Colorado's Darian Hagan watched with one eye open and one eye closed.
There were 6 seconds left in the football game of his life, and he wasn't sure what to do. Watch or not watch.But curiosity got the best of Hagan, and as Nebraska quarterback Gerry Gdowski set up to throw, Hagan opened his other eye.
As Cornhuskers split end Jon Bostick streaked 42 yards into the end zone, Hagan's eyes widened. When Gdowski's pass arced down toward Bostick's arms, Hagan's eyes almost popped out of his head. And when Hagan's teammate Dave McCloughan wrestled with Bostick for the ball that finally fell harmlessly to the ground, Hagan's eyes filled with tears.
Colorado (9-0; No. 2 AP and UPI) beat Nebraska (8-1; No. 3 AP and UPI), 27-21, Saturday in a crucial Big 8 game before 52,877 crazy fans at Folsom Field.
If Colorado can close out the regular season with wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas State, Hagan will find himself quarterbacking a team that quite likely will be playing for the national championship in the Orange Bowl. And that's why Hagan couldn't stop crying Saturday.
He is quarterback only because Sal Aunese died earlier this season after a well-chronicled battle with stomach cancer. This should have been Aunese's team. This should have been the biggest win of Aunese's career.
"It's for Sal," Hagan said through the tears. "We're doing this for Sal . . . and I think he was with us there in the end zone."
With that, Hagan took off. And he needed all his considerable open-field running ability to negotiate the delirious crowd that had crashed onto the field to tear down the goal posts.
But all afternoon Hagan, a clone of Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice, a fine option director who throws on occasion and runs with uncommon grace, had negotiated rough territory.
"Darian was great," Colorado Coach Bill McCartney said, "they were all great. And so was Nebraska."
The rankings had not lied. These were two evenly matched teams.
- While Colorado had Hagan (86 rushing yards, 1 TD), Nebraska had fifth-year senior Gdowski, a fine option runner in his own right (69 yards) who could also do a little throwing (11 of 27 for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns).
- While Colorado had Jeff Campbell, who returned punts 47 and 55 to set up two Colorado touchdowns, Nebraska had split end Morgan Gregory, who caught five passes for 177 yards and a touchdown.
- While Colorado had tailback J.J. Flannigan gaining 96 yards and scoring two touchdowns, Nebraska had tailback Ken Clark picking up 95 yards of his own.
"But we've got something a little special," Flannigan said. "We've got a mission. We've got Sal."
The Colorado players all wear Aunese's No. 8 on their jerseys and wipe their hands on towels that say "Sal."