Martin Petersen had led Albion High School back from the football abyss in the latter half of the 1960s, his teams compiling a cumulative record of 35-10 from 1965-69, which included a perfect 9-0 record in 1965 and a sterling 8-1 1969 season.
All to soon, Petersen was gone, however.
After taking over a program that had suffered an 0-8 season in 1959 (outscored a morbid 264-18) and finished 3-15-2 in the first two seasons of a new decade, Petersen coached the Cardinals to a mark of 46-26-1 in eight seasons, departing on the heels of the superlative ‘69 campaign.
Without Petersen’s steady hand, the sixth decade of Albion football included additional success, but in somewhat “roller-coaster” fashion. Plunging early, then peaking with two Central 10 Conference championships and a runner-up finish, the Cardinals finished the 1970s with an overall mark of 46-43-3.
While there were no undefeated teams in the decade, there were some very memorable seasons, games and players.
Following the terrific 1969 season and Petersen’s departure, a sophomore-laden Albion squad suffered a 2-7 record in John Torczon’s lone season as head coach. That season wasn’t without excitement, however. Especially in a 38-26 victory over St. Paul, in which Cardinal senior quarterback Jim Bolin returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, later tied the score with a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown, ran for a touchdown from scrimmage, passed for another, and intercepted two Wildcat pass attempts. Wow!
Prior to the 1971 season, the Albion News reported new Cardinal coach John Cookson saying, “All in all, this will be a rebuilding year.” It was reminiscent of Petersen’s proclamation preceding the 1965 season, and just like ‘65, 1971 proved to be one of the finest football campaign’s in Albion High School history.
Albion began the season by blanking Hartington Cedar Catholic (14-0), Centennial (30-0) and Ord (24-0) before Class C #1 David City defeated the injury-plagued Cardinals 28-6.
Still less than full strength, Albion edged a tough Central City squad 12-6 the following week, as Gordie Foster (105) and Terry Clark (75) led a bruising ground attack that produced touchdown runs by Tim Christo and Craig Sup. The Cardinal defense made a final goal line stand after Central City had a first-and-goal at the four-yard line with :37 remaining.
That gritty effort, and better health, sparked a closing run in which Albion defeated Schuyler 46-8, St. Paul 42-6 and Aurora 32-13 to win the Central 10 West Division and earn another shot at undefeated David City in the conference championship game.
Class C’s top team vs. one of Class B’s best. What ensued, a see-saw 28-24 Cardinal victory, remains to this day possibly the most exciting game played at the Albion athletic field. (A full game story is available as part of the Most Memorable Cardinal Football Games series in the April 29 edition of the Albion News and online at albionnewsonline.com)
Albion was ranked #6 in the final Omaha World-Herald Class B Top 10 and #4 by the Lincoln Journal-Star, after which Cookson told the News, “We were a bit disappointed in the Omaha ranking. We feel that the Lincoln paper had us ranked about where we deserved.”
Tim Christo was awarded All-State honors for his play at defensive tackle and joined Foster, center Tim Green, middle guard Randy Christo, end Jim Hagemann and receiver Jeff Bolin as Central 10 All-Conference selections.
Albion entered the 1972 season with high expectations, but catastrophe struck early when the superlative Foster suffered a compound leg fracture in the season opener at Hartington. The News summed up the general feeling among Cardinal faithful, “It is pretty difficult to feel heartbroken when you win 30-0, but there was little jubilation in the Albion camp.”
The Cardinals did not exactly collapse without their star, however. Tough senior Denny Austin filled in admirably for Foster and Albion compiled a 6-3 record before losing a heartbreaker to undefeated Seward in the Central 10 championship game. The Bluejays scored 21 fourth-quarter points to steal a 29-28 victory after trailing 26-8.
It was a game Cardinal coaches, players and fans would probably like to forget, or at least have another crack at. However, Albion did have a contest earlier in the season that no witness (including this one) will ever forget.
Hosting Columbus Lakeview, with future Husker standout Jim Pillen, the Cardinals scored a 39-28 victory using one of the most stupendous aerial shows in the history of Nebraska high school football.
Senior quarterback Dave Rosenbaum and receiver Jeff Bolin combined for a performance that left Lakeview defenders dazed, fans shaking their heads, and the Omaha World-Herald awarding ‘Player(s) of the Week’ recognition.
“Rosy” completed 63 percent of his pass attempts for 465 yards and five touchdowns. Bolin corralled 13 of those receptions for 329 yards and three scores. All part of a 712-yard total offense explosion in a game where the teams combined for 1,211 yards. Whew!
The ‘72 season would be the last of Cookson’s brief (and highly successful) Card tenure. Ron Laux took over the program and, while installing a new system with a completely new coaching staff and very young squad, the Cardinals finished 2-7 and 3-6 in 1973 and 1974.
Albion was building to another high peak in those seasons, however, as a senior-dominant 1975 team stormed to a 9-1 record and won the final Central 10 Conference championship game over Class B #2 York.
The Cardinals lost just one game, a 14-0 decision to Scotus, ranked #4 at that early juncture of the season. Scotus, suffering numerous injuries to key players after the bruising battle in Albion, faded to a 6-3 finish. Albion, on the other hand, bounced back to defeat Ord and future University of Nebraska quarterback Jeff Quinn 24-6 after halfback Marion McCuiston sprinted 75 yards for an early touchdown.
Much like 1971, the Cards steamrolled opponents from there, defeating West Point Central Catholic (28-6), David City (35-6), Central City (14-0), Schuyler (41-7) and G.I. Northwest (41-12). As West Division champions, Albion earned a shot at #2 York in the conference title clash.
York entered the contest as a decided favorite, having lost only a two-point heartbreaker to Lincoln Pius X, which would win the Class B state championship in the first year of the Nebraska playoff system.
The teams traded touchdowns early and fans thought they might be in for thriller reminiscent of the ‘71 championship game. Not so fast, my friends! The Cardinals would hold York below 100 total yards and force eight – eight! – turnovers by the Dukes in a dominant 40-7 victory that turned more than a few heads around the state.
Similar to ‘71, the World-Herald put Albion a puzzling #6 in its final ratings, while the Journal-Star ranked the Cardinals #4. (Further details available in the Most Memorable Cardinal Games series in the April 15 edition of the Albion News and at albionnewsonline.com)
Halfback McCuiston and nose guard Joe Flanagan received All-State honors and were joined by Dennis Michael (LB), Jerry Carder (E), Pete Borer (LB), Randy Spiegel (DB), Bob Redler (L) and Merlin Lee (QB) as All-Conference selections.
Losing 19 seniors and 21 of 22 starting positions from the championship team, Albion faced a rebuilding year in 1976, finishing 1-8. The Cardinals began to bounce back the following two seasons as they gained experience, posting records of 4-3-2 in 1977 and 4-4-1 in 1978.
Albion capped the decade with a strong 7-2 campaign in 1979, losing only to state-rated and playoff-bound Aurora (0-19) and O’Neill (7-26). The Cardinals finished the season with a six-game win streak, defeating Ord, Wayne, David City, Central City, Schuyler and G.I. Northwest.
The 21-12 victory over Northwest may have been the Cards’ most impressive, as standout halfback Roger Suelter missed the contest with injury after a 215-yard effort against Schuyler the previous week put him over 1,000 for the season. Senior Chris Olson rushed for 62 yards and completed a halfback pass to set up Albion’s second touchdown, quarterback Ron Pochop passed for two scores and ran for a third, and middle guard Ron Cole spearheaded a bend-but-don’t-break defensive effort. Cole was named to All-State teams at the conclusion of the season.
The 1970s, a decade of peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and once again, plenty of excitement surrounding Albion Cardinal football.