Washington State 19
#15 Nebraska 10

Sept. 10, 1977 • Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska

1 2 3 4 T
Washington State 0 7 7 5 19
Nebraska 0 7 0 3 10

Warren Coaches the ‘Powers’ That Be As Four Fumbles Cost Cornhuskers

Tom Thompson puts his 215 pounds into orbit over the Memorial Stadium surface, apparently expecting Tom Sorely to pass. But the Husker quarterback, who pumped life into the NU team in the second quarter, keeps the football instead and tricks the Washington State defense for 11 yards. The play moved Nebraska to the WSU 26 yard line en route to its touchdown. THE WORLD-HERALD

LINCOLN — Statistics, it is said, are for losers.

Nebraska had a bundle of impressive figures Saturday while opening its football season at Memorial Stadium. The Cornhuskers cranked out 470 yards in total offense while Washington State managed but 294.

The Huskers more than doubled the Cougars’ rushing total, and I-back Rick Berns slashed for 153 yards. And Randy Garcia and Tom Sorley out-yarded Washington State’s celebrated passer Jack Thompson.

But, oh, what the Huskers would have given for seven short yards more.

The biggest statistics, it turned out before a mostly-grieving gathering of 75,922 were the 4 in the Nebraska column marked fumbles lost and the zero under Washington State.

So the new scoreboard in the north end zone told the grim final story for Huskerdom: Washington State 19, Nebraska 10.

High Hopes Hit Early Again

It was the second straight season that high preseason hopes for the Huskers turned to ashes the first time out. A 6-6 tie at Louisiana State last year made the season an uphill run.

If only Nebraska had scored from the five-yard line on its opening sortie instead of kicking it away with a fumble on I.M. Hipp’s only carry.

If only Randy Garcia had scored from the two in the third quarter instead of turning it over.

If only Frank Lockett hadn’t dropped the ball on a punt runback at his 25 in the second quarter, leading to the first of two Thompson touchdown passes to elusive flanker Brian Kelly.

If only split end Jeff Lee hadn’t dropped a touchdown pass and Kenny Brown hadn’t lost another fumble following a reception on the Cougar six-yard line in the final 1:37.

Ifs are for losers, too.

Few N.U. Friends This Week?

The Huskers could point to their own errors as vital elements in the stunning reversal by former N.U. assistant Warren Powers, his staff loaded with ex-Nebraskans and a gritty band of Cougars who looked infinitely better than a team should look coming off a 3-8 record and playing in such a partisan atmosphere.

But the Cougars can be credited with accepting the charity that kept the game close, then seizing the initiative in the second half when they got a serious whiff of victory. There were no Husker gifts involved in Thompson’s repeated third-down pass completions that kept the ball away from Nebraska.

“We probably won’t have too many friends this week,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. “This is when we find out what real coaching is all about.”

Nebraska had been favored by 17 points, and Washington State was expected to present only a shakedown assignment for the Huskers before the serious work was to start against Alabama this week.

Osborne Gives Cougars Credit

“Washington State’s coaches and players deserve a tremendous amount of credit. That was a good football team, and they played error-free football. I’m concerned now about how this (Nebraska) team reacts,” Osborne said.

“There is no question that our inexperience hurt us. But I think we can be a better team next week because of what we learned. That’s just a discouraging way to learn.”

Following a scoreless first quarter, Washington State put the Huskers a touchdown behind on Thompson’s first touchdown pass to Kelly. But the Huskers rallied for a 7-7 halftime tie when Berns skipped over a blocker at the line of scrimmage and took three tacklers into the end zone on a 20-yard play.

The Huskers were feeling fairly comfortable at that point, even if the points weren’t adding up.

Berns already had 100 yards by the half, and Garcia, who started, and Sorley, who came on to spark the touchdown drive, had generated a quick-striking offense that had the Cougars down 236-90 in total yards.

Those statistics again.

’I Don’t See How We Lost’

Center Tom Davis was to say later: “I don’t know what happened. We were coming off the ball and really moving. I don’t see how we lost. But they got more points.”

Washington State’s Powers said he told his players at the half, “The longer we hang in there, the better our chances are. Defensively, we told the team to never give up until the ball was in the end zone.”

When the Huskers strung together a 10-play, 74-yard drive early in the third quarter, it appeared it was just a matter of time. But Garcia ran a keeper to his left from the Cougar nine-yard line, picked up seven yards, then dropped the ball. Husker tackle Kelvin Clark had a shot at it. But Cougar Dean Pedigo claimed it.

Although Osborne said he thought Garcia’s handoff was high to Hipp on the first fumble, Garcia said, “I thought the ball was there.” On his fumble at the two, Garcia said, “Mine was just plain carelessness. That close to the goal line, you can’t do anything but hold onto the ball.”

Washington State turned more to its strength from that point. Thompson, the Throwin’ Samoan who completed 18 of 30 passes for 174 yards, passed on seven of nine plays on the go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter.

He completed four, including three to Kelly, who finished with eight receptions for 102 yards. The last one went for 20 yards and the touchdown on the same play that produced the first touchdown. Ted Harvey again was the defensive victim.

Sorley, who had gone out in the second quarter with an injured shoulder and was said to be finished for the day, appealed to Osborne for another chance in the third quarter and passed 30 yards to tight end Ken Spaeth on first down early in the fourth quarter. Spaeth was Nebraska’s leading receiver with five for 121 yards.

That drive carried to the Cougar two, where Sorley again left the game after being knocked dizzy, and Billy Todd made it 14-10, WSU, with a 19-yard field goal.

With 11:35 remaining, Osborne figured there was still time to come up with the go-ahead touchdown, but Thompson came through with a 20-yard pass to Mike Levenseller on third and 12 to set up a 35-yard field goal by Paul Watson to make it 17-10.

With the final quarter slipping away, the Huskers had to be thinking about a touchdown and a two-point conversion to win.

But the Cougar defense stepped forward to quash those hopes.

Garcia Injured on Safety

Garcia was back in by then, and he was dropped for a seven-yard loss by Spud Harris, narrowly escaping a safety. Two plays later, George Yarno finished the job, trapping Garcia in the end zone, sending the California senior to the bench with a strained knee and giving WSU a nine-point lead.

“I was planning to put Eddie Burns in (at quarterback) then because we needed to throw,” Osborne said. But Sorley shook the cobwebs loose and asked to go back in again.

Into the last two minutes, Sorley moved the Huskers downfield with his passing and hit Lee in the numbers with a long pass in the end zone. But Lee dropped the ball.

And Husker hopes ended when Brown fumbled the ball away to Ken Greene following his catch on the Cougar six.

Sorley completed nine of 16 passes for 159 yards and rushed for 32 yards on six carries. Garcia hit three of five passes for 64 yards and carried 12 times for 19 yards.

Berns, Stewart Lead Huskers

Washington State’s Washington gained 75 yards on 13 carries and broke away for a 38-yard gain when the Cougars were pinned back to their two-yard line in the third quarter.

Outside of Garcia and Sorley, who totaled 18 carried between them, Berns and junior fullback Keith Steward carried the brunt of Nebraska’s running game.

Hipp, a 1976 redshirt who had been touted as a breakaway threat, carried only once. Freshman Andra Franklin, a practice standout, played briefly but did not carry, and 1976 freshman record-setter Tim Wurth did not play.

“As long as Richard (Berns) was healthy and going well, we wanted to keep him in there,” Osborne said.

Starting fullback Dodie Donnell played only briefly after his neck was jammed on the opening kickoff.

“Even though we got beat, I saw some good things,” Osborne said. “We moved the ball well, but we didn’t get in the end zone. The things that happened to us weren’t due to a lack of effort.”

Offensive guard Greg Jorgensen said, “We just have to start our season over. We can’t afford to get down on ourselves. The season is only one game old.

“This game doesn’t have any bearing on whether we go to the Orange Bowl. Maybe we needed something like this. I think the young players found out what it takes to win.”


More coverage

World-Herald post-game coverage (PDF)

Box score (PDF)

Game stats

Opp NU
Penalties-Yards 2-15
Rush yards 120 247
Rush attempts 32 59
Yards per carry 3.8 4.2
Pass yards 174 223
Comp.-Att.-Int. 18-30-0 12-21-0
Yards/Att. 5.8 10.6
Yards/Comp. 9.7 18.6
Fumbles 0 4

Series history

Nebraska is 1-3 all-time against Washington State.

See all games »

1977 season (9-3)

Washington State Sept. 10
Alabama Sept. 17
Baylor Sept. 24
Indiana Oct. 1
Kansas State Oct. 8
Iowa State Oct. 15
Colorado Oct. 22
Oklahoma State Oct. 29
Missouri Nov. 5
Kansas Nov. 12
Oklahoma Nov. 25
North Carolina Dec. 19

This day in history

Nebraska has played 7 games on Sept. 10. See them all »

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