FOLSOM FIELD, BOULDER, Colo. — An epic of courage and poise was added to Nebraska football history Saturday as the Cornhuskers swept 63 and 68 yards in the fourth quarter to overtake Colorado, 21-19.
The winning touchdown, a two-yard burst by Pete Tatman, came with 53 seconds remaining. Larry Wachholtz kicked the extra point, then intercepted a Dan Kelly pass seconds later to seal the victory before a wild and thoroughly wrung-out homecoming throng of 46,112.
Countless fist fights and wrestling bouts broke out shortly after the game, with red-garbed Nebraska fans reacting to a siege of hat-snatching by youngsters and adults.
So vicious were some of the brawls, Colorado’s uniformed ushers refused to even try to part the battlers.
Nebraska’s late dramatics marked a complete turnabout in a rough-and-tumble contest which had seen the Colorado offensive and defensive platoons thoroughly overpower the defending Big Eight champs during most of the 19-7 first half.
Every Husker on the field in the fourth period contributed to the smashing rally, but the highest accolades must go to quarterback Bob Churchich, who completed 10 passes for 11 yards during the two scoring drives.
The Omaha senior remained cool and determined despite a ferocious pass rush that sometimes saw charging Buffaloes bat down the ball as soon as it left Churchich’s hand. On other occasions, he was chased and slammed to the earth.
Churchich kept pegging, however. And when time seemed to be racing away and pressure was greatest, he proved a master marksman.
Ends Denny Morrison and Tom Penney in particular were superb receivers.
An 11-yard collaboration with Morrison produced the touchdown that pulled Nebraska to within 14-19 with 10:42 to go in the final period. The junior wingman caught the ball near the goal line, then wrestled into the end zone with George Lewark and Steven Tracy tugging at him.
Morrison pulled in four passes worth 55 yards during the two vital sweeps. Penney caught three passes for 38 yards. Ben Gregory caught two and Harry Wilson one during those same tongue-biting minutes.
Meanwhile, the NU Black Shirts were thwarting the desperate Buffs’ efforts to recapture their awesome first half momentum.
After picking up a fairly easy touchdown to open scoring, Nebraska was almost bullied off the field.
The Huskers scored in two plays after Colorado’s Charlie Greer fumbled and Dick Davis recovered on the Colorado University 16 with the game less than four minutes old.
Tatman charged through his right side for two. Churchich then passed to Gregory, who caught the ball on about the seven and romped across with Lewark hanging on.
Wachholtz made the first of his three important conversions. Four and a half minutes later, fate smiled with similar sweetness on Colorado. Churchich lost the ball when hit hard on a keeper into the line. Middle guard Ron Scott, one of Colorado’s finest defenders, recovered on the Nebraska 16.
Wayne Meylan stopped Kelly with a thud on the six-yard line on third down. But the Nebraskan was injured on the next play as fullback Wilmer Cooks hammered to the two. Meylan did not return to action the rest of the half.
On the following play, Cooks made the touchdown again punching through the Husker left side. John Farler’s conversion kick was wide.
The one-point Nebraska lead lasted approximately 10 minutes. When Colorado next obtained possession, it ticked off 16 plays while swarming 80 yards to score. Counting a penalty for having an illegal receiver downfield, the Buffs actually moved the ball 95 yards.
The violation occurred as Kelly whipped a five-yard pass to swift Larry Plantz in the end zone. With Colorado shoved back to the 20, Kelly promptly reeled off 15 yards on a sprint around right end. Wachholtz kept him from scoring.
Kelly then tried left end, but the irrepressible Wachholtz was there, too, to bring him down on the one. There was no stopping the 215-pound Cooks on his six-point explosion through left guard. With Farler’s kick, Colorado led by 13-7 with 5:33 gone in the second quarter.
It wasn’t just Colorado; it was “Glory, Glory Colorado,” as the band repeatedly trumpeted and the fans joyously sang.
The glory became a 19-7 advantage when Kelly directed a 56-yard drive later in the period. Kelly was a prima ballerina behind a savage blocking by guards John Beard and Kirk Tracy, center Bruce Heath, tackle Mike Montler and end Mike Martin, among others.
It was fourth and four on the Nebraska 29, when Kelly went back to pass. Trying to elude oncharging Huskers, he bumped into an official. But the retreating Kelly peered and Kelly pumped. The ball went to Plantz, deep in the end zone for the touchdown.
On a fake placement, Kelly raced around end on an attempted two-point play that eventually could have had the day’s work result in a tie. However, linebacker Lynn Senkbeil raced to his left and swatted Kelly out of bounds short of the goal.
Add that to the list of monumental plays that enabled Nebraska to push its season mark to 6-0 and its Big Eight record to 3-0.
The half ended 19-7, with only the rarest of sterling optimists among the 15 thousand Husker rooters seeing much hope of a comeback, Colorado had outyarded Nebraska, 252 to 94. Nebraska could show only 30 yards rushing. In first down, Colorado had a 12-7 bulge.
It was a severely beaten Nebraska team that made the glum trip to the locker room. Coach Bob Devaney’s charges had been less effective than it appeared on the scoreboard.
Nor did the picture look any different as the second half unfolded. Nebraska couldn’t make a first down after receiving the kickoff. It still couldn’t generate enough offense for a first down on its next opportunity.
The Huskers made some headway on third chance, however. They traveled 71 yards and two feet, only to have Churchich thrown back at the goal line by Dick Anderson, Hale Irwin and Kerry Mottl as he nosed into the line on fourth down.
For any team with less than a ton of gumption, that would have been the finish.
Not this club this day. Early in the fourth period, Senkbeil forced a fourth-down punt when he pinned Kelly for a five-yard loss.
Wachholtz returned the punt to the Nebraska 37 with 13:16 remaining.
Churchich opened with a 13-yard pass to Morrison to start the Huskers moving with a vengeance. There were other first downs on a Churchich-Penney toss, a Churchich-Morrison connection and a run by Charlie Winters that put the ball on the Buff 11.
From that point, Churchich laid the ball on Morrison’s welcoming arms for a touchdown. When Wachholtz’s boot was true Nebraska trailed by 14-19 and began to act like a team that expected to win.
The Black Shirts were pugnacious marvels. They forced a punt after three plays. They did it again and yet a third time, keeping alive that Husker chance that dwindled with every blink in the time slot on the scoreboard.
Meylan had returned to the scene of combat and was very much in evidence as he harassed Kelly and bear-hugged other runners. Barry Alvarez, Senkbeil, Rick Coleman and Bob Weinman were among those making themselves conspicuous by jarring play.
But on two Husker sequences, the Buffs were every bit as tough defensively, Sam Harris, who played a tremendous game; Bill Fairband, Bill Sabatino and Mottl were the most villainous.
Until that third C.U. punt, which Wachholtz returned to the Nebraska 32, that was the prelude to what will stand as a most memorable minute and 38 seconds.
The start was not promising. One Churchich pass was smacked down by middle guard Fred Carrick, the next was incomplete. Churchich came through on third down tagging Morrison for a gain to the N.U. 45.
With 2:07 left, Churchich barely overthrew Penney who sprawled on the 11. With the clock showing 2:00 Churchich passed to Gregory in the flat for a gain of seven; with 1:55, Churchich threw in the left flat to Wilson, who made six and first down on the Buff 42; with 1:47, Churchich floated a beauty to Penney, good for first and 10 on the 30.
Churchich hurled to Gregory for another five. Then he sailed a long one to sophomore Penney, who ran out on the nine for a first down.
Now the clock showed 1:32, Nebraska rooters had been and were screaming encouragement. Gregory plunged to the five with the clock running. Tatman plunged to the two.
The burly North Platte lad next followed tackle Bob Pickens through the right side for the “impossible” victory.
Churchich netted 236 yards passing, wiping out the record of 234 set by Johnny Bordogna against Iowa State in 1951.
With 20 completions on 34 attempts, Churchich broke his own single-game completion record. He broke Denny Claridge’s record of 69 with four games to go.
Churchich improved on two other records he holds, boosting his career touchdown-pass mark to 17 and his career total-offense figure to 2,419.
Kelly followed his back-of-the-week performance against Iowa State with total-offense production of 214 yards, including 115 on the ground, against Nebraska.
Harris rushed for 68, Cooks for 57. Nebraska’s best were Wilson with 30, and Gregory with 29.
Far more important than mere statistics is the fact Nebraska may have matured as a football team in this major test. The Cornhuskers have been striving hard to accomplish something in which they and their fans could take unqualified pride. That goal was achieved in the second half of this game.
|Yards per carry||4.7||1.7|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|Utah State||Sept. 24|
|Iowa State||Oct. 1|
|Kansas State||Oct. 15|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 12|
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