Groce Ties NCAA Record in Loss to Ole Miss
Shreveport, La. -- Nebraska's DeJuan Groce tied an NCAA record with his fourth punt return touchdown of the season, but the Huskers saw their season end with a disappointing 27-23 loss to Ole Miss in the 2002 MainStay Independence Bowl Friday.
Groce, a senior from Garfield Hts., Ohio, gave NU a 17-7 lead with a 60-yard punt return in the second quarter, but NU managed 97 yards and two field goals in the second half, as Ole Miss stormed back for the four-point win.
With the loss, the Huskers fell to 7-7 on the season, and saw its streak of winning seasons end at 40, although the 41 straight seasons at .500 or better is still the longest active mark in the NCAA.
Nebraska jumped to a 10-0 lead in the game's first 17 minutes, as Josh Brown connected on a 29-yard field goal in the first quarter to open the scoring before Jammal Lord found freshman tight end Matt Herian for a 41-yard scoring strike 1:22 into the second quarter. The catch was the fourth scoring reception of the seasons for Herian, a true freshman from Pierce, Neb.
Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning cut the Huskers' lead to 10-7 with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Kerry Johnson midway through the second quarter before Groce, who ranked third nationally in punt returns at 18.0 ypr, broke his sixth career punt return for a score to put the Huskers up by 10.
Groce's fourth return for a TD this season tied an NCAA record held by eight other players, most recently Miami's Santana Moss in 2000.
Ole Miss came right back, driving 88 yards in 71 seconds before Toward Sanford scored from one yard out to put the Rebels within 17-14 at the half.
In the second half, the team's exchanged field goals before Sanford's second 1-yard scoring run gave the Rebels a 24-20 advantage. Sanford had only four yards on three carries, but scored twice for Ole Miss, which finished 7-6 with the win.
The Huskers cut the lead to 24-23 on Brown's third field goal, this one from 29 yards, but the Rebels got some much-needed breathing room on a 43-yard field goal by Jonathan Nichols with 4:39 remaining.
The Huskers had two final chances for the win, but Lord's despiration pass was Travis Johnson with no time remaining. Lord finished with 87 yards rushing on 18 carries, but completed 7-of-16 passes for 92 yards.
NU's I-back tandem of Dahrran Diedrick and David Horne combined for 152 of NU's 266 rushing yards, as Diedrick, playing in his final game as a Husker, led NU with 88 yards on 12 carries, while Horne, a true freshman, finished with 65 yards on 15 rushes.
Senior rush end Chris Kelsay was chosen as the Defensive MVP, recording a pair of sacks for nine yards among his three tackles for loss in defeat for the Huskers.
Manning completed 25-of-44 passes for 313 yards and a touchdown for Ole Miss, which improved to 4-0 all-time in the Independence Bowl
The Huskers, making their NCAA record 34th consecutive bowl appearance, now are 20-21 all-time in bowls, while Ole Miss became the first Southeastern Conference team to down NU in a bowl game since Alabama did it twice in the mid-1960s. Nebraska had won its previous 11 bowl games against SEC teams dating back to the 1969 Sun Bowl.