DALLAS — It ended just like it started. There was Steven Runty running the show. A good part of the world was watching on national television. And Nebraska was whipping the britches off a team that is one of the best in the business.
Forget that the 10 games in the middle were notable for their inconsistency, the opener against UCLA way back in September and the 19-3 New Year’s Day frolic past Texas Tuesday in the Cotton Bowl were the kind of games that keep all those people buying red hats and following their team anywhere on the globe.
Nineteen to 3 isn’t what you’d call your basic route, but it was impressive considering that the Longhorns were four notches higher in the national rankings and were favored. The game was being played on Lone Star soil, and most of the 67,500 in attendance had their eyes on the guys in the burnt orange shirts. The kind of weather -30 degrees with a slight breeze—and a patient kid named Runty, and the 20,000 Cornhuskers who had ventured into this land of y’alls turned it into a private party at the end.
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne had promised Runty, the Ogallala senior, that he would get in early, possibly as early as the second quarter, because it was his last game, and he had earned a chance to go out in style. But Steve didn’t really believe it.
He was thinking “yeah, sure, coach” when the Huskers went to the locker room at the half tied, 3-3. Starter Dave Humm hadn’t done too badly despite the lack of points.
The Huskers had opportunities — principally four cracks from the one-yard line that failed to dent the Texas defense just before the half — and they had established dominance.
“He (Osborne) had told me I was going to play, but I was still surprised when he said at the half that I was going to start,” said Runty. “It’s a whole different feeling sitting on the sideline. My heart started beating again.”
It was a long, difficult trail for Runty on the way to his ultimate moment of glory and a 16-0 win over the Longhorns in his half of the game.
The youngster who was not recruited by Nebraska and who had waited through a redshirt season and three more years as a substitute “probably wouldn’t do it any differently if I had it to do all over again. I’ve had a lot of disappointments but it’s very gratifying the way it turned out.”
Junior Humm, who finished the game standing on the players’ bench watching the game, hid his disappointment well. The Cotton Bowl, he said, belonged to Runty.
“I told Steve after the game that he deserved it more than anybody on the team. He’s a senior. I have next year. He’s done too much for us for me to begrudge him anything.”
The first-half difficulties had nothing to do with the quarterback substitution, said Osborne. “It wasn’t Humm’s fault we didn’t score. I don’t think changing quarterbacks meant any difference in the outcome.”
In fact, guess who was Nebraska’s No. 2 rusher? Humm, the quarterback who wasn’t supposed to be a runner. His six carries averaged 4.8 yards.
“People are going to see him run more next year, and he can do it,” promised Osborne.
But the running game belonged to Tony Davis, who made good on his promise to outyard Longhorn record-setter Roosevelt Leaks, the No. 3 finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Davis, who gained 106 yards on 28 carries to 48 yards on 13 tries by Leaks, accepted congratulations with modesty, saying he had won his personal duel by default.
“I guess I won, but he was hurt. I wasn’t very good when I was hurt either,” he said.
Leaks, returning from an inactive period due to a knee injury, went out again late in the first half when he bruised the same knee. He returned in the second half.
Davis was the game’s outstanding offensive player, but the Longhorns had the consolation of landing the defensive prize with a gritty performance by linebacker Wade Johnston.
The 220-pound junior kept the game close by contributing 17 tackles, including all four stops when Nebraska had earned a first down a yard away from the Texas goal just before the half.
“We were on the two-foot line, and we couldn’t even score,” Humm lamented. “It was just like Oklahoma State. They were in every gap, and they were pinching in on defense.”
“We didn’t want to get in that (short-yardage) situation,” said Osborne. “I wasn’t pleased with that at all. I called every one of those plays. We thought about a field goal, but we figured we could get two feet.”
That failure to score as time ran out at the half was the kind of thing that coaches say will normally give the opposition an emotional lift.
That appeared to be the situation when the entire Longhorn team charged onto the field to escort the goal-line team to the locker room at the half. In contrast, Husker Capt. Daryl White was the last player off the field.
White had delivered the pregame pep talk to his teammates — emphasizing that the seniors wanted to go out a winner and challenging the seniors to give the underclassmen a victory to start next season with. “Let’s go out like wildmen,” he had shouted.
There was none of that fiery oratory at the half. Osborne told his prayers: “Just keep hustling, and something good is going to happen,” according to Humm.
It was just a matter of time. The Blackshirt defense was handling the vaunted Longhorn rushing game (350 yard and 36.4 points per game) with relative ease.
Middle guard John Bell neutralized All-American Longhorn center Bill Wyman and allowed the linebackers to make the tackles. Bob Nelson led with nine, followed by seven each for John Starkebaum and Bell and five by Tom Ruud.
Texas was limited to 106 rushing yards while the Husker managed 240 over land. It was supposed to be the Nebraska passing game vs. Texas rushing.
Ironically, the passing was nearly identical. Both teams attempted 17, completed seven and had two intercepted. Nebraska had 91 aerial yards; Texas 90.
But once Nebraska assumed command, Texas did not have the passing prowess to catch up. Substitute quarterback Mike Presley accounted for all of the Longhorns’ passing yards after the outcome was decided.
Osborne’s strategy was to come out passing the first half—a deep pass from Humm to Frost Anderson on the first play was incomplete—and concentrate on running after intermission.
But mistakes kept getting in the way of strategy for both teams.
First, Davis fumbled the ball away, and Billy Schott put Texas ahead with a 22-yard field goal. Then Humm passed 42 yards to Ritch Bahe, but the Huskers were penalized for illegal procedure. Then Rich Sanger kicked wide on a 30-yard field goal attempt.
Then Humm was intercepted, followed shortly by a Leaks fumble that bounced off his foot was caught in the air by defensive end Steve Manstedt. Manstedt followed Randy Borg 65 yards to the Texas eight before two officials overruled one and allowed Manstedt’s jaunt to be recorded.
But the Huskers could get only three points from that good fortune with Sanger’s field goal.
Another Texas interception, a missed Longhorn field goal and that sterling Texas stand that would have impressed the troops at the Alamo concluded a first half that offered much more excitement than a 3-3 score would indicate.
The rest belonged to Runty and crew—with a large dose of thanks to safety Bob Thornton.
Both coaches agreed that Thornton’s end zone interception that blunted the only serious Texas challenge was the play of the game.
The Longhorns were riding that emotional lift from the goalline stand with a drive to Nebraska’s 22 before Thornton swiped the ball from Lonnie Bennett.
Then it was the Californian’s turn to shine again when he hustled Mike Dean’s short 54-yard field attempt back 41 yards out of the end zone.
The offense quite knocking its collective head into the middle of the Texas wall and started working at the corners of the defense with sweeps and options. Eight plays gained 59 yards, Bahe picking up the final 12 on a trap play over right tackle.
Moments late, the game was out of reach, again thanks to the Blackshirts. Sophomore quarterback Marty Akins ran the option play to his left. Big John Dutton converged on Akins, defensive end Tom Pate had pitchout target Bennett covered, and Akins’ lateral went wild. So did Bell when he recovered the ball.
Three plays later, Davis scored from three yards on a sweep.
Sanger, who saw an extra point attempt blocked in addition to a missed field goal, finally ended his college career on a successful note by booting a 43-yard field goal in the last quarter.
From then on, the subs had their fun while the regulars chatted with fans, tossed away souvenir chinstraps and hooted and made gestures that did not signify “Hook ‘em Horns” while the Texas band played “The Eyes of Texas” one final time with little enthusiasm.
In summary, Osborne said his team “had a lot of making up to do after Oklahoma (a 0-27 loss ending the regular season). We were pretty hungry.”
And Steve Runty? “I’m not one to look back. I never thought about quitting, but part of the thing that kept me going was the fans who encouraged me to keep going. I got a lot of letters telling me to hang in there.”
|Yards per carry||2.9||4.1|
Nebraska is 4-10 all-time against Texas.
|North Carolina State||Sept. 22|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 27|
|Iowa State||Nov. 10|
|Kansas State||Nov. 17|
Nebraska has played 27 games on Jan. 1. See them all »
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