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Frazier Comes Off Ropes, Floors Miami : Orange Bowl: Poor start landed quarterback on bench, but he made most of second chance.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A couple of interceptions thrown by his rival in an intrasquad scrimmage helped Tommie Frazier win the starting quarterback job for Nebraska against Miami in Sunday night’s Orange Bowl.

An interception Frazier threw in the first quarter almost cost him that position.

Consigned to the bench in favor of Brook Berringer after his first-quarter pass was picked off by Miami’s Carlos Jones, Frazier had time to reflect on the notion that he might not get back into the game, that he might play in three Orange Bowl games and emerge winless.

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“That was a possibility,” he said. “But I didn’t want to think about it. I just tried to stay calm and stay focused.”

Unshaken by being pulled--and unperturbed by a Miami team he acknowledged as “one of the best"-- Frazier coolly rallied the Cornhuskers to a 24-17 victory before an Orange Bowl-record crowd of 81,753 and earned most valuable player honors.

“You can’t ask for anything more,” said Frazier, a junior from Bradenton, Fla. “It’s just one of those moments you have to savor for a lifetime.”

To the very end, as his teammates screamed and hugged one another and ran to their locker room to retrieve their cameras and preserve the mad scene swirling around them after the game, Frazier maintained his calm. “We came here with no doubt we were going to win,” he said. “This is really a storybook ending.”

It was an unlikely ending, not only because of Nebraska’s previous failures on the Hurricanes’ home turf, but because of Frazier’s well-documented medical problems.

Frazier hadn’t played since Sept. 24, when he developed blood clots behind his right leg. Berringer took over and was merely 7-0.

Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne was roundly second-guessed for choosing Frazier over Berringer Sunday--and those doubters didn’t even know Frazier had caught a cold late in the final week leading up to Sunday’s game. He was rusty and ineffective on his first series, and moved the Cornhuskers 39 yards on his second possession before his long pass was intercepted by Jones at the three-yard line.

On Nebraska’s next possession, Berringer trotted out onto the field.

“I was prepared to go the rest of the game with Brook,” Osborne said.

He changed his mind in the fourth quarter, after Berringer had been intercepted in the end zone with 14:02 to play and Miami holding a 17-9 lead. “I thought it was time to play Tommie,” was Osborne’s simple explanation.

And it was.

Although he got nowhere on his first try and was sacked once, he moved the Cornhuskers quickly up field for the tying touchdown on two plays, a 25-yard run by I-back Lawrence Phillips and a 15-yard run by Cory Schlesinger.

His pass to tight end Eric Alford on the two-point attempt was good, and Frazier saw the Hurricanes begin to wilt. He had never felt better.

“I felt fresh because I wasn’t out there playing the whole game. I just played the first and fourth quarters,” he said. “I could really tell the difference when I went back out there. They were gasping. Once we got the tie, I knew that would take everything out of them.”

Because he was so well rested--as opposed to rusty--Frazier also had the energy to dodge a pair of would-be tacklers and scamper 25 yards on third and four to keep alive the Cornhuskers’ winning drive. He finished it off with a handoff to Schlesinger for a 14-yard run.

“The offensive line did a great job blocking for him,” Frazier said. “We had tried that play before and it didn’t work.”

This time, it worked. And Berringer had to admit that Osborne’s game plan of going to Frazier in the late stages had also worked.

“Obviously, I would have liked to be out there at the end,” Berringer said, “but you’ve got to give credit to Coach Osborne for the decisions he made. It ended up OK and he looks like a genius now.”

Frazier looked like a winner. “This was a great battle,” said Frazier, who completed three of five passes for 25 yards and rushed seven times for 39 yards. “When I signed here, that was one of the things I wanted to do--come here and win the national championship. Last year we didn’t do it, but we did this time.”


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