Nebraska 14
Pittsburgh 13

Nov. 18, 1939 • Pitt Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Huskers Crack Pitt Jinx, End Drouth in 14-13 Win


Husker Game Captains George Seemann (left) and Sam Schwartzkopf ... read congratulatory telegrams in dressing room. ELDON LANGEVIN/THE WORLD-HERALD


Power Plays Net Victory Over Old Foe

First Triumph Since 1921; Passes Bring Panthers’ Scores

Pitt Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pa., Nov. 18 – On their thirteenth opportunity in 18 years, the Cornhuskers this afternoon finally forced a repetition of history.

The Cornhuskers vanquished the Panthers of Pittsburgh, and the reckoning of 14 to 13 scarcely indicates the significance and magnitude of their triumph. To realize the significance and magnitude, one must add to the warring on this day’s haze-blanketed field something from the vain adventurings of the past.

In 1921 a towering red-armored company invaded this hill-hemmed city, and by 10 points to none defeated Pop Warner’s overwhelmingly favored company.

In 1927 another assemblage of Nebraska’s power and brawn made the same invasion but against Dr. John Bain Sutherland’s array its destiny was defeat.

Not Sutherland’s Boys

Every year since, whether in Pittsburgh or in Lincoln, Cornhusker teams have tried vainly to emulate the feat of the pioneers of ’21. Until today their nearest approach to conquest had been three scoreless deadlocks.

Always until today they were Dr. Sutherland’s boys who triumphed or at their most generous yielded only stalemates.

Today Dr. Sutherland sat in the press coop, long chin cupped in his right hand and through eyes that were enigmatically squinted looked down upon the pupils of Charley Bowser, his successor.

The place where Dr. Sutherland sat may have taken from the Nebraskans’ achievement something of luster and satisfaction, for the record will continue to say that never could they overcome one of his teams.

Did It in Pitt Style

Yet in such a prolonged relationship, coaches must inevitably come and go. The great thing that lives is the name of the rival school, which is the name of the rival team.

Today the Cornhuskers beat Pittsburgh for the second time in 14 meetings. They beat the Golden Panthers by use of the very implements which, for those many hapless autumns, Jock Sutherland’s stern warriors employed so devastatingly against them.

The Cornhuskers ran and plunged and kicked to victory. They won by their valiant battling on the ground and by their ability to make their speed and power attack more than offset the alarming and spectacular aerial sorties of the boys in gold.

Weak Against Passes

The Cornhuskers continued to be suckers against passes. Both of Pitt’s touchdowns came from prodigious pitches, one directly and flabbergastingly, but the Cornhuskers were able to score more points by the use of Pitt’s years-long favored weapons than Pitt could accumulate by combining these with its new accomplishments in the sky.

That briefly is the story of the conquest by a team which found a substitute for its weakness and used it magnificently.

Huskers Never Trail

The Cornhuskers scored first, and they led all the way.

After the Panthers had struck swiftly through the air to make the reckoning 7 to 6 with 55 seconds remaining in the first half, the Cornhuskers rammed across six more points and then kicked their total to 14 in the third period.

After the Panthers had added a series of short plunges to a whooping pass to creep within one point of the Cornhuskers’ total in the final interval, the Cornhuskers, with desperate and grim resolution marched down the field throughout the six minutes that remained. Thus not only did they stifle Pitt’s hopes of passing to a last-second triumph but they also seemed unstoppable, bound to their twentieth and perhaps their twenty-first points. Time prevented this accomplishment, but the boys in red hardly regretted this.

Backed By Punts

They had won because at a critical time they had prevented an attack on their weakness against passes by possessing the ball and working it goalward on their own account.

The Nebraskans made their first touchdown three and a half minutes after the second quarter began. They had surrendered the ball on downs on Pitt’s six as the timer signaled the exchange of goals. Pitt had been pushed into its own domain through most of the first period by Harry Hopp’s fine punting and brilliant quick kicks.

Vike’s Ram Just Short

Then with time about up, Vike Francis had plunged 22 yards against a Pitt defense. Without blockers after he had been convoyed through the line, Vike had rammed his way within a long stride of the enemy goal.

From behind the pestiferous Special Delivery Jones had thrown him on the four and one-half yard line. Then the Panther defense had braced and Joe Rettinger had thumped Hermie Rohrig back on the six on a fourth down attempt at a triple reverse.

But the quarter ended with the Panthers in a hole and Rohrig’s marvelous quick kick right after the trading of goals worked them in deeper.

Rohn Scores First

Hermie’s boot crossed the boundary two yards ahead of the Pitt end zone. Again from the end zone, Gradisek punted and a fair catch was taken by Roy Petsch on the Panthers’ 32. Five plays later the Huskers had their first touchdown.

These plays counted:

Petsch took Hermie’s sharp pass on the 20, pushed to the 18 before Steve Sinco downed him.

Hermie faked a pass and bounced through a hole in the right side to the one. Hermie failed to dive over a mass at the middle, but Henry Rohn succeeded.

Henry didn’t leave his feet. He just leaned his body far over the goal, above the tangle of arms and legs. When the score had been made official, he fell to the turf. Rohrig’s placement made it seven and then two attempts by Jones to tie the reckoning through the air were ruined.

Fumble, Then One Pass

With half time about ticked off, the Huskers elected to run instead of kick on third down. Harry Hopp tried to sweep right end and at the line he fumbled. Thurbon fell on the ball on the Huskers’ 30.

Then more swiftly than it can be written, this happened:

Kracum passed to Thurbon. Alone and 12 strides from scoring, Thurbon made the catch. Alone, Thurbon sprinted the necessary distance. It was 7 to 6 and the big clock said 55 seconds remained. Thurbon fumbled the snapback and Rettinger had no chance to kick the extra point.

Kracum spelled Jones at the throwing job when the last half began. George Knight ended his bombing with a leaping interception. The Panthers tried the ground and were repulsed in the rugged way that Panther lines had repulsed the Huskers during those dozen long years.

The Huskers controlled the game. They checked the Panthers, forced punts, punted back more profitably than they had been punted to, and sought a break. They got it.

At Last the Break

Emil Narick fumbled on his 25. Warren Alfson and Butch Luther dived for the ball. Luther fell on the ball and Alfson fell on Luther.

Again Knight turned on the power. Francis’ first plunge netted but two yards. His second produced the second touchdown. He shot through a rent in the middle. He cut sharply to his own right. A pack of Pitt men started in futile pursuit. Ahead only the ubiquitous Master Jones challenged. Vike bunted him flat and crossed standing at the corner.

This time Knight, a tower on defense every minute he played, was called on to convert. He did. It was 14 to 6.

During the remnant of the third quarter and nearly 10 minutes of the fourth, the Huskers refused to be suckers for passes. They made rushing a mighty defense. Once Jack Ashburn and George Seemann rushed and Jones retreated. They chased him back 15 yards and threw him.

Pass Gains 45 Yards

So successful had this rushing been that maybe the Huskers thought there’d be no more attempts at flipping. Maybe they looked for a ground assault when John Stahl recovered Rohn’s fumble on the Pitt 40.

Anyway they were unable to do anything about Kracum’s long pitch to this same Stahl until that youth, a speedster like all Pitt backs and ends, had made an exciting running catch and started a goalward sprint. On the Husker 15, Bob DeFruiter overtook him. Pass and run had covered 45 yards.

The Huskers were alert against passes again. Hub Monsky ruined one. Another was too high. So once more the Panthers tried power. This time they succeeded, over the short stretch remaining.

Keep That Ball!

Thurbon and Kracum plunged. Then on fourth down Kracum shot around left end. Hermie Rohrig missed him. He crossed to score the Panthers’ twelfth point and then Rettinger kicked the thirteenth.

Maybe the last six minutes were the most dramatic. Pitt’s sole hope was in the air. To speed aerial advances, the crippled Dick Cassiano took the field.

The Panthers had to get the ball. The Huskers wisely chose to receive the kickoff. The Huskers never relinquished possession. DeFruiter’s 33-yard sprint on a faked punt by Rohrig was a miraculous and breathtaking aid to this accomplishment. It produced a first down and the seconds ticked away.

Henry Rohn Injured

Henry Rohn plunged the essential yard for another first down, returned to the huddle, then fell. He was borne from the field on a stretcher.

The Huskers battered their way nearer and nearer to the goal. If time didn’t run out, they’d score again if they maintained this relentless assault. If time did run out they’d win anyway, and convincingly. Either way, the Panthers were helpless.

Less than a minute was left. Fourth down and two. Francis ripped the middle and it was first and 10 again. Francis flattened the right side and advanced three more before a weary secondary defender checked him. The Husker huddle started to form once more. The gun interrupted its completion.

No Exultation

Among the 30 thousand, few cheered. The Nebraska partisans were hopelessly outnumbered.

Across the dusk-dulled sod the Huskers trudged, those who had played and those who had watched from the bench. None of them showed exultation. Rest must have been their greatest desire – rest, and to learn about Henry Rohn.

In the press box Dr. Sutherland sat, long chin cupped in hand, until may minutes after all had left the field. Then Dr. Sutherland left the press box, and his face was an expressionless mask.

More coverage

World-Herald post-game coverage (PDF)


Series history

Nebraska is 6-15 all-time against Pittsburgh.

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1939 season (7-1-1)

Indiana Sept. 30
Minnesota Oct. 7
Iowa State Oct. 14
Baylor Oct. 21
Kansas State Oct. 28
Missouri Nov. 4
Kansas Nov. 11
Pittsburgh Nov. 18
Oklahoma Nov. 25

This day in history

Nebraska has played 16 games on Nov. 18. See them all »

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