Michigan tackled 13 yards shy of all-time finish

Associated Press
Published December 30, 2005

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - All that was missing was a band on the field, and a touchdown.

Michigan was 13 yards from pulling off an astonishing finish at Wednesday's Alamo Bowl, one that would have ranked with the 1982 California-Stanford game.

The Wolverines trailed Nebraska 32-28 and were at their 36 when Chad Henne took the game's last snap. Henne passed to Jason Avant to start a zigzagging, back-and-forth, seven-lateral journey down the field that didn't end until Titus Brothers knocked Tyler Ecker out of bounds at the Cornhuskers 13.

As the play unfolded, coaches and players from Nebraska (8-4) rushed the field, apparently thinking it was over after Avant fumbled at the Michigan 20.

But, no, Mike Hart picked up the ball and pitched to Ecker, who ran the last leg of the bizarre relay.

Coach Bill Callahan, who was having Gatorade dumped on him as Ecker ran past, said it was a good thing no flag was thrown for too many men on the field. "I thought the game was over," he said. "But evidently it wasn't."

For Michigan, ranked as high as No. 3 in September and its losses coming by a combined 21 points, it was another bad break in a 7-5 season full of them.

"I don't know how that many people could end up on the field," coach Lloyd Carr said. "I just don't know how that happened."

Immediate comparisons were drawn to that November day in 1982 when Cal's Kevin Moen started a lateral-filled kickoff return he finished by running through Stanford band members, who thought the game was over, and into a trombone player in the end zone to cap a 25-20 Cal victory.

That play was labeled, well, "The Play."

Twenty-three years later, there was almost "The Play II."

"We should have scored on it, to tell you the truth," Hart said. "We just didn't get it in there."

Nebraska linebacker Corey McKeon's description of the play?

"Tiring," he said.

"You think you've got a guy down, and he throws it 40 yards across the field, and you have to run that far. It's kind of a pain in the butt," he said. "But it was smart by them. They needed to get into the end zone and they were doing everything they could to do that. It was desperation. We'd do the same thing."