After enjoying ample success and reigning as one of Northeast Nebraska’s gridiron powers during the first 20 years of football at Albion High School, the fortunes of the proud Cardinals plummeted in the 1940s and 1950s following the departure of Coach William E. Putman.
Oh, there were a few occasions when Albion soared – a fifth undefeated season in 1948 and a sterling 8-1 campaign in 1950 – but overall the school’s record in the two decades was a moribund 58-98-6.
‘Hilly’ Beck’s final Albion team finished 0-8 in 1959, outscored 264-18 by its opposition, and Bill Witte’s arrival did not improve matters much, as the Cardinals posted a combined 3-15-2 mark in the first two seasons of the new decade.
Coach Martin Petersen took the reins of the Albion program in 1962, and while the Cardinals finished just 2-7-1 during his initial season, long-awaited improvement was steady from there.
Gary Siebler rushed for 150 yards to lead Albion to a 19-12 victory over Newman Grove in the 1963 season opener – the first time a Cardinal team had started a season with a win since 1958. Albion finished 4-5, including a heartbreaking 20-19 loss to Aurora in the season finale.
Petersen would suffer just one additional losing season as Cardinal head coach.
Albion got 1964 off to a flying start when junior fullback Ralph Schmadeke scored three touchdowns to lead a 26-0 win over Newman Grove, and the Cardinals finished their slate with a 6-3 record – the school’s first winning mark in more than a decade. That 6-3 was actually better than it might appear at first glance. Albion’s only losses were to the state’s #3 (Ord), #4 (Schuyler) and #6 (Central City) rated teams. Albion closed the campaign with a 33-20 pounding of Aurora as Siebler ended his brilliant high school career with a 218-yard rushing effort that included touchdowns of 80, 62 and 36 yards.
That set the stage for the sixth undefeated season in Albion history, and first since 1948. Strangely enough, that 9-0 exploit caught the community somewhat by surprise, as the Albion News reported prior to the season, “Coach Martin Petersen and his assistants face an enormous rebuilding job after losing 18 seniors from last year.”
Any undefeated squad is obviously talented, but in reviewing the ‘65 season, it became obvious this was an especially gritty Albion team, not only physically stout, but also mentally tough. The Cards had to grind through some very trying contests to achieve their spotless record.
Albion opened with a 25-6 win over Newman Grove as the News reported, “Ralph Schmadeke turned in one of the best two-way performances witnessed on the local field in many a year.” The Cardinals fought tooth and nail to edge O’Neill 12-6 on a soggy night. Albion trailed 6-0 before Schmadeke knotted the score with an 11-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. The score remained tied until quarterback Bob Childs passed 18 yards to Dave Krohn in the back of the end zone with 19 seconds to play. The News report of the game said, “some spectators believed Krohn was out of bounds.” Fortunately, the officials deemed otherwise.
The Cardinals notched their first victory over Ord since 1954 the following week, “wringing the rooster’s necks” 25-0. Neligh battled Albion to a 0-0 first-half stalemate in week four, but the Cards dominated the second half and took a 21-0 win with touchdowns by Krohn and Schmadeke.
That set the stage for the game of the year at David City. Following a thrilling 20-19 Cardinal victory, the News trumpeted, “David City’s homecoming was undoubtably ruined by the loss of the game and the loss of one goal post, which was pushed over by two jubilant (and evidently strong) young Albionites.” Albion had held a late 20-13 lead in the contest before Scout Wayne Buntgen raced 60 yards to score, and only a blocked PAT kick sealed the decision.
It got no easier the following week against a rugged Central City opponent. With the score tied 13-13 in the fourth period, Norm Green corralled interceptions on consecutive Bison possessions. Following the second, on a 4th-and-7 play, the News recounted, “Childs uncorked a long pass to Larry Homolka, who reached so far to catch it that he fell into the end zone with the ball in his hands.” Schmadeke booted the PAT and Green then intercepted his third pass of the game to preserve the season’s fifth straight win.
Green starred again against Schuyler, catching two touchdown passes, and Albion got TD runs by Childs and Krohn, along with a 40-yard interception return score by Homolka, to drive a 34-0 victory over the Warriors.
“With the scent of an undefeated season getting stronger, the Albion High School football team pulverized the Fullerton Warriors 46-7 Wednesday night.” Although that was the lede in the Albion News game report the following week, the local newspaper also noted, “At this point a cocky Albion team had already started counting its laurels when it suddenly found itself on the short end of a 7-6 football score.”
Whether the Cardinals were cocky or not, they dominated from there, outrushing Fullerton 339-32 and punting just once. Krohn rambled for five touchdowns, and the News noted, “Rumor has it that prior to the game, Krohn’s father offered him five dollars for every touchdown he scored. Papa Krohn is probably happy his son didn’t see much action in the second half.”
Albion completed its banner campaign with a deceptive 37-14 victory over Aurora.
“After the victory, the jubilant gridders and Albion supporters hoisted football coach Martin Petersen on their shoulders and carried him across the field to where the Albion bus was waiting. Albion hadn’t had occasion for such a celebration since Armistice Day, 1948, when the Cardinal football team of Bud Best defeated Fullerton 19-6 to wind up an undefeated season.”
It was another win the Cardinals had to work hard for, however. Aurora led the contest 14-7 before Childs lofted a 34-yard touchdown pass to Homolka late in the first half to narrow the deficit to 14-13. Albion began the fourth period at the Aurora 20 and consecutive 10-yard runs by Childs and Schmadeke finally put the Cardinals ahead 19-14. The dam then broke and Albion tallied on its final three possessions of the season – TD runs by Homolka (23 yards), Schmadeke (30 yards) and Krohn (12 yards).
Central 10 coaches honored nine Cardinals – Schmadeke, Terry Zoucha, Paul Borer, Krohn, Childs, Green, Homolka, Loren Patton and Fred Barnhard – with All-Conference awards. Schmadeke and the rugged 232-pound Zoucha were named to first team all-state teams, and tackle Borer received all-state honorable mention.
Albion compiled a solid 6-3 mark in 1966 after graduating eight stalwart seniors – Krohn, Green, Borer, Schmadeke, Zoucha, Childs, Les Kinney and Jim Hartford. The Cardinals slipped to 4-5 in 1967 as an already inexperienced squad was also hampered by injuries to starters Doug Doncheski, Chris Nelson, Brad Beckwith, Ted Borer, Rick Stevenson and Lloyd Slaymaker at various points of the season.
Albion bounced back in 1968, rolling to five straight wins behind the exploits of Doncheski, Nelson, Beckwith and Ron Levander before Central City broke a 13-13 deadlock with 30 seconds to play and handed the Cardinals their first defeat. Albion finished the season 7-2, losing a hard-fought 20-14 decision to Class B #2 Aurora in the finale.
Optimism for the 1969 grid campaign was very high, with 10 seniors and 10 starters returning. The Cardinals, with the core of Levander, Tom Borer, Tom Neidhardt, Nelson, Beckwith, John Brengelman, Doug Haave, Jerry Tisthammer, Jim Bolin and Bill Karges, did not disappoint and nearly added a second undefeated season to a successful decade.
Borer started the season opener at quarterback in place on an injured Nelson and merely tossed three touchdown passes and added a TD run in a 40-0 rout of Hartington Cedar Catholic. Levander then rushed for 164 yards in 34 attempts, scoring two touchdowns and three PATs, to lead Albion to a 24-8 win over Centennial. In week three the News reported, “Two members of the Nebraska coaching staff, Barry Alvarez and Joe Armstrong, were present for the game and must have been impressed with Albion’s version of the Blackshirts.” Indeed, as the Card defense held Ord to negative-29 yards in a 54-0 thrashing.
Levander missed a third straight game against David City, but Albion bounced the Scouts 32-0 as Bolin rushed for two scores. Following the contest, Petersen commended the right side of the Albion line – Beckwith, Tisthammer and Randy Dodds – with opening good holes and gave a nod to middle guard Brengelman’s efforts.
That set the stage for a battle of unbeatens – Albion vs. Central 10 West rival Central City.
“Albion’s Cardinals reversed last year’s format and pulled off a 30-18 upset over the Central City Bison here Friday night in a game filled with heart-stopping action.” Levander returned and rushed for 146 yards, including a 13-yard TD scamper to give Albion a 6-0 start. The Cardinals never relinquished the lead, but could never completely shake a dogged Central City team. Albion had leads of 14-6, 14-12, 22-12 and 22-18, then finally sealed the ‘W’ when a fourth-quarter interception set up Nelson’s 18-yard touchdown pass.
Albion’s contest against Schuyler featured an unusual – and anticipated – quarterback match-up between 6-foot-5 Cardinal Nelson and 6-foot-7 Warrior Gene Harmon, later a basketball standout at Creighton University.
Harmon may have had an inch or two in his favor, but the Cardinals were the ones who stood tallest that night. The News noted, “Albion gobbled up five interceptions and recovered four fumbles to set up three of the four first-half touchdowns in a 40-8 victory.” The Albion pass rush completely bottled up Harmon and Petersen said, “it was one of those games where everything went right. The entire team had an ‘on’ night and we were able to bust it open early.”
Albion, which had debuted at 10th in the Class B state ratings in week four, advanced to #5 after defeating Central City and now stood #4, inched closer to a perfect season by blasting St. Paul 42-6. “The conquest of St. Paul sets up the game vs. arch -rival Aurora in the final game of a stem-winding season. A victory will give the Cards an undefeated 9-0 season and the championship of the Central 10 West Division, and a chance to move up the state ratings. A defeat means losing the whole ball of wax,” the News announced.
The newspaper also noted, “Coach Martin Petersen’s wife Pat followed up the St. Paul victory with her own contribtion Sunday morning in the form of a seven-pound six-ounce baby boy, born at Albion Hospital. The youngster, the Petersen’s fourth child, was named Jon Erik. That should make it a great season all around.”
It was a great season, but not unblemished.
Albion closed the campaign at Aurora, with the teams determining the Central 10 West champion for the fifth straight year. The Huskies brought a 6-2 record and #8 Class B state rating into the contest, having lost only to #1 Cozad and #3 York. Albion was, of course, 8-0 and #4.
At the conclusion of a titantic defensive struggle, Aurora upended the Cardinals 7-0, ending the undefeated dream. The defenses were so stout, total yardage by the two teams barely topped 300 (Aurora 158-154 edge) and they split 16 first downs.
Aurora drove to the Albion 11-yard line in the first half before Jim Hagemann made an excellent defensive play to drop the Huskies’ passer for a 10-yard loss. The contest later turned on two huge plays, described by the News.
“The big play for the Huskies came in the third quarter when a Cardinal pass was tipped into the air and fell squarely into Aurora’s possesion at the Albion 30.” On the very next play, “Aurora quarterback Black lofted a pass to Steenburg, who caught the ball at the three and leaped into the end zone.”
Aurora controlled just enough of second half play behind the powerful running of 215-pound junior standout Tom Kropp to stymie the Cards and pull off the upset.
Six Cardinals – Nelson, Levander, Borer, Beckwith, Brengelman and Tisthammer – would receive well-deserved Central 10 All-Conference honors for their splendid efforts in the 8-1 campaign.
Not unbeaten, but an excellent closure to the fifth decade of Cardinal football. After a slow start, Petersen’s troops fashioned a 35-10 record from 1965-1969, reestablishing Albion as one of Class B’s most respected football programs.