Dennis Claridge rambles to N.U.'s first score, getting key block from Dennis Carlson... Inset shows Bruce Smith plowing 14 yards to set up TD run. John Savage
Memorial Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.—Superbly tough, confident and capable in the role of a returning prodigal son, Denny Claridge guided Nebraska’s football team to a dramatic 14 to 7 triumph over Minnesota Saturday.
The big senior quarterback from suburban Minneapolis—an admitted special target of the muscular Big Ten Gophers—was under severe pressure throughout the afternoon.
Backed by great all-around team play both on offense and defense, Claridge responded expertly.
He collaborated with rookie end Tony Jeter on a 65-yard pass play in the final quarter that broke a 7 to 7 tie and buckled Minnesota’s hopes.
And he made the decision irrevocably Nebraska’s by engineering an 82-yard drive that killed the final seven minutes and 40 seconds of playing time.
That masterful job of ball control came within inches of producing another touchdown, but Willie Ross’ run and leap from the three on third down was inches short as the contest ended.
On a chilly, windy and sometimes rain-splashed afternoon, the Cornhuskers had to show their mettle in numerous ways.
The Gophers weren’t as large as the invaders. But they were large and rugged enough to offer typical Big Ten aches and pains resistance.
They grabbed the first touchdown, they hammered the N.U. wings unmercifully and they backed Nebraska into hazardous field position on a number of occasions.
But they had no match for Claridge’s leadership, or the gutty running of Ross, Bruce Smith and Rudy Johnson.
And they were soundly whipped in the line during a second half in which their ground attack was able to produce only a pitiful net of five yards.
The Huskers generally were tremendous up front, with co-captain John Kirby, gargantuan Bob Brown, Larry Tomlinson, Larry Kramer, Lloyd Voss and Monte Kiffin among the eye-catchers.
There were many memorable incidents of brilliant line play:
—Kirby, the David City senior, knifing through to jar fancy Dick Harren for a 2-yard loss on a key third down effort.
—Tomlinson batting down one of Bob Sadek’s 14 incomplete passes.
—Ron Michka tieing up Sadek so Brown could bury him for a 5-yard setback.
The crowd of 61,140 saw Minnesota put the heat on Claridge from the outset.
On Nebraska’s third scrimmage play, Claridge dropped back to pass. Rudy Johnson was his defender, but Claridge was flattened when a rush led by Frank Marchlewski, Bob Bruggers and John Rajala shoved Johnson into the quarterback.
That was a 9-yard loss on third down and forced a punt. Claridge, who averaged 44 yards on seven punts, got 43 on this one, with Sadek making a fair catch on the Minnesota 29.
The Gophers drove all the way for a touchdown in just seven plays.
The prime gainers were a 12-yard pass, Sadek to Mike Reid, and a 44-yard strike from Sadek to Jerry Pelletier. The latter got behind Husker Dick Callahan, who was fortunate to drag him down on the one.
After Reid shortened the distance to about one foot, Sadek burrowed over his left guard for the score and Reid added the extra point by placement.
Only 7:50 had elapsed, and all but the five thousand Husker rooters started begging for the kill.
The Huskers still couldn’t manage a first and 10, but Claridge kicked the ball 49 yards with the wind to put the Gophers on their own five.
That kind of footwork was about as valuable as anything in this contest.
When Minnesota kicked back—and lost 18 yards on the exchange—Nebraska started goalward from the Gopher 36.
Ross got to the 29, then the 28. Smith, a hard-galloping sophomore from Falls City battled to the 14, and reached the eight with two more bucks.
From there, Claridge rolled out to his left, benefitted from a squashing block by Dennis Carlson, and romped into the end zone. Handyman Rudy Johnson tied it, 7 to 7, with his placement with 1:11 remaining in the opening quarter.
Ross was both a sinner and a redeemer early in the second period.
At the Husker one, he chose to field a punt, averted a safety and got back to the two.
On third down, his sprint and dive at right end picked up 11 yards and a first down on the 16. Nebraska fans breathed a little easier.
Kent McCloughan lost five on a fumble the next play, however. Rudy Johnson got back to the 16 in two carries. On fourth down, Claridge completely erased that N.U. problem with a 65-yard punt that rolled past safety Sadek and stopped on the Gopher 19.
Late in the period, Nebraska slashed to the host 17.
Claridge then fired his first pass of the day, but it was intercepted by Stan Skjei, who returned it from the one to the Minnesota 24.
The Gophers paid special attention to Nebraska’s shallow left side secondary much of the afternoon.
The scoreless third period was enlivened by a Sadek toss into that territory. It was intended for end Rajala, who had McCloughan on his neck.
When Rajala could only tip the ball, Husker Brown intercepted on the Gopher 36. Nebraska penetrated to the 20, where Claridge fumbled on a short fourth down effort.
A 36-yard punt by Skjei went out of bounds on the Nebraska 21 with 13:15 to go in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for the clinching offensive thrust.
Gene Young was held to one yard, but Claridge pitched Callahan for 11. After Ross ran for two, Denny hurled the big one.
He trotted to his left, watching Jeter, a six-foot-three sophomore from Weirtown, W.Va., slip through the defense. Then he passed.
Tony made a smooth catch at about the 35 and won a thrilling race to the end zone with Paul Ramseth, Jay Sharp and Aaron Brown.
Minnesota tried to pull a miracle with passes, but couldn’t catch the Huskers sleeping. The Gophers last had possession with 7:40 to go, when Skjei’s punt wobbled to a halt on the N.U. 17.
The problem was to kill as much time as possible.
Johnson gored through the middle for seven. Not to be outdone, Ross jerked away from surprised tacklers and sped 36 yards to the Minnesota 40.
It was Ross and Johnson and Ross all the way to the three—with such embellishments as two nice treks by McCloughan, an occasional keeper by Claridge and an 8-yard pass, Claridge to Jeter.
Ross made a great effort to hurdle a stack of bodies at the middle as time did run out. If he was short—the officials decided—it wasn’t by much more than an eyelash.
Nebraska certainly didn’t have time to argue. It had a victory over Minnesota—the seventh in 38 meetings—to celebrate.