Memorial Stadium, Lincoln—Looking at Nebraska’s young football players here Saturday afternoon, you couldn’t have imagined that they had been whipped, blanked and humiliated in three previous games.
For this day they were aggressive, fierce, reckless and spectacular.
Maybe it was the pleasant Nebraska Indian Summer air, or the friendliness of home surroundings. At any rate, they looked like the Huskers of old as they defeated Missouri, 24-20.
Yes, that’s not a dream, but the truth. Missouri, favored by 33 points, scored only 20. And Coach Adolph Lewandowski’s pink-cheeked Nebraskans scored 24.
Filling out of the Stadium, the 9,500 homecoming spectators didn’t seem nearly as surprised as the boys in the press box. But that’s because they were getting their first peek at the 1944 Husker squad. They can’t realize what a terrific improvement these kids made over their showings on the road.
It was a game of wide-open palys, breaks, sudden turns of luck and sheer thrills.
The Huskers scored first, lost the lead, regained it again before the half, then lost it again — and finally moved ahead to stay.
Oddly, the 24 Husker points were scored equally in the four quarters. No extra points were kicked — but they weren’t needed.
No one Husker kid stood out more than others. It was a team triumph — and a lovely thing for Coach Lewandowski, who never lost faith in his boys during their smashing defeats at the hands of Minnesota, Indiana and Kansas.
And it was a victory well earned for Nebraska, despite the statistics which show Missouri gained 14 first downs to six, and had an edge in net yardage of 355 to 137. The payoff is in points, not yards, so the Husker win was no fluke.
Both opening-quarter touchdowns were set up by breaks.
The game was only three and a half minutes old when the Huskers scored their first points of the season. Ken Hollins punted to the great Bill Dellastatius.
The guy with the long name caught it on his 10-yard line, but was trapped, so turned around to Paul Collins. But he fizzled the team, the ball dropped to the ground and Nebraska tackle Lyle Kaps feel on it just seven yards from the end zone.
The Huskers scored in three plays. A pass was no good. Hollins went off tackle for three. Then Chuck Knight took the ball from Bill Betz on a reverse, and cross the line standing up.
Eight minutes later the luck turned in favor of the Tigers. From the middle of the field, Dellastatious tossed a long pass, intended for end Bob Eigelberger. But Betz and Knight both had the Bengal covered.
All three leaped for the ball. Betz intercepted it, and fell on the Husker 20-yard line. But officials charged Knight had interfered with Eigelberger, and gave Mizzou the ball at that spot.
On the next play, with the Huskers still jolted by the decision, Mizzou scored. Dellastatious passed, Harry Exler caught it on the run and jogged the remaining five yards over the goal. Jim Kekeris, 273-pound tackle, booted the point to give his team a 7-6 lead.
Mizzou kept the ball a long time at the start of the second period, but finally Kekeris missed a field goal attempt from the 25 and the Huskerst took over on the 20.
And they didn’t give up the ball until they had gone 80 yards for a touchdown.
Jack Selzer passed to Lyle Colerick for 12 yards, and to Betz for 17, in the longest gains, to reach the 22-yard line.
Then Ed Gradoville, 16-year-old Plattsmouth kid, came in at quarterback.
His first effort was a pass to the southeast corner of the field. Dick Lamberty, a little guy from Fremont, seemed covered, but he jumped high—and made the catch on the 3-yard line. Collins had him tackled, but Lamberty fought on to fall over the goal.
And that’s why the half ended with Nebraska ahead by 12-7.
The Huskers took the lead again in the third period, shortly after Dellastatious broke loose for a 36-yard run with a beautiful change of pace to reach the 11-yard line. Two plays later he broke through a hole at tackle, snake-hipped away from two defenders, and went over standing up. Kekerls’ kick made it 14-12.
But Lew’s inspired Huskers were not through yet. Four minutes later they were back in front.
Selzer, the towhead from Scottsbluff, made this one possible with perhaps the most thrilling run of the day.
He fielded one of Dellastatious’ punts around the Husker 20, and circled back as he cut to the east side line. Betz put a terrific block on a Tiger and Selzer cut sharply to his left. Then he tore down the east side of the field. When Collins finally brought him down he had returned 60 yards — to the Mizzou 20.
Betz lateraled to Lamberty for 11 yards, then Selzer tossed a pass which Betz caught as he trotted across the goal line. That made it 18-14.
On the last play of the third period the Huskers put over the clincher. Dellastatious passed from the Husker 48-yard line, but it didn’t get a fellow Tiger. No indeed — Kenneth Dermann, 160-pound sub guard from Nebraska City, saw to that.
Dermann clamped his fingers on the ball for an interception on the Husker 46, and started flying down the west side. Max Riley finally overtook him—but not until he had traveled 50 yards to the Tiger 4-yard line.
Junior Collopy plunged twice after the teams changed goals, and the second thrust carried him across and changed the scoreboard figures to 24-14.
During the next six minutes Bob Hopkins engineered a drive with passes and runs, Mate Ed Mickelson finally plunging across for the last Missouri score with five minutes to play.
The Tigers tried frantically, but Joe Kessler intercepted a long pass on the 20 and clutched it in his arms as the final gun sounded.
Then the knothole section boys and girls flooded onto the field and ganged the red-shirted Huskers for half an hour.
It was like days of old.
It wiped out bitter memories of the happenings earlier this year — and made the outlook much brighter for the weeks to come.
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
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