ARLINGTON (AP) Colt McCoy dropped to a knee and looked straight down, a hand shielding his eyes. After all the mistakes and near-misses, his Texas Longhorns still had a chance to make it to the national championship game, yet the star quarterback was too overcome to watch.
He missed one heck of a kick.
Hunter Lawrence nailed a 46-yard field goal as time expired, giving a roughed-up McCoy and the Longhorns a 13-12 victory over No. 21 Nebraska in the Big 12 championship on Saturday night and a spot in the BCS title game against No. 2 Alabama.
We had so many things not go our way tonight but we found a way, McCoy said.
McCoy may not win the Heisman Trophy after this performance, but that's not why he came back for his senior year. He wanted to match predecessor Vince Young's feat of leading Texas to a national championship, and that dream is alive and well even if he might need the time off until the Jan. 7 game in Pasadena, Calif., to heal from this punishment.
McCoy, who'd never been sacked more than four times, was taken down nine times, 41/2 by Ndumakong Suh. The abuse dazed the winningest QB in college football history, prompting him into making a bunch of freshman mistakes including the nearly costly flub of letting time run out.
After a 42-yard field goal by Alex Henery put the Cornhuskers up 12-10 with 1:44 left, an out-of-bounds kickoff put Texas (13-0) at its 40. McCoy drove to the Nebraska 26, then faced third-and-13 from the 29. Seeking a few more yards with only a few ticks left, McCoy ended up scrambling and throwing the ball out of bounds as the clock hit all zeros.
But officials checked a video replay and put 1 second back, and Lawrence converted to keep the Longhorns undefeated. Texas players flung helmets and rushed the field to celebrate this agonizingly close conference championship. The Cornhuskers slunked off, unable to believe they weren't going away with the upset.
We're excited about being Big 12 champs and we'll see you in Pasadena, Texas coach Mack Brown said in a raspy voice at the end of a confetti-filled celebration at midfield.
Once the celebratory scrum ended, Lawrence was carried off on the shoulders of his teammates. That just as easily could've been Nebraska's Alex Henery enjoying the star treatment as his 42-yard field goal with 1:44 had put the Cornhuskers ahead. He accounted for all of their points, also making kicks of 45, 52 and 28.
Nebraska's offense was downright terrible, with just three first downs through three quarters, yet the Cornhuskers were always within a play of the lead because McCoy was unable to get anything going against Suh and crew.
McCoy was 20 of 36 for 184 yards with three interceptions; he had only two over the previous six games.
Nebraska's defense is great, McCoy said. They're one of the best we've played.
Nebraska's Zac Lee was 6 of 19 with three more passes completed to Longhorns for 39 yards. The Cornhuskers (9-4) had only 106 total yards, their lowest total in 25 years. This was their third loss by two points or less.
McCoy threw interceptions on two of the first three series, but Lee only managed to get field goals out of them. Up 6-0, Nebraska had another great chance to break things open when it blocked a punt and took over at the Texas 37. But Lee threw an interception on the next snap.
The Cornhuskers wouldn't even get a first down the next seven times they had the ball. Yet McCoy was still struggling, too.
Texas didn't crack midfield until its seventh possession and even then it was only because of a short punt by Henery. McCoy started at the 42 and capped it with a 2-yard plunge into the end zone that stood up to a video review. It put the Longhorns up 7-6, and it turned out to be the game's only touchdown.
McCoy faced mostly poor field position in the first half, but in the third quarter he started three straight drives within 53 yards of the end zone and managed only one field goal out of it. Texas did so poorly that the first two series ended with pooch punts on fourth-and-long. On the first, McCoy took a sack that knocked the Longhorns out of field-goal range. They finally got points on the third one, with Lawrence making a 39-yarder.
Up 10-6, McCoy hit wide-open James Kirkendoll with a lob down the left sideline that looked likely to be a 75-yard touchdown because his defender was several yards away.
But Kirkendoll dropped it.
Henery made a 28-yard field goal on Nebraska's next series to make it 10-9. Then Texas' Marquise Goodwin slipped and fell at the 1 on the kickoff return.
McCoy was facing third-and-10 from his 1, and taking a shotgun snap several yards into the end zone, when he hit go-to guy Jordan Shipley for a first down. Several big plays followed and McCoy seemed ready to put the game away. Only to have a pass intercepted by Dejon Gomes.
Lee followed with a 17-yard run, Nebraska's longest play of the game, then hit a 16-yard pass to set up Henery's go-ahead kick.
The Longhorns almost found out what can go wrong when a lesser team hangs close. Despite it all, they're four quarters from a national championship.