On This Date in Sports November 8, 1997: Flea Kicker

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Top-ranked Nebraska, seeking their third National Championship in four years, survives a scare against unranked Missouri, winning in overtime 45-38. The Huskers entered the game with a record of 7-0 and were #1 in the coaches’ poll and #2 in the AP. Missouri was unranked at 6-2 and was a 29-point underdog at home. Nebraska tied the game at the end of regulation when the ball was kicked up in the air and caught by Matt Davidson.

No team was more dominant in college football than Nebraska in the mid-90s. After a series of near-misses, the Cornhuskers finally won a National Championship for coach Tom Osborne in 1994, finishing 13-0. They would make it two straight National Championships in 1995, completing a 12-0 record as they dominated the Big 8 Conference. In 1996, their conference merged with the SWC, becoming the Big XII. That year saw the Huskers winning streak come to an end, as they finished 11-2 as a chance to win a third National Title was ended with a loss in the first Big XII Championship Game to Texas.

With Scott Frost at quarterback, Nebraska had the look of a National Champion again in 1997, as they were easily beating every opponent. Coming off a 69-7 win over Oklahoma, the Huskers looked invincible at 7-0; they were listed as a 29-point favorite, playing Missouri on the road. The game would go back and forth throughout. After Mizzou took an early 7-0 lead, Nebraska surged in front with a pair of touchdown runs by Frost. In the second quarter, Corby Jones had a pair of touchdown passes to give Missouri a 24-21 lead at the half.

Scott Frost and Corby Jones each had touchdown runs in the third quarter, while Kris Brown had a field goal to even the score 31-31 in the fourth quarter for Nebraska. The Tigers would regain the lead on a pass from Jones to Eddie Brooks. Coming into the game, Missouri had not beaten Nebraska since 1978. With 1:02 left, Nebraska had the ball on their own 33-yard line, needing to score a touchdown to force overtime. It was the just NCAA’s second season with overtime deciding games that were tied after 60 minutes.

The Huskers drove the ball down to the Missouri 12 but had just one more play to tie the game with seven seconds left. Scott Frost had to throw the ball to the end zone, the ball appeared to be falling incomplete as it bounced off Shevin Wiggins Mizzou cornerback Julian Jones would knock the ball away, but instead of hitting the turf it was kicked up in the air and caught by Matt Davidson to even the game 38-38. In overtime, Nebraska quickly got into the end zone, on a 12-yard run by Scott Frost. The Tigers were unable to answer as Nebraska won the game 45-38.

Nebraska would go on to win a share of the National Championship with Michigan at 13-0. Missouri under coach Larry Smith would finish the year with a record of 7-5, as they ended a string of 13-consecutive losing seasons. The game-tying play would be nicknamed “the Flea Kicker.”