LINCOLN — Nebraska had its back to the wall, blindfold firmly in place, last puff taken. But Oklahoma State fired blanks.
Ardell Johnson, the Cornhusker hero, had the shakes, as if saved by a reprieve, after his team finally won a close one Saturday.
Then it began to sink in, Johnson’s Huskers had held on by the barest of threads — one stripe out of the 100 that mark the Memorial Stadium field — while continuing their whammy over Oklahoma State, 7-3.
It was at the Husker one-yard line that Johnson, the left cornerback, recovered a fumble by Cowboy sophomore quarterback Charlie Weatherbie with 3:22 left in the game.
“I’m shaking now. I’ve got the quivers,” Johnson said afterward. “Wonder (monster back Monds) stuck him (Weatherbie), and my sister could have fallen on the football.
“It was almost like slow motion. I saw the ball, and then I was on it. Nobody was going to get it away from me. I tried to swallow it.”
Johnson’s timely swallow was the culmination of a herky-jerky drive that was a sharp contrast to the pack mule tactics employed by the Cowboys until then.
Skip Taylor started with a 13-yard double reverse from his own 20. The Pokes came right back with the same type of play, this time adding a pass, halfback Wes Hankins to split end Same Lisle.
Johnson had good defensive position on the receiver near the sideline, and both clung to the ball as they tumbled out of bounds. Rules say tie catches go to the receiver. So it was a 37-yard advance to the Husker 30.
The Pokes came up with third down and 17 to go for a first down at the N.U. 26. Weatherbie retreated to pass, saw his receivers covered and was about to go under from Ron Pruitt’s rush when he threw to Alfred Nelms in the right flat.
Nelms didn’t stop until he was five yards from the Nebraska goal.
Two plays later, Weatherbie kept the ball on an option play to his right, gained four yards and was “stuck,” as Johnson said, by Monds.
“Some guy grabbed the ball and took it away. I thought the ball was dead,” the crestfallen young quarterback said. “I got up and they (officials) called it their (Huskers’) ball. I’ll have to see the films, but the officials are usually right.”
Monds didn’t know about the fumble until he saw the official signal. “I was awfully tired and hot, but, man, was I happy about then,” he said.
Of course the game wouldn’t have been over if Oklahoma State had scored. The Huskers could have rallied to win.
The fumble was the most significant play in a game that had more tense situations than would normally be found in a contest in which only one touchdown is scored.
For a defensive struggle, it was a nail-biter for 76,476 homecoming fans.
“It was like playing double overtime,” commented a relieved Warren Powers, coach of the Husker secondary.
Nebraska had also been a yard from the Cowboy goal in the second quarter. On fourth down, Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne disdained the touchdown try out of respect for the mammoth O-State defensive line and watched his team come away from the well with an empty cup as Mike Coyle’s field goal try was wide.
Coyle also missed from 48 yards in the fourth quarter. Abby Daigle, the Cowboys’ superb booter saw a 42-yard attempt blocked by the conspicuous Johnson in the first quarter and missed from 48 yards in the second before ringing up the visitors’ only points from 32 yards in the fourth quarter.
Tony Davis’s four-yard sweep broke a scoreless tie in the third quarter to complete a 79-yard drive in 12 plays. With Coyle’s extra-point kick, it turned out to be enough to extend the Pokes’ winless string against the Huskers to 13 games.
Another streak of less significance was the 12 straight visits by the 300-plus Californians for Nebraska in which their favorite team has won. But until Johnson’s recovery, Nebraska’s fifth victory was beginning to resemble the two losses to Wisconsin and Missouri.
“You’ve got to be able to win the close ones as well as the easy ones. We had two other tries to win close ones, and we copped out on ourselves,” said Husker defensive tackle Ron Pruitt, whose mother, Rutha was in the California delegation.
“We’ll take anything we can get against these guys,” Osborne said after leveling the Cowboys’ record at 3-3.
“They’re a great ball team. It was a tremendous ball game. We had a break at the end, but we figured we had one coming. Maybe that’s a poor attitude, but we had to get one our way.”
The Huskers had earlier lost fumbles by Monte Anthony near midfield and by wingback Donnie Westbrook at the O-State 21 after taking a Humm pass for 54 yards.
“A lot of things go through your mind after something like that,” Westbrook said of his third-quarter turnover when Nebraska was trying to pad its 7-0 lead.
“I’ve never felt worse. I haven’t been making mistakes like that. We could have scored and taken some of the pressure off everybody.”
The Huskers had another excellent opportunity in the final moments before the half when Humm drove his team from its 20 to the Oklahoma State 25. The senior quarterback, rolled to his left and tried to force a pass to a well-covered Ritch Bahe, but safety Mike Terry intercepted.
The loss was hard enough for Oklahoma State Coach Jim Stanley to take, but he also absorbed a double setback in the final minutes when fullback George Palmer was injured.
The El Paso senior finished with a well-deserved 120 yards on 27 carries — his lowest total in three games. But he didn’t see the critical fumble play because trainers were working on his injured knee, wrecked two plays earlier when he was blocking downfield on the pass to Nelms.
“I’ll have to have surgery in the next day or two,”Palmer said, almost matter-of-factly. “But the toughest blow is letting down my teammates. I should have been in there at the end.”
Stanley refused to consider luck in the outcome. “We had our chances,” he said. “You’ve got to cash in on them. We lost some, and Nebraska took some away. Nebraska deserves all the credit.
“When you face adversity, you can’t look back and feel sorry for yourselves.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Oklahoma State did not score a touchdown after dominating the first quarter so thoroughly that Nebraska had only seven scrimmage plays.
The Poke wishone-T attack, with Palmer logging 74 yards by intermission, couldn’t find the ultimate punch.
“They’ve got a good wishbone. It’s a lot different seeing it in practive and in a game. This was the first wishbone we’ve seen this year,” Pruitt said.
“It just took us a quarter to get untracked. They had a couple of junk plays in the last quarter that we hadn’t seen, but otherwise, they didn’t surprise us. They just run it so well, it’s just hard to stop.
“But a win like this really pulls a team together, more than a big win. We couldn’t let our seniors down,” the junior tackle said.
Despite the low score, which was fitting for the Nos. 2 (Nebraska) and 3 teams nationally in total defense, the offensive figures weren’t meager. Nebraska held a 345-300 yardage edge.
Humm, completed half of 18 passes, for 178 yards but his national record-tying feat of throwing 15 consecutive passes last week against Kansas died when he had an incompletion on his first toss.
Fullback Davis was the leading Husker rusher with 58 yards on 10 carries, and Westbrook logged a hefty 106 yards with four pass receptions.
The Nebraska defense, which has not allowed a touchdown in eight quarters, was led by a whopping 18 tackles by Capt. Tom Ruud. Middle guard John Lee had 11 and defensive end Bob Martin 10.
Nebraska will journey to Colorado Saturday with a 2-1 Big Eight record and 5-2 overall. Oklahoma State, which will play Kansas in Stillwater, is 1-1 and 3-3.
|Yards per carry||3.5||4.2|
Nebraska is 37-5 all-time against Oklahoma State.
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 26|
|Iowa State||Nov. 9|
|Kansas State||Nov. 16|
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