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Games we missed

#2

"Man, woman and child I never thought I would live this long to see this kind of a football game."


Nebraska 35...Oklahoma 31   
November 25, 1971
When enlisting the various opinions regarding what the the best game of the 20th Century was, the overwhelming choice was this one. Some even suggested we were nuts if we didn't make this game #1. It was close as this game could be classified as #1B. 

This classic contest fell to #2 for three reasons. 1) It didn't have the controversy or the heart-stopping finish of our #1 game. 2) Our choic for #1 changed the history of college football and 3) After watching both games yet again, our choice for #1 was simply a better game.

It was  #1 Nebraska traveling to face #2 Oklahoma with the defending national champion Huskers coming in on a 29-game winning streak on Thanksgiving day with all the sports world watching. All of America, 55 million homes, were tuned. The importance of this game was measured by the hype as the excitement for this game was building for weeks. Week after week, both teams kept bombing their opponents as the two were headed on a collision course for Thanksgiving. 

The Husker O scored no fewer than 30 points in their previous ten games while the defense was #1 in America. The Sooners had the #1 offense in the nation with their lightning fast wishbone offense, coached by offensive coordinator Barry Switzer, averaging 45 points a game. These were the two best teams in college football playing at their very best in a heavyweight bout for the ages. 

Both teams went three and out on their first series. After the first OU series, their punt went to most electrifying player in college football, Johnny Rodgers. Rodgers fielded the punt on his own 28 where he was met by several Sooners. Somehow, he broke free as seven Sooners were by him as he passed the 31. After a brilliant juke and a sensational cutback, followed by a clip that wasn't called, he tore off past midfield and after another clip, he was gone. Nebraska radio play-by-play man Lyell Bremser had the call for the ages, "Holy Moly. Man, woman and child did that put 'em in the aisles." The same could be said for the rest of the game. 

The Sooner offense would march as they were able to gain yards on the great Husker defense but didn't have much to show for it. They came away with a field goal on one drive while a Greg Pruitt, he of the 9.5 yards per carry average, fumble stalled another. The Huskers would capitalize when Jeff Kinney punched it in from one-yard out for a 14-3 lead. 

But the Sooners would come back as QB Jack Mildren rolled them down the field capped by his three-yard touchdown run. After a missed Husker field goal, the Sooners marched back down the field but a Tim Welsh fumble would cost them the drive. With :29 to play in the first half, Oklahoma had the ball on their own 33-yard line when they suddenly turned into the fun n' gun Sooners. Not fearing the pass, Nebraska covered their lone wide receiver, Jon Harrison, man-to-man with Bill Kush...and no safety help. Harrison made an over-the-shoulder catch on the Husker 30. Kush's helmet flew off on the tackle. On the following play, Mildren noticed Kuch was still having problems putting his helmet back on and went right back at him hitting Harrison for a 24-yard touchdown pass to take a 17-14 lead into halftime. It was the first time the Huskers were behind all year. 

In the second half, the fumbles continued to haunt the Sooners as Mildren fumbled the ball away at midfield for their third lost fumble of the game. The wishbone was working on the #1 defense but the fumbles were killing them. Then Nebraska QB Jerry Tagge ran the option for 32 yards to get down to the OU followed by Kinney's second touchdown run of the game. When they got the ball back again, the Huskers utilized their superstar in Johnny Rogers as Tagge hit him with two passes to get down to the OU one where Kinney punched in his third touchdown run to take a 28-17 lead. Then the Sooners struck.

With the wishbone bogging down, it was 3rd and 5 on the OU 33. Mildren ran to his left but pitched the ball to Harrison who was running the opposite way. Harrison then let it fly to Al Chandler who caught the ball at the Husker 45, broke a tackle, then took it down to the 16 for a 41-yard play. Mildren closed out the third quarter with a touchdown run to get the Sooners to within four. 

The wishbone finally got rolling as they were able to march down to the Husker 23. Then Mildren threw his second touchdown pass of the day to Harrison as he was wide open coming across the goal line to give the Sooners a 31-28 lead. 

With 7:05 to play in the game the Huskers were 74-yards away. Slowly but effectively, the Huskers marched. On third-and-eight on the OU 48, Tagge dropped back to pass, eluded one defender scrambling to his right then hit Rodgers on a curl pattern for the first down...and maybe the ball game. Rogers then dipped and dove his way on two straight running plays to get down to the 15. Then Kinney went back to work carrying it four straight times finishing with a touchdown. On the third of those carries, Kinney fumbled the ball but it was correctly ruled that he was down. After the touchdown, Lyell Bremser proclaimed, "Man, woman and child I never thought I would live this long to see this kind of a football game."

The Sooners had one final shot. With the ball on their own 17 and just under two minutes to play, Mildren had Harrison wide open at midfield...but overthrew him. On third and six, Larry Jacobson sacked Mildren to make it 4th and 14. Mildren scrambled but was smothered by Jacobson and Rich Glover to give the Huskers the win.

The Huskers would go on to the Orange Bowl and blowout #2 and undefeated Alabama 38-6 to win their second straight national title. Oklahoma beat Auburn 40-22 in the Sugar Bowl.


 

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