MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Pressure-proof Nebraska Saturday whipped Minnesota, 26 to 21, in a nationally-televised football duel so wild and suspenseful as to render humdrum any further video dramatics this season.
With slightly less than eight minutes remaining, the dauntless Cornhuskers trailed by nine points.
They shook Minnesota’s confidence with a 45-yard pass play, Quarterback Fred Duda throwing to gallant little Frank Solich.
With 2:14 to go, they shattered the resolve of their Big Ten hosts with another Duda aerial, this a rifle shot that was deflected by Gopher Mike Reid inside the five and then plucked from the air by rampaging Ken McCloughan, who tumbled across the goal line.
There were nearly four thousand scarlet-garbed rooters in the Band Day crowd of 50,237 that endured crisis after crisis in Nebraska’s gaudiest offensive fray since the 1962 Gotham Bowl.
Coach Bob Devaney of the Huskers called it “the most courageous performance” by any team he has ever coached.
It was Nebraska’s twenty-first victory in 24 games under Devaney, a gridiron sorcerer who became the school’s first coach to beat Minnesota in two straight efforts.
This also was Nebraska’s third successive triumphant appearance in Minneapolis.
The lead changed four times in a battle marked by heroics in gross lots. There were additional Husker touchdowns by Duda and McCloughan, but for every sparkling backfield thrust there was a great defensive play to match.
Nebraska still had hope though it was slipping fast, when sophomore Ron Kirkland got off a wind-aided punt of 50 yards midway in the final quarter. Nebraska trailed by only two points, 12 to 14, at the time.
Safety men Ray Whitlow and Bill Crockett, both former sprinters, pulled a reverse on the return. The ball went to Crockett on the 20. He swung right, took advantage of a crashing block by Reid, then angled back across the field as he rushed through Husker territory.
Only Harry Wilson was in a challenging position–and that was strictly a long shot. Wilson made a grasping dive at the 15 and missed.
With Reid’s placement lifting the Gophers advantage to 21 to 12, that could have proved the back-breaker against a lesser team.
But Minnesota gave the Huskers immediate help on a rare interference play when one of its players attempted to catch the following kick-off–a high boot into the wind–before it had touched the ground.
The 15-yard penalty gave the Nebraska the ball on the enemy 45 with 7:52 to play.
Duda, whom host writers labeled “the ghost of Denny Claridge,” failed on two pass attempts. On third down, however, he placed the ball in the hands of the speeding Solich on the nine.
Already past the last defender, Solich zipped across without a protesting hand being placed on him. It was one of a number of fine efforts by the 162-pound Ohioan who suffered a fractured ankle in the game here a year ago.
Duncan Drum’s placement pulled Nebraska back to within two points at 19 to 21.
Minnesota again botched the kick-off play, this time a clipping infraction by Don Rosen nullifying Whitlow’s nine-yard return and shoving Minnesota back to its 15.
Those Huskers continued to hammer.
Quarterback John Hankinson recovered his own first-down fumble on the 13, but Crockett burst through the right side for 10 yards and Fred Farthing bucked for another three and a first down on the 26.
The clock showed 5:50. Hankinson was dumped for a yard loss by Walter (Tuffy) Barnes. Slowed by hard-charging Mike Kennedy, Crockett was held to no gain. Once more the speedy Texan failed to get past the line of scrimmage and Stan Skjei had to make a fourth-down punt into the wind.
Cornhusker partisans screamed encouragement as the ball carried only 19 yards and N.U. took charge on the host 44.
Ron Griesse, the senior guard from Kearney, recovered a fumbled hand-off as Nebraska lost three yards. A pass was off target, making it third and 13 with 3:06 remaining.
Craig Lofquist, a defensive giant this day, almost picked off Duda’s pass to Preston Love. At this point, it took heart for an N.U. fan to keep his eye on the action.
Fourth down, 13 to make, ball on the Minnesota 47.
Quarterback Duda played with the bravado of an athlete trying to pour it on instead of come from behind. His fourth-down pass was good for 14 yards as End Freeman White made a great, falling catch on the 33.
Griesse was back in the picture to block a defender at precisely the right moment as Halfback Bob Hohn speared a Duda pass and ran to the 18 with 2:21 to play.
Then Duda bounced the clincher off the hands of Reid and into the beloved mitts of McCloughan for the winning touchdown. Defender Lofquist knelt and wept in the end zone as the scoreboard recorded the damning points.
Furious rushes by Omaha’s Kennedy, and harassing air defense by Ted Vactor were among the key plays that finally forced Minnesota to give up the ball on downs as its final bid died.
Before the game, Coach Murray Warmath had said this Minnesota team could beat the 1963 product that held Nebraska to a 14-to-7 victory.
Those words had an ominous ring as the Gophers passed and hacked their way to 65 yards at the start of the second quarter to go ahead, 7 to 0, on Hankinson’ eight yard pass to End Aaron Brown and Reid’s conversion.
Now this was a daring, swashbuckling Minnesota team, reflecting on none of the ball-control philosophy from Warmath’s background in Tennessee-style football.
There were eight passes in the drive’s 14 plays. And it was a fourth-down pass that put Minnesota on top.
Meanwhile, Nebraska continued to hit hard and watch for a vital opening in the manner of a veteran prizefighter. The break was created when Larry Kramer, Wilson and McCloughan swarmed over Whitlow as he bobbled a punt reception.
Kramer, a Minnesota native who was to be voted Nebraska’s outstanding lineman in this sweet victory, made the recovery on the Gopher 17.
After reaching the three-yard line, Nebraska had to knock three times to get through the grudging defense. The pay-off was a wedge by Duda as Guards John Dervin and Griesse helped wide the hole.
End Bob Brugger raced in to block Drum’s placement attempt.
Now down 6 to 7, Nebraska created another so-called “break” by slamming Brown thunderously after he had taken a short pass from Hankinson. North Platte’s Larry Wachholtz, one of Devaney’s remarkable sophomores, claimed the ball on Minnesota’s 32.
Nebraska used a new alignment–balanced line with widely split ends–to help keep this bid alive.
It produced a 10-yard pass, Duda to Tony Jeter. After two knifing runs by Solich, and with the ball on the 10, Duda ran far to his right and pitched out to McCloughan, who streaked straight ahead into the end zone.
Duda went for a bonus conversion, but his toss to Jeter fell incomplete. The half ended with that count 12 to 7.
Minnesota went ahead for the second time when Hankinson failed to find an open-receiver while cocking his arm at the Nebraska 32 in the third period.
The Huskers who weren’t rushing him were throwing a blanket around the scattered would-be receivers. Finding the left side open, Hankinson wheeled wide in that direction and fled to a touchdown without much challenge.
Reid’s placement gave Minnesota a 14-to-12 edge.
The first doubt on Nebraska’s victory chances was cast late in the third period when a 61-yard march fizzled on the Minnesota 10. There was more apprehension early in the fourth when the Gophers drove to the N.U. 11.
However, John Strohmyer thwarted that opportunity when he nailed Crockett for a yard loss, forcing a fourth-down field goal attempt from the 19. Reid’s kick was wide.
A couple of minutes later, Crockett set sail on his return of Kirkland’s punt and the stage was set for the nerve-fraying finish.
Today, when it seems nothing more exciting could happen to the Huskers, Coach Devaney will remind them they open their Big Eight title defense at Iowa State in six days.
|Yards per carry||4.1||3.3|
Nebraska is 24-32 all-time against Minnesota.
|South Dakota||Sept. 19|
|Iowa State||Oct. 3|
|South Carolina||Oct. 10|
|Kansas State||Oct. 17|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 14|
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