In athletics, there are “those games.” Games when it seems an individual can do no wrong.
In basketball, shooters find themselves, “in the zone.” On the diamond, pitchers “get in a groove” and hitters are “locked in.”
Football is popularly referred to as “the ultimate team sport,” and rightfully so. Still, individuals have those times, as well, when everything just seems to click, resulting in 200 yard rushing and receiving performances, 300 yard passing totals, 20 tackle efforts or 3-4 interceptions.
Several Cardinals had just such a night September 29, 1972, in one of the most thrilling football games ever contested at the Albion athletic field.
It was an aerial show to rival the famed Blue Angels, as seniors Dave Rosenbaum and Jeff Bolin sparked a 39-28 victory over Jim Pillen and Columbus Lakeview. Few fans in attendance will ever forget that fall fireworks display.
It was, truly, bombs away!
To set the stage a bit, Albion was fresh off an 8-1 season and 1971 Central 10 Conference championship, having rallied to nip Class C #1 David City and future Husker star Bob Martin 28-24 in the title game.
The Cardinals, under coach John Cookson, entered the ‘72 campaign with very high hopes, returning standouts such as quarterback Rosenbaum, receiver Bolin and star halfback Gordie Foster.
Some of that confidence had been shattered, however, when Foster suffered a gruesome season-ending leg injury in the opener at Hartington. Still, this was a strong Cardinal squad with a 2-1 record, facing the fourth of five straight undefeated opponents to open the season.
Lakeview was a fairly new school at that time and brought one of its best teams to Albion. The undefeated Vikings were seeking a fourth straight win, led by All-State QB/LB Jim Pillen, who would later be a two-time All-Big 8 defensive back and 2004 inductee into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. It was, in fact, Pillen who recovered the famous Billy Sims fumble at the three-yard line to preserve Nebraska’s 17-14 upset of #1 Oklahoma at Memorial Stadium in 1978.
What ensued that fall evening in Northeast Nebraska can only be called a, “high school classic,” an example of why fans congregate in anticipation on Friday nights around the state.
Call it ground thunder vs. air lightning. It was some spectacle!
Albion received the opening kickoff and immediately bolted 10 plays for the game’s first touchdown. Rosenbaum completed five passes on the drive to set up a short touchdown run by tough 175-pound senior Denny Austin, who was ably filling in for Foster. Kris Mortensen added the PAT kick for a 7-0 Cardinal lead.
Not long after, Lakeview star Doug Zoucha blocked an Albion punt at the eight-yard line and ran it in to the end zone. Dean Rupp’s PAT knotted the score.
With 1:21 remaining in the first quarter, Pillen completed a 67-yard pass, then ran 10 yards to give Lakeview its first lead (14-7 following the PAT). Albion struck back with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Rosenbaum to Bolin, but a two-point conversion try was stopped and the Cardinals trailed 14-13 at halftime.
“If you have the pride and desire to win this ball game, you can do it,” Albion Coach John Cookson quietly and firmly informed his trailing football team at halftime, the Albion News reported.
Albion players certainly had that pride and desire. Cardinal – and Viking – fans had little idea of the thrill-a-minute action ahead, however.
Albion again struck first, as Rosenbaum and Bolin hooked up for a 35-yard touchdown. Just a minute later, Lakeview capped a 65-yard drive with a Zoucha touchdown run and regained the edge, 21-19.
Back came the Cardinals. Bolin returned the kickoff to the Viking 47-yard line, and on the first play from scrimmage, Rosenbaum fired a scoring pass to Greg Werner. A successful two-point conversion gave the hosts a 27-21 lead.
Early in the fourth period, Zoucha burst four yards for another Viking TD, and Rupp’s PAT made it 28-27.
“But once again the Cardinal’s passing game took command, and Albion made the score 33-28 with a Rosenbaum to Bolin throw for six points,” wrote Don Hook of the Columbus Telegram. Albion’s two-point conversion attempt was foiled.
Lakeview bolted back behind Pillen and Zoucha, driving to the Cardinal 25 before losing its second fumble of the contest. “Albion resumed control with its passing team and added another six points, which put the cap on the game,” Hook reported.
After all that, the teams had combined for 1,211 total yards while scoring the 67 points. Albion totaled a staggering 712 yards, passing for 465 and rushing for 247. Lakeview countered with 366 yards on the ground and 499 total, but suffered the only two turnovers of the contest.
Rosenbaum had a career night, completing 19-of-30 passes for 465 yards and five touchdowns. Bolin was on the receiving end of 13 completions, gaining 329 yards and scoring three times. The duo was awarded “Player(s) of the Week” honors by the Omaha World-Herald for their sterling performances.
“It was a great offensive football game, with Albion’s passing offsetting Lakeview’s running. Both teams showed great power in their offense,” Cookson commented to the News. “Dave (Rosenbaum) had a fantastic night, completing 63 percent of his aerials. All the receivers performed magnificently, with Jeff Bolin doing the outstanding job with 13 receptions.
“The offensive line did an outstanding job blocking for the passer. Dennis Austin and Terry Clark deserve great credit for their backfield blocking.” Cookson also singled out Kim Smith, Bruce Karges and Mortensen for their jobs as receivers.
“Lakeview was very strong up front and had a big, strong capable backfield. During the second half, as the score shows, our defense did a good job of controlling them,” Cookson added.
Certainly a team victory, but one with individual highlights for the ages, as well.
Albion would compile a 6-3 record against a daunting schedule, winning the Central 10 West Division. The Cardinals bolted to a 28-6 lead over undefeated Seward in the conference championship game before the Bluejays rallied with 21 straight fourth-quarter points and a 29-28 victory.
That was Albion’s 1972 football season. A gritty, successful campaign, a heartbreaking conclusion – and a high school thriller certainly qualifying as one of the Most Memorable Cardinal Games ever!