NORMAN, Okla. — An orphan with a turkey drumstick couldn't have had more fun on Thanksgiving Day than Oklahoma's Sooners, who kicked Nebraska's perfect football record into limbo, 10-9, with a 21-yard field goal in the final minute.
It was the seventeenth goal of the season for Mike Vachon, a sophomore from Amarillo, Tex.
Inasmuch as he had missed earlier from the 34 and 13 in this nationally televised contest, it also was a kick of great redemption.
Nebraska's frantic effort to strike back died abruptly on the Sooner 10 when Rodney Crosswhite intercepted Bob Churchich's pass to Denny Richnafsky with two seconds remaining.
As time ran out, several thousand fans swarmed onto the field to join Coach Jim Mackenzie's underdog celebrants. The Oklahoma band blared "Boomer Sooner" while Coach Bob Devaney and his dejected Huskers walked, heads down, to their locker room.
For the third straight time under Devaney, Nebraska had been denied victory on this field. For the second straight time, Oklahoma's supremacy had spoiled an N.U. bid for an all-triumphant season before 41 thousand fans.
A member of the Oklahoma press wrote that Devaney "grimly accepted an engraved Sugar Bowl invitation in the Cornhusker dressing room...as though it were an invitation to his own funeral."
Nebraska had done well in some phases of the battle, outrushing Oklahoma 228-194, for a slight edge in total offense, 304 to 298.
But the Sooners consistently made the big plays. They signaled their fiery intent when swift Eddie Hinton returned the opening kick-off 59 yards. They intercepted three passes and grabbed one N.U. fumble. Twice they came roaring from behind.
Never was there a let-up in the intensity of their probing offense or the determination of their defense in the clutch.
Rookie quarterback Bob Warmack, a spindly 166-pounder, passed only four times — but completed each effort. The big strike was to Hinton, a 48-yard play that produced a touchdown late in the second quarter and gave O.U. the encouragement of a 7-3 lead at halftime.
It appeared that Nebraska would be able to stay on top by the margin of Larry Wachholtz's 28-yard field goal earlier in the second quarter.
When Joe Armstrong punted out on the O.U. 34, Oklahoma had only two minutes and 46 seconds to stir up a threat before the half-time gun.
That was far more time than Warmack needed, however. His first-down pass to Ron Shotts was good for only a yard, but on second down Shotts took a pitchout around the Sooner tight end for 17.
Then Warmack fired down the middle to Hinton, who leaped high above Wachholtz at the Nebraska 17, clutched the ball, pivoted as he landed and streaked to the end zone.
Vachon's placement, more vital than any one then realized, was true.
"I'll bet the Sugar Bowl people are shook," a voice in the press box drawled.
A Soonerland friend cautioned: "Don't forget that Nebraska was down at the half, 7-19, at Colorado and came back to win." Would the Huskers scrap back this time?
They did, undaunted by the fact their initial effort in the third period was quickly squelched by Crosswhite's interception of a Churchich pass that skidded off Tom Penney's fingertips. Crosswhite returned to the Husker 14.
Warmack lost control of the ball as he attempted to pitch back to Shotts on first down. Lynn Senkbeil, Husker linebacker, claimed possession on the N.U. 20.
Now the Huskers were undeniably magnificent for 80 yards. Ben Gregory, who was to be the day's leading rusher on a 109-yard total, started the drive with a pickup of 11 at the end.
Churchich tossed to Penney for gains of nine and 18. Dick Davis, alternating with Pete Tatman at fullback, and Wilson contributed important chunks.
Then Gregory broke loose over right tackle and sped 23 yards to the five. Wilson got one and Ron Kirkland made two before sophomore Davis scored his first varsity points on a dash around the Husker right end. Nebraska led, 9-7.
For a fraction of a second, Wayne Weber juggled the conversion snapback, which was low. Wachholtz kicked but the ball was deflected by rushing halfback Bobby Stephenson.
Nebraska carried its slim advantage into the fourth quarter, but not on a high note.
On the final play of the third period, end John Koller, a 6-3 Texan, had forced a Churchich fumble and recovered it on the Nebraska 40.
Oklahoma used sophomore Jimmy Jackson's line-slashing speed to hurry to the six. With three yards to make on fourth down, Vachon attempted a field goal from the 13. A premature roar from the crowd faded when the officials signaled the kick was wide to the left.
Although Nebraska could produce only one first down, Armstrong got off a highly satisfactory punt of 41 yards into the wind. That stuck O.U. with the ball on its 24.
Nebraska gave ground grudgingly, but Warmack and mates moved inexorably up the field, across the 50 and down to the Husker 30, where it was third and nine.
Some fans hooted when Mackenzie sent in several subs. The crowd thought it might be a field goal unit. Instead, Mackenzie had added blocking power.
Gary Harper slammed through right tackle for a gain of 19. Usually confined to blocking duty, he had collected only 16 yards in five carries in eight games. The trickery paid off handsomely.
Jackson knifed four yards to the seven. Meyland and Langston Coleman stopped Warmack at the four. Jim McCord wrestled Jackson for no gain, bringing up fourth down.
The ball was spotted at the 11 for Vachon's attempt. Ends Coleman and Jerry Patton made a good rush, hurling themselves toward Vachon. However, he got the kick away, and the third time looked mighty charming to the screaming fans.
Oklahoma 10, Nebraska 9; 43 seconds to play.
Gregory's 15-yard return put Nebraska on its 35 for a last-gasp effort.
Two completions in four tries by Churchich carried to the Oklahoma 44, the only time in the final period that Nebraska was in O.U. territory.
The next pass was the one Crosswhite stole to seal a very bitter loss for a team that always had the right answer in nine earlier tests.
Oklahoma's tremendous 60-minute effort kept alive its chance for a second-place tie with Colorado and immeasurably enhanced the first-year impression made by its 36-year-old coach.
Through downcast for the moment, the Cornhuskers still walked off the field as undisputed champions of the Big Eight. It was not a loss that could spoil an entire campaign.
|Yards per carry||2.7||2.5|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Utah State||Sept. 24|
|Iowa State||Oct. 1|
|Kansas State||Oct. 15|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 12|
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