HOUSTON, JAN. 3 -- One of the most scintillating playoff games in AFC history ended eight minutes into overtime today, as Tony Zendejas kicked a 42-yard field goal to give Houston a breathless 23-20 wild-card victory in the Astrodome.

Houston's first playoff victory since 1979 sends the Oilers into the AFC semifinal round for a match with the Denver Broncos in Mile High Stadium next Sunday.

The Oilers' victory came moments after an apparent interception by Seattle linebacker Fredd Young was called an incomplete pass and television replay officials did not change the call, keeping the Oilers' drive alive.

In NBC-TV's replays, Warren Moon's pass, tipped by Seattle lineman Jeff Bryant at the line of scrimmage, appeared to land in Young's hands just above the ground at the 40. But field officials ruled it hit the ground first, and was an incomplete pass.

The play was reviewed by replay official Tony Veteri, who said after the game, "We could not tell whether the ball hit or not so we had to go with the call on the field. We did not get a clear-cut view of whether {Young} caught the ball before it hit the ground. Part of his arm covered up the ball. So we had to go with the call on the field."

An hour after the game, Young was still stunned. "It was as clean as you can catch a ball," he said. "There was no possible way that ball hit the ground. I know I had it."

Ironically, Young was involved in another controversial play, this one going his way. He stripped the ball from Houston's Mike Rozier, and it appeared Rozier was down. The replay ruled it a fumble and Seattle took possession.

On the overtime play, head linesman Dale Hamer said he was downfield about five yards and was looking straight across into the play.

"I thought that the ball, the ground and the hands all came together at the same time," he said.

Young said he was so sure the call would be reversed by the replay official that he didn't even get concerned when the pass was first ruled incomplete. But when it became clear that the initial ruling would stand, Young said he went to ask an official about the ball but received a warning instead of an explanation. "He told me if I didn't keep playing I'd get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty."

The Oilers certainly weren't confident that they would maintain the most important possession of the game. "I closed my eyes and hoped like hell {that the replay official} wouldn't give Seattle the ball," Houston tackle Bruce Davis said.

It was just one of at least a dozen fascinating plays.

The Oilers (10-6) had to think they had the game won with 1:47 left in the fourth quarter when Zendejas lined up for a 29-yard field goal, because he had never missed a field goal inside 30 yards. Houston was up, 20-13, as a result of Willie Drewrey's first career touchdown reception, on a 29-yard pass from Warren Moon midway through the fourth. A Zendejas field goal would make it a 10-point Houston lead and the game would be over.

"It was the biggest miss of my life," Zendejas said later.

It didn't seem to be any big deal initially because Dave Krieg (16 of 38 for 237 yards) kept throwing 50-yard bombs for incompletions instead of working his way downfield using the sidelines and one timeout.

Faced with fourth and 10 from the Seahawks 20, Krieg had no choice but to try to pick up a first down and did, hitting Steve Largent for 10 yards to the 30.

Krieg then hit Largent for 26 more to the Houston 44, and Ray Butler for 32 yards to the 12. On first down, Krieg went back to Largent, at the back of the end zone, for the touchdown that tied the game, 20-20, with 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

It was a stunning play that caught many of the 49,622 fans in the aisles or the parking lots headed for home. And it shocked the Houston defense. It was the second touchdown of the game for Largent, who had seven receptions for 132 yards. What made it all the more impressive was that the Seahawks, playing without injured running back Curt Warner, had to rely almost entirely on his pass receiving to move the ball. (Seattle had only 29 yards rushing and Largent accounted for more than half the team's 250 yards on offense.)

"You have to give Steve Largent the credit for setting us up with his moves," Houston cornerback Patrick Allen said. "He's something special."

But so were Rozier and Alonzo Highsmith, the young Oilers running backs who primarily were responsible for Houston's victory.

Rozier ran 21 times for 66 yards -- a figure tarnished by two losses for 16 yards -- and scored the one-yard touchdown that put Houston ahead, 10-7, early in the second quarter.

Highsmith, the first-round draft pick from the University of Miami, carried 12 times for 74 yards. Together, although their yardage wasn't overly impressive, Rozier and Highsmith enabled the Oilers to hold the ball 48 minutes to Seattle's 20.

The Houston backs had help, however. Moon threw an interception on his first pass, which helped Seattle take a 7-0 lead on Largent's first touchdown reception. But thereafter, Moon settled down to complete 21 of 32 passes for 273 yards, including the touchdown to Drewrey.

All the individual statistics, isolated, suggest that Houston won by at least three touchdowns. Houston had the whopping advantage in time of possession, in total yardage (437 to 250). The Seahawks, after taking a 7-0 lead, had a string of four possessions where they gained a net total of three yards. But a 54-yard punt return by Bobby Joe Edmonds helped Norm Johnson to get close enough for a 33-yard field goal that put Seattle within 13-10.

And a short Houston punt enabled Johnson to kick a 41-yard field goal after his teammates could move only 16 yards.

But Houston persevered. "A lot of our guys were upset {when Largent scored}," Moon said. "Some of our leaders had to tell the young guys to calm down . . . that we were going to come back and score."