Washington, Nebraska renew rivalry that featured big games in the 1990s
Washington and Nebraska, who meet Saturday at Husky Stadium, have played seven times, including four games in the 1990s.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Lucky sevenWashington and Nebraska have played seven times:
1925: The teams tied 6-6 in front of 15,000 in Lincoln. That was the only blemish for UW until it lost in the Rose Bowl to Alabama 20-19 to finish 10-1-1.
1926: The Huskies won the rematch a year later, 10-6 in Seattle.
1967: Washington lost its season opener 17-7 to the Cornhuskers in Seattle.
1991: Pivotal win for UW on the way to the national title as the Huskies had a big second half to beat Nebraska in Lincoln 36-21.
1992: Huskies won the rematch 29-14 under the lights at Husky Stadium.
1997: In a matchup of teams rated in the top six at Husky Stadium, Nebraska dominated early and held on to win 27-14 on the way to a share of the national title.
1998: Nebraska dominated from start in beating the Huskies 55-7 in Lincoln.
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Nebraska returns to Husky Stadium on Saturday afternoon for the first time in 13 years.
And in Washington football lore, Nebraska is a name that conjures memories of the defining of an era of dominance and the birth of a legend.
The schools have met seven times dating to 1925, a series deadlocked at 3-3-1.
But to most UW fans, the series boils down to games in 1991 and 1992 that were as memorable as any during a time the Huskies were among the elite of college football, plus the 1997 contest in Seattle that marked the coming-out party for Marques Tuiasosopo.
"Whenever I get together with the guys I played with, that's one of the games we talk about," said former UW safety Shane Pahukoa, referring to a 1991 victory in Lincoln that was the key to Washington's undefeated, national title-winning season.
The Huskies beat Nebraska 36-21, a score that doesn't really reflect how nerve-wracking things were.
The game, played on Sept. 21 and the second of the year for the Huskies, was billed as a contest that could shape the national-title race with Nebraska ranked No. 9 and Washington No. 4.
Nebraska led 21-9 midway through the third quarter thanks in part to a gift TD after a fumble on a muffed punt return that Don James still protests.
"I didn't agree with that one," James said this week. "But it was on the board. Nothing you can do about it."
The defining moment of the game — and maybe the season — came as UW faced fourth-and-eight a few minutes later at the Cornhuskers' 30-yard line.
James recalls it was too long for a field goal, which wouldn't have made a huge dent in the lead anyway, and that a punt didn't seem like it would do much good.
"I just swore to myself and the guys on the phone and said, 'We're going for it,' " he said. James says offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson was so sure James was going to punt he had momentarily stepped away from his seat in the coaches box.
"He raced back to his chair, (we) called a little slant to (Orlando) McKay, and that really got us going," James said.
The play went for 15 yards, set up a TD, and UW dominated the rest of the game, getting a clinching 81-yard scoring run by Jay Barry midway through the fourth quarter.
"At the time, that game was like make-or-break for us," Pahukoa said. "We had a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform, and we made the best of it."
From there, UW cruised to the national title it shared with Miami, the only real close call a 24-17 win over California a few weeks later.
The Huskies were ranked No. 2 when Nebraska came to Seattle almost exactly a year later for a night game at Husky Stadium. What is most remembered about the game is the noise — the ESPN crew broadcasting the game measured it at 130 decibels.
"Deafening," said Mark Bruener, a tight end on that team who said, "I bet the jaws of the stadium and the stands were rocking that day."
The Huskies won 29-14, James recalling a 29-yard TD catch by Joe Kralik just before halftime that Nebraska coaches protested wasn't a reception.
"I think we got two or three good calls that they didn't agree with, just like I didn't agree with the one the year before," James said.
Nebraska returned in 1997 for another matchup of top-ranked teams — UW No. 2 in the AP poll, Nebraska No. 7.
The Cornhuskers, though, dominated from the start and led 21-0 midway through the second quarter. Huskies quarterback Brock Huard left with a sprained ankle late in the first quarter.
His backup was Tuiasosopo, an 18-year-old freshman.
"I'm sure everyone was nervous," said Tuiasosopo, now an assistant strength coach with the Huskies.
One who wasn't was Tuiasosopo, who said he'd decided to "go out there and compete and go play — do what I know how to do best."
On his second pass, the kid whose arm everyone questioned completed a 41-yarder to Jerome Pathon, and quickly got UW back in it. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 270 yards and had the Huskies within 21-14 late in the third quarter before the Cornhuskers held on to win 27-14.
The game had been lost, but the foundation for one of the best careers by a UW quarterback had been set.
"I just realized that whether you are playing Nebraska or someone else, you worry about the things you can control and you go out and compete," Tuiasosopo said. "I just realized that, 'Hey, it's not that big of a deal.' Yeah, it's Husky Stadium in front of (70,000) fans and on national TV. But that really doesn't matter. When you get on the field, it's about making plays and leading your team."
Lessons the Huskies of today might do well to heed themselves.
• Middle linebacker Cort Dennison sat out practice while feeling "under the weather," according to coach Steve Sarkisian. He's expected to be back for Saturday's game. RB Johri Fogerson (hip) also sat out and is doubtful.