, it was the Michigan defense giving up a 31-yard touchdown run to running back Cory Ross, who finished with 165 yards and a score en route to offensive MVP honors.
Then, Nebraska made it a three-point game, 28-25, on a successful two-point conversion.
On the ensuing possession, the Wolverines drove down the field and into Nebraska territory – bouncing back, but only for a moment.
After finding a seam in the Nebraska zone and picking up a first down, Avant fumbled the ball. And even though the Cornhuskers were forced to punt just a few plays later, Avant said he placed much of the blame for the loss on himself.
“I can’t fumble the ball,” Avant said. “I never fumble the ball. – I put a lot of blame on me because that took away field position and momentum and gave it to Nebraska.”
Henne also lost the pigskin, a mistake that put Nebraska on Michigan’s 17-yard line and set up the final score. It was a 13-yard strike from Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor to sophomore receiver Terrence Nunn that put the Cornhuskers ahead by four and forced Michigan to attempt a last-minute, come-from-behind drive for the sixth time this season.
The Wolverines’ drive included five complete passes – all to Avant – along with runs by Hart totaling 24 yards and three incomplete pass attempts inside the 20.
Hart finished the game with 74 yards but no touchdowns. He struggled to find seams early in the game but recorded 40 yards in the final quarter. Henne finished strong as well, but it was his earlier heroics that stood out. He tied Alamo Bowl records with three passing touchdowns and four total touchdowns – one rushing. He was 21-for-43 with one interception and also had a handful of long runs for first downs.
“I haven’t seen the stats, but I think Chad did some great things,” Carr said after the game. “He gave us a chance to win at the end.”