JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Facing third-and-14 at the 1, Nebraska had a choice: Sneak the ball in hopes of getting a little extra room to punt or take a shot deep.
The Cornhuskers chose to throw — and boy did they wing it.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. connected with Quincy Enunwa for a 99-yard touchdown strike— the longest play in school history — and Nebraska held on to beat No. 23 Georgia 24-19 in the rain-soaked Gator Bowl on Wednesday.
“I know one thing: There will never be a longer play in the history of college football than that one,” Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said. “That was a big play for us.”
Equally big were Georgia’s failures down the stretch. The Bulldogs (8-5) dropped two fourth-down passes in the closing minutes, helping Nebraska (9-4) close out its first bowl victory since 2009.
Nebraska, playing in its 50th bowl, also ended a four-game losing streak against teams from the Southeastern Conference. The streak included a 45-31 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl last season.
The rematch was much different.
Nebraska did a solid job against running back Todd Gurley, who ran for 125 yards and a touchdown last year. Gurley finished with 86 yards on the ground.
Gurley was more effective in the passing game, catching seven passes for 97 yards. His 25-yard scoring reception to open the fourth quarter cut Nebraska’s lead to 24-19.
The Bulldogs had two really good chances to take the lead, but Rantavious Wooten and Arthur Lynch dropped fourth-down passes in the red zone.
“I think I turned my head at the last second and was thinking end zone,” Lynch said. “It’s one of those situations. It’s not so much I dropped the pass. It’s that I let my team down. At the end of the day, it’s one of those things that you can never forget, brush off your shoulders.
“It’s a win or a loss, and we lost. But I will never able to forget this one. If I run that play 49 more times, I make the catch.”
The drops capped Georgia’s woes. The Bulldogs moved inside the 21 seven times, but settled for four field goals.
The final two were costly.
Wooten dropped a fourth-and-2 pass around the 10 with 4:42 remaining. Georgia got the ball back with 3:18 to play and marched toward the end zone. But Lynch couldn’t haul in a fourth-and-3 pass that would have moved the chains with about 25 seconds remaining.
“That (stinks),” Gurley said. “To go all the way down there like that and on fourth down you just give it to them, that’s a bad feeling right there.”
Nebraska ran out the clock from there and then celebrated wildly all over the field.
Enunwa was named the game’s Most Valuable Player — and for good reason.
He recorded the longest play in Nebraska and Gator Bowl history.
After a timeout to discuss options on third and long, Armstrong dropped back and heaved the ball as far as he could to Enunwa, who was streaking wide open down the left sideline. Georgia cornerback Shaq Wiggins let Enunwa go, but got no safety help. Quincy Mauger had a chance to tackle Enunwa, but bounced off him just past midfield.
Enunwa coasted the rest of the way.
“It was kind of just one of those calls where you don’t have too many options out there, stuck on your own 1-yard line,” Enunwa said. “Luckily our coaches trust in us as playmakers.”
Enunwa finished with four receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 5-yard TD reception in the second quarter. The second was his 12th scoring catch of the season, breaking the school record of 11 set by Johnny Rodgers in 1971.
Armstrong, filling in for injured starter Taylor Martinez, completed 6 of 14 passes for 163 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.
Ameer Abdullah ran 27 times for 122 yards and a score. It was his 11th 100-yard game of the season.
Turnovers — along with those dropped passes — were the difference.
Reggie Davis muffed a punt deep in Georgia territory in the second quarter and Nebraska scored two plays later. The Huskers also turned Hutson Mason’s lone interception into a touchdown.
Mason, making his second straight start in place of injured starter Aaron Murray, completed 21 of 39 passes for 320 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go out there and slosh around,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “But I thought Hutson, as time went on and got used to the elements, did a really good job.”