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BLAST: Saturday thriller in Sioux Falls tops 1971 Nebraska vs. Oklahoma classic

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BLAST: Saturday thriller in Sioux Falls tops 1971 Nebraska vs. Oklahoma classic
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- In late November of 1971, I watched the ABC television broadcast of what has frequently been dubbed the "Greatest College Football Game of All-Time."

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Played on Thursday, Nov. 25 (Thanksgiving Day) at Owen Field in Norman, Oklahoma, the game featured two undefeated teams -- the visiting Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-0) and the host Oklahoma Sooners (9-0) tangling for the Big Eight Conference championship.

Long-time ABC announcer Chris Schenkel called the play-by-play, while former Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson was with Schenkel in the booth, providing the "color" and analysis. Bill Flemming (the famed announcer of Saturday afternoon Big 10 basketball) worked the sidelines.

Nebraska was coached by Bob Devaney and Chuck Fairbanks coached the Sooners.

I remember well watching the whole game -- which I rarely did in those days -- and was amazed at how often the lead exchanged hands as both teams put together impressive scoring drives.

Oklahoma was noted for its option-oriented wishbone offensive attack with quarterback Jack Mildren at the controls and hard-running Greg Pruitt (an incredible 9.5 yards per carry coming into the game) as the primary running back.

Nebraska had middle guard Rich Glover leading its defense and fleet-footed flanker Johnny Rodgers as its featured offensive star, while rugged Jeff Kinney played tailback and Jerry Tagge called the signals and directed five Cornhusker's scoring drives.

Rodgers opened the scoring with a controversial 72-yard punt return for a touchdown (the officials may have missed a clipping penalty on the play).

Oklahoma countered with the game's only field goal before a Cornhusker touchdrive early in the second quarter gave Nebraska the first of its two 11-point leads in the game.

But, Mildren fired a pair of long passes to receiver Jon Harrison for Oklahoma TD's and the Sooners earned a 17-14 halftime edge -- the first time that Nebraska had trailed all season.

In the third quarter, Nebraska's power-running game took control and Glover (22 tackles on the day) helped the Cornhuskers keep the Sooners from scoring as the Cornhuskers built a 28-17 advantage before a late score by the Sooners sliced the lead to four, 28-24, as the fourth quarter began.

Mildren engineered another scoring drive and with 7:05 remaining in the game, Oklahoma was back on top, 31-28.

Rodgers broke several tackles on a 37-yard pass reception from Tagge and four straight rushes by Kinney put the Cornhuskers in the end zone and with two minutes left, Nebraska had its 35-31 lead -- which stood up as the final score after Mildren was sacked twice on

Nebraska later defeated Alabama, 38-6, in the 1972 Orange Bowl and claimed the national championship. Oklahoma beat Auburn, 40-22, in the Sugar Bowl and finished No. 2 in the final rankings, while Colorado (also from the Big Eight) was No. 3 in the final AP poll for the '71 season.

Saturday's live action at Kirkeby-Over Stadium was even better

While I was able to watch that whole '71 classic on TV, Saturday afternoon my son, Lucas, and I were able to watch the live action at Kirkeby-Over Stadium on the campus of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, as the University of Sioux Falls Cougars and "Augie's" Vikings met on the football field for the first time since 1986.

And what a game it was.

The two colleges -- which are separated by a just a few blocks on the west side of Minnesota Avenue in Sioux Falls -- played each other regularly in the "old days" prior to 1942.

Then, they played each other only twice -- once in 1984 and again in 1986.

Augustana, the bigger school over the years, won all 19 previous games, frequently by large point spreads, including a 20-0 victory in '86 at Howard Wood Stadium.

Since then, the two colleges -- which have played in different conferences and different collegiate levels -- never played each other, despite the close proximity to one another.

USF, which enjoyed great recent post-season success in the NAIA, including a trio of national championships, stunned the University of North Dakota in a late-season game in 2009 and the Cougars have continued to build their football prowess.

This season, USF became a member of the 16-member Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) and joined Augustana (a member of the league since 2008) in the conference's South Division.

USF entered Saturday's game with a 6-1 overall record this season, including a 2-1 mark in the South.

Augustana was 3-4 with a 1-2 division record.

A large crowd of 7,120 -- a new stadium record -- was on hand as my older brother Dane Knutson, a 1965 graduate of Heron Lake High School and a multiple-sport athlete for the Falcons, made his opening remarks over the stadium's loudspeakers and the pictures and names of the starting lineups flashed on the big scoreboard.

Dane has been the PA announcer for Augustana football games since 1990 and I have been to several games over the years (at both Howard Wood and Kirkeby-Over), but Saturday's game was by far the best.

Augustana started the game with a nice drive, but the Cougars were hitting hard, especially senior linebacker Nick Bonte (from Garretson, S.D.), and USF held.

The Cougars, behind quarterback Taylor Perkins (a senior from Mesa, Arizona) assembled a pair of impressive touchdown drives and took a 14-0 lead.

But, the Vikings rallied -- aided by a long punt and an ensuing safety -- to get on the board. With field position in their favor, the Vikings ran and passed their way for their first touchdown.

Bonte, however, blocked the PAT kick (which would be very important later) and USF maintained a 14-8 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, things began going Augustana's way and a touchdown and a field goal by the Vikings -- offset a field goal by the Cougars -- and the Vikings owned an 18-17 edge, and the momentum, as the fourth quarter began.

Both team's defenses stopped the driving offenses of the other and the score remained the same until USF capped a drive with a hard run by senior Jordan Taylor (from South Bend, Indiana) and passed for the two-point conversion, taking a 25-18 lead with less than four minutes to play.

Going into the wind, Augustana senior quarterback Josh Hanson (Watertown, S.D.) directed the Vikings down field, completing several clutch passes for first downs and then with 30 seconds left, he found a wide open Isaac Jorgenson (senior from Sioux Falls) for a touchdown.

Drew Behrens (senior from Pleasant Hill, Iowa) was perfect with the kick and the score was tied, 25-25.

In the first overtime a 23-yard USF pass completion put the Cougars on the Vikings' two-yard line with a first and goal.

But, the Cougars went to the air again and Augie's Austin Luecke (senior linebacker from Groton, S.D.) intercepted the tipped ball in the end zone, stopping the drive.

Going on offense, the Vikings gained a few yards and tried for a game-winning field goal -- which the Cougars blocked.

In the second overtime, Augustana had the ball first and put together a nice scoring drive, capped by a well-executed option run by Hanson (after a tremendous fake to Dajon Newell) from four yards out.

The Cougar defense came through again, however, as USF blocked the PAT kick (the third such block by the Cougars) and trailed just 31-25 with its last chance with the ball coming.

USF moved the ball towards the goal -- aided by a pass interference call -- and Perkins' nine-yard touchdown strike to Carrington Hanna (a junior from Streetsboro, Ohio) tied the score again.

USF's Braden Wieking, a senior from Sioux Falls -- who had been impressive all day, especially with his long kickoffs -- then won the game for the Cougars with a perfect PAT kick, sending off a huge celebration for the Cougars and their fans.

You can bet, that next year's game at Bob Young Field on the USF campus will be every bit as anticipated as this year's "classic" was -- what a well-played college football game we saw Saturday.

Evenson is offensive line coach at 'Augie'

Augustana offensive line coach Joe Evenson, the husband of former Worthington Trojan (Class of 1999) star athlete Tresse Klumper, certainly did his part Saturday to rally the Vikings.

After the Cougars had stopped 'Augie' on a fourth-and-one near midfield early in the game, Evenson was explicit in his instructions to the linemen as they came over and sat down on a sideline bench just in front of where Lucas and I were sitting.

The message must have been received well, as the Vikings moved the ball better and later converted on several similar situations.

Sam Dooyema, a junior from Luverne, was listed as the backup offensive center for USF Saturday and a trio of Lee's --- Jake, Sam and Nick --- from Blue Earth, are all linemen for Augustana.

Nelson, Erie, Silliman, Ratzloff, Olson among Viking all-conference first-team players

In browsing through the game program, I came across the names of several Augustana football greats who either earlier or later had made their mark in area high school athletics.

Floyd "Baldy" Nelson was first-team All-SDIC in 1939. He later taught and coached in Worthington for three decades and founded the Trojan Relays in 1953.

Dennis Erie was first-team All-NCC in 1952. Erie was Windom's athletic director during the early 1960s, when both Jim Silliman and Mike Ratzloff were multiple-sport performers for the Eagles.

Both Silliman (1966, tackle) and Ratzloff (1967, end) were North Central Conference first-team football selections for the Vikings, as was Luverne's Mike Olson (1971, defensive back), who helped LHS earn a state-basketball trip in 1967.

I am sure there are others, but those are five that I noticed when I was looking at the Honor Roll page in the program.

Mountain Lake's Jim Heinitz (Class of 1968) is the longest-tenured head football coach in Augustana history, guiding the Vikings for a total of 17 seasons (1985-1992 and 1996-2004), winning a school-best 79 games, including a trio of eight-win campaigns.

'62 Bulldogs, '48 Bluehawks are future "blasts from the past"

As I had indicated back in August, I will be researching and reporting about both the 1962 Brewster Bulldogs and the 1948 Okabena Bluehawks, both of whom completed undefeated regular seasons in high school football action --- long before there were post-season playoffs in Minnesota.

Look for both of those features in November --- after the busy current high school fall sports' seasons wind down.

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