LINCOLN — Some 25 thousand Nebraska football fans filed from the Stadium in bewilderment and disappointment Saturday after watching Oklahoma throw off a two-touchdown deficit and slam back for a 21-14 victory.
Thus Nebraska closed its season with a 3-6-1 record, the poorest since 1958, when Coach Bill Jennings’s second-edition Huskers lost seven of 10 games.
Wasted Saturday was a brilliant first half in which Nebraska outplayed the Sooners in all departments while mounting a 14-0 advantage.
The Huskers scored on a plunge by Willie Ross, a beautifully executed touchdown pass from Denny Claridge to Don Purcell and a couple of sure-shot placements by Ron Meade.
When the coaches addressed their squad at halftime, Nebraska boasted a 10-5 superiority in first down, a margin of 94-67 in rushing yards and an advantage of 116-22 in aerial yardage.
The Cornhusker defense, led by the crashing play of Purcell, had been masterful.
But Nebraska never again was in the game after kicking off to Oklahoma’s highly poised pluggers to open the third quarter.
In the following 30 minutes Nebraska netted only two yards rushing and failed to complete a pass. Nary a first down could be chalked up against the determined defenses of the visitors.
Later Nebraska’s ailing Thunder Thornton was to comment:
"That old feeling like in the rest of the games came back in the second half."
He referred to the frustration and desperation that had marked the Huskers’ clutch play much of the season.
This game unfolded under a bright, warm sun and with uncustomary daring on the part of the Cornhuskers.
Quarterback Claridge, with Nebraska scrimmaging on its 35 the first play after the kick-off, caught the Sooners off guard with a high, sharp spiral to End Purcell.
The hustling tri-captain hurled himself into the air for a gasp-provoking catch on the O.U. 49. That 16-yard strike alone did more than the entire Husker offense a week earlier against Colorado: It produced a first down.
Nebraska couldn’t keep that threat going. But neither could Oklahoma sustain a drive, and when the Huskers next got possession they drove 65 yards in nine plays that went through, over and around the Sooners.
Key gainers were passes from Claridge to Purcell (13 yards) and Halfback Dennis Stuewe (26 yards). Stuewe had Monte Deere on his neck when he went up for the ball but outfought the Sooner for a great tumbling reception.
An Oklahoma offside put the ball just outside the three. Claridge lunged for a yard then sent Ross burrowing over his right guard. Ross fell but had enough momentum to land with his head and shoulders across the goal line.
Meade, an old Sooner nemesis, made the first of his two conversion kicks with 6:05 left in the period.
Oklahoma banged all the way from its 36 to the Nebraska 21 as it struggled to pull even.
At that point, Tackle Monte Kiffin led a charge that stopped Fullback Phil Lohmann for no gain. Then Jimmy Carpenter, also under heavy pressure, tossed to Mike McClellan on the seven. It was an illegal forward — from beyond the line of scrimmage — and Oklahoma had to try again from the Nebraska 24.
This time George Jarman faked a field goal attempt. The snap went to Quarterback Bob Page, who jumped to his feet and threw to Carpenter.
Husker Dick Callahan rode the receiver to earth on the 14, inches short of a first down.
Still scorning its usual cloak of conservatism, Nebraska continued to run hard, threw frequently and outcharged the Sooners.
In the early minutes of the second period, Purcell knifed through to flatten Carpenter on the O.U. 36 for a five-yard loss. The Husker redhead thus turned an Oklahoma third-and-one situation into a no-choice punt.
With Stuewe returning the kick 11 yards to Nebraska’s 35, the Huskers were ready to roll for a fatter point margin.
Rudy Johnson reeled off 26 yards on a sweep around his left end. Ross bucked for five. There was a temporary five-yard setback because of an offside, but Claridge fired with the aplomb of a professional to End Dick McDaniel for 15 yards and a first down on the O.U. 26.
Johnson was held to a yard before Claridge rifled the ball to Purcell near the eight. Don spun out of the grasp of McClellan and bolted straight ahead for the touchdown.
Meade made it 14-0 with slightly less than seven minutes to play before the intermission.
The lead receiver stout protection as Bill Comstock, Bob Brown, Kiffin and Purcell contributed vital stops.
That storming defense was capped moments before the half when Tyrone Robertson forced a fumble by Page and Purcell recovered on the Oklahoma 22.
There was even time for Meade to try a field goal from the 15. And there was shrugs of "so what" when the kick sailed slightly to the right.
But if any Nebraska fan dared a smile at that moment, it was his last of the day.
The rest of the account is a bad dream that came true.
Page raced 17 yards to the O.U. 30 with the second-half kick-off. He passed to McClellan for nine yards. Lohmann churned 16 yards to the Nebraska 45 and when Johnson was caught piling, presto, the Sooners were on Nebraska’s 30.
From there, Page whipped a pass to Ron Payne, a six-foot-two senior end from Breckenridge, Tex. Payne outmuscled Warren Powers for the ball in front of the goal and darted across.
George Jarman toed the first of his three kick from placement as the Huskers began to tumble.
Nebraska twice had possession before Oklahoma started its second touchdown sweep from the N.U. 33.
Lohmann ground out 16 yards in four carried, Carpenter got 17 in three efforts, including a nine-yard climax sweep around his right end.
A few moments later, Nebraska, deadlocked at 14-14 but with time to hope, apparently dug a deep hole for Oklahoma. Claridge’s 70-yard punt rolled dead on the Sooner two.
Talk about poise! Page rammed the middle for 13 yards on three straight quarterback keeps and the oilmen were off the hook.
Page fed Lohmann and Carpenter and Dick Beattie into the line and occasionally tried it himself as he let the drive spin the minute hand on the clock.
The smart, precise maneuvering required 25 plays. It used up the final minute of the third period and ate up 10 more in the fourth. There was only one fumble but Page covered Lohmann’s miscue for an added gain of a couple of yards on that play.
Nebraska ran out of answers but still had gumption.
After Carpenter made a first down on the two, where he was stopped by McDaniel and Thornton, Oklahoma needed three plays for a touchdown. There was a half-yard to make on third down when Page pitched out to Carpenter, who gaily ignored the pile-up at the middle and wheeled wide around his right end without a challenge.
Score: 21-14 with five minutes remaining.
Sooner Captain Billy White wrecked Nebraska’s final bid when his bolted into the secondary to drop Claridge for a five-yard loss.
It was third and 10 on the Nebraska 29 when the home club pulled this one out of a hat:
Claridge passed laterally to End Purcell, who passed far downfield to End Jim Huge. Huge was covered, the pass was long and Nebraska was finished.
Claridge punted and Oklahoma froze the ball.
Oklahoma closes its season Saturday against Oklahoma State. For Nebraska, it’s a case of "wait ‘til next year."
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|North Dakota||Sept. 23|
|Kansas State||Oct. 7|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 21|
|Iowa State||Nov. 11|
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