BOULDER, Colo. -- The dice had to feel pretty hot in Frank Solich's hands.

But as it turned out, he didn't have anything left to lose, anyway.

With the hope of another nine-win season, the yoke of Colorado's rowdy Folsom Field and the swirling speculation about his own job all hanging in the balance, Nebraska's coach called what turned out to be his last game at the head of the Big Red with the steely nerved attitude normally reserved for those desperate souls at Las Vegas craps tables -- the guys sweating it out when it's 3 a.m. and needing to hit it big or not have enough money to fly back home.

Little did we know at the time, Solich could've taken his time coming home from Boulder. In a Saturday night meeting, NU Athletic Director Steve Pederson put Solich on extended vacation, the kind that comes with heavy hearts and, usually, a nice watch.

It's arguable that Solich knew, or at least could strongly sense, his fate when he stepped on the field Saturday, though he would say after the game he would be around to coach NU's bowl game as far as he knew. But, in what turned out to be his 58th and last win at Nebraska, the oft-criticized coach looked conformity in the eye and bet on an unlikely cast of characters several times with the momentum of the game on the line.

First, it was place-kick holder Kellen Huston, the back-up cornerback who, before Saturday, was best known for a poor decision in the on-field melee following NU's loss at Missouri. This time, the junior used his legs to land a knockout blow, racing 15 yards on a fake field goal in the second quarter. Cory Ross scored four plays later, staking NU to a 21-10 lead.

But, Solich wasn't through yet. After seeing his offense fail to convert a pair of fourth-and-one opportunities early, convention says with 12 minutes to go and trailing only 22-21 that you punt the football. Let it ride, figured Solich. A Jammal Lord sneak netted a first down and led to Nebraska taking the lead for good on David Dyches' 19-yard-field goal.

Fast forward to the fourth-and-goal from the 1. Three plays had yielded only five yards. Another short field goal puts his team up five, but a CU stop would paint momentum black and gold and give the Buffs six minutes to go the length of the field and get bowl eligible. Solich put his chips on his maligned fullback and banged-up offensive line.

"We just kicked the door down," Lord would say afterward. "That's Husker football. That's Husker power. We should make that all game long."

Judd Davies found the end zone, and Nebraska likely will find itself with a late-December trip to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl.

What those 60 minutes at Folsom Field represented was, simply put, faith.

Solich, an honorable and decent man, who's considered loyal to a fault, bet the house on his guys. The guys who've heard the boos and felt the sting of public scrutiny just like he has.

The faith in those players was Solich's ultimate parting gift to a program he served for the better part of 40 years -- the same faith Steve Pederson has now declared he lacks in Solich.

And you can argue about the decision itself, or the timing of the firing all you want. Rest assured, it will be the talk of the state until the Huskers take that first snap in San Diego. But, in those last shining moments at Folsom Field, Frank Solich's face bore no mark of dread. His players didn't play like they were giving their all for a lame duck leader. This was a team that bounded off the field like happy children, who played their hardest for a man who fought to the final whistle for them.

Don't take my word for it.

"We won this game for our coaches because we love them with all our hearts," said defensive end Benard Thomas.

In his final toss of the dice, Frank Solich bet on himself as much as anything, coming up a big winner one last time.

And no one can take that from him.

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