Randy Reeves puts his defensive savvy to work to hold Wayne Hallmark of Oklahoma State to a four-yard gain in this mass of players late in the first half as the Cowboys went to their 24-yard line on the play at left end. LAWRENCE ROBINSON/THE WORLD-HERALD
STILLWATER, Okla. — Nebraska’s Cornhuskers ran true to form again Saturday, this time winning in spite of themselves by a 21-20 count over Oklahoma State.
The Huskers, now 4-2 and finally on the winning side in the Big Eight Conference, were ahead for only 57 seconds in a contest shifting from a dull, scoreless first half to a wild, swashbuckling scoring affair.
Nebraska again leaned on the toe of sophomore Paul Rogers, whose perfect placement after N.U.’s third touchdown was a kick right in the teeth of 35 thousand Oklahoma State homecoming fans.
Immediately following Rogers’ kick Quarterback Ernie Sigler, still the darling of those who like spirited leaders, heaved the kicking tee high and far to the sidelines.
Oklahoma State partisans, meanwhile, may talk for some time about the Cowboys’ decision to try for a bonus extra point a just few minutes earlier.
Sure the strategy worked after the second touchdown, making Nebraska fall behind by 14-0.
But then, when the Huskers had practically given O-State the winning touchdown, was that the time? Seven minutes and three seconds remained when Jack Reynolds’ dive was stopped by Nebraska’s entire right-side defenders.
Quarterback Sigler, who was spelled in the second quarter by Frank Patrick, then sent his offensive unit to work.
It could have been a smoother drive. The winning one started with a 21-yard run by dazzling Joe Orduna.
Orduna, for instance, was guilty of moving at his halfback spot at, of all times, on a third down and one play in which Sigler was sneaking form his quarterback spot.
But Ernie had the answer in his arm, following that mistake with a 11-yard gainer to Guy Ingles. Then Mick Ziegler made a diving catch of another Sigler aerial and the Huskers took charge.
N.U. Ends Drouth
Nebraska stood at the 20-yard line with 3:06 left. Only the Huskers stood between themselves and the end of a two-game losing streak.
Oklahoma State was offside. First and five at the 15. Orduna, the game’s top rusher, crashed and scrambled to the four. Dan Schneiss unleashed his 222 pounds to the one.
Then Orduna got the nod to go in but he lost Sigler’s handoff and recovered the fumble back at the five.
Then a play mix-up caused Sigler to be charged with an illegal forward pass when he tried to lateral.
Suddenly, the count was fourth down and five yards to go. It was now or never; do or die.
Sigler, who got great pass protection all day, dropped back. He seemed to look and look and look before connecting with End Jim McFarland deep in the end zone.
Seven Feet Tall
The North Platte junior looked seven feet tall as he hauled in the ball.
McFarland, it should be noted, has caught four touchdown passes this season. He had not caught one in two weeks, the Saturdays when N.U. was bowing to Missouri and Kansas.
This one appeared to be Missouri and Kansas all over again.
Nebraska’s defense, a patchwork lineup at the start, looked like it was calling Oklahoma State’s plays in the first half.
The Cowboys had an unbelievably low first half gain – just seven yards rushing. And Quarterback Ronnie Johnson, the Big Eight’s top pass-gainer, hit only two of seven passes. O-State’s total offense after 30 minutes of play was 30 yards.
It seemed only a matter of time for Nebraska’s offense to get going. Shucks, one could have said, one touchdown would win it. O-State will never score.
Johnson promptly blistered the Huskers with a 68-yard scoring pass to Wingback Terry Brown, the team’s top receiver but not a frequent first-half target.
Before Nebraska knew what happened, Johnson began an 80-yard touchdown run and an extra-point pass to Herman Eben.
Sigler Passes Click
Now was the time for all Huskers entertaining victory ideas to stand up and be counted.
Sigler was one, turning into an accurate passer after first-half wildness (caused mostly by a stiff 15-mile an hour cross wind) prompted Coach Bob Devaney to try the 6-7 Patrick.
Sigler found the range when it was a necessity – competing 12 of 17 passes in the N.U.’s three touchdown drives. For the game, Sigler was 13 for 28 for 141 yards. Patrick passed three for seven for 25 yards.
Best statistics belonged to junior Orduna. He gained 145 yards – nearly Nebraska’s rushing average after four games – for his most successful afternoon.
Joe was the one Nebraska had to lean on, and he ran superbly behind good blocking, often provided by Fullback Dick Davis and Halfback Ziegler.
Orduna carried the ball 33 times, perhaps the most times by any back in Coach Bob Devaney’s Nebraska career.
Orduna had carried only 84 times in Nebraska’s five previous games. He averaged 4.4 yards a carry and hiked his team-leading season rushing total to 440 yards.
It’s a Fine Game
Orduna scored from the one on Nebraska’s third-quarter scoring drive, a 65-yard thrust in 14 plays. Then he forged eight yards around right end for the second as a 56-yard drive took 12 plays.
At this point, Nebraska had a tie again, 14-14, and 10½ minutes remained. All the Huskers had to do was stop O-State, the offense was hot.
Johnson had other ideas. He passed 14 yards to Pat Brown, threw another first-down pass to Tom Dearinger. Then Nebraska tightened and the Cowboys had to punt from midfield.
Sophomore John Decker was a last-minute deep man for Nebraska because of an illness to Al Larson. He never had fielded a punt in any previous Husker game.
Decker had done well until Johnson’s punt came floating to him at the Husker 17-yard line. It slipped through his hands, off his knee and into the strong arms of foe John Ward at the 24.
A 22-yard Johnson-to-Terry Brown pass set up Reynolds’ dive for the go-ahead points.
Credit the Defense
Miraculously, Nebraska still had the zing to overcome the gift, cashing in ultimately on McFarland’s catch and Rogers’ kick with 57 seconds remaining.
The defense still had to work to save the triumph. Two Johnson completions and pass interference on Husker Dana Stephenson got the Cowboys to the N.U. 27 with 10 seconds remaining.
They faked a field goal and Johnson passed incomplete. Then, Kicker Eben made one last shot at turning the tide. His kick fell short, about 10 feet to the left of the goal post.
Johnson passed for 196 yards – having 13 hits in 28 tries. He also was OSU’s top gainer with 25 yards.
Much of the credit on defense for Nebraska belongs to Middle Guard Bill Hornbacher, playing because regular Tom Linstroth is injured.
Larson, believed to have a bout with the flu, and Co-Captain Jim Hawkins also were missing at the start. Both played later; in fact much of the final half.
Hornbacher, Tackle Bob Liggett and End Sherwin Jarmon were regular stoppers on inside thrusts. Linebacker Jerry Murtaugh also ranked high.
The busiest tacklers were O-State’s Larry Gosney, an all-over-the-place linebacker, and Middle Guard John Little, king of the interior warfare.
Gosney was credited with 29 assisted tackles. Little had 16.
The devilish host, however, got to the Nebraska quarterback just once. Time to throw was perhaps a key to the victory. Sigler needed the protection several times while taking extra time to search for a receiver. Oklahoma State covered very well.
Iowa State Next
Rarely ever did a Nebraska receiver catch a pass without being cracked immediately. Co-Captain Tom Penney took a hard tumble on his still-sore should for a seven-yard gain during N.U.’s first touchdown drive.
Guy Ingles came in and Sigler hit him for 14 and, after three incompletions, Ernie kept the drive alive by hitting Ziegler for 13 yards on fourth down.
Nebraska’s running backs – Davis and Orduna – did not catch a pass. The Husker aerials were to the ends and flankers. Penney and McFarland each caught five.
The Huskers will play at Iowa State next Saturday. Perhaps the impetus of three touchdown drives within the span of 15 minutes will pick up where it left off here.