Irish Back Frank Spaniel Follows His Blockers
1948: Nebraska Proves No Contest For Powerful Irish
Notre Dame Crush Huskers 44-13
by Mark Fricke
September 07, 2000
|Nebraska - Notre Dame Rivalry
To the thousands of Notre Dame fans taking the trip West for the Irish football game with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, it wasn’t enough that their team was defending their National Championship from the prior year and currently sported a number 2 ranking in the nation. The fans knew they had Nebraska right where they wanted them. During the 1920’s the Irish would often find themselves among the nation’s elite, only to be upset by a rag-tag group of Cornhusker players and feel the sting of their barbs. This year they knew would be different. Last season the two schools had renewed a dormant rivalry and the Irish prevailed by a large margin. There was little evidence that this year’s game would be any different.
By most measures, the Husker team of 1948 was not one to be feared by many programs. Losing seasons had become the norm and, save for center Tom Novak who would go on to earn All-American honors that year.
Over Thirty-seven thousand fans filled Memorial Stadium expecting to see a display of dominance from one of the country’s best teams, or an upset of momentous proportions. They found the former would be the order of the day. Notre Dame was a prohibitive 40-point favorite, despite the fact that stars Coy McGee and Bill Fischer would miss the game with injuries.
Not willing to let Nebraska get an early foothold, as they had in previous matches, Notre Dame pulled out all their guns and fired early on the Huskers.
An opening period Notre Dame drive of 80-yards was punctuated by an eight-yard Emil Sirko run for a touchdown a mere four minutes into the game. The Irish struck again in the first behind a dazzling 73-yard touchdown run by fullback John Panelli. Suddenly Notre Dame was sporting a 13-0 lead and the prospects of an upset looked bleak for the Cornhuskers.
The second period found Notre Dame keeping up with their game plan of lightning quick runs and crushing pass plays. Frank Spaniel turned in runs of 32 and 12 yards set up the Irish’s third score. Quarterback Frank Tripuka tossed a 29-yarder to Bill Wightkin in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
Nebraska finally got a short-lived gasp of breath later in the second period. With the Irish driving again, Sitko fumbled the ball and Don Sailors recovered it for the red. The Husker hopes were quickly dashed when Junior Callopy intercepted the ball back for the Irish at the NU 26. It only took a few plays before Jack Landry took the ball in for another Irish score.
Hope sprung forth again for the Huskers near the end of the half when Sailors recovered another Irish miscue at Notre Dame 22 with 30 seconds remaining. Captain Cletus Fischer provided the needed yards to score one for the Huskers and made the score 25-7 at the break.
Things continued to get further out of hand in the third period. Notre Dame scored twice more in the stanza and seemed to be able to move the ball at will. Meanwhile Nebraska was thwarted at each turn.
Notre Dame scored once more in the fourth quarter for good measure. Nebraska was able to end things on a high note when the Irish fumbled at their own 2 yard line as time was winding down. Fischer dove in from there to at least move the Huskers' final score total into double-digits. Even so, from the opening gun there was little doubt who the superior team on the field was.
The game’s box score reflected the results on the scoreboard. Notre Dame turned in an impressive 528 yards of rushing while the Huskers managed just 111 of their own. Notre Dame added another 93 yards of passing to their totals.
Nebraska’s fortunes didn’t improve much through the rest of the 1948 season. Losses to Kansas, UCLA, Oklahoma, Missouri and Oregon State kept the gloom over Memorial Stadium for the Winter. Before the next year would begin, head coach "Potsy" Clark would be gone and Bill Glassford would arrive bringing hopes of a revival for a once dominate Husker squad. The true revival for the team was still a little over a decade away.