MTV. Rock n’ Roll. Big Hair. Spandex.
Welcome to the 1980s! Let the good times roll!
As we continue the saga of Cardinal football, we’ll highlight the first half of a new decade featuring two very good seasons that were very close to being superlative.
The 1980 Albion Cardinals opened the decade with a 5-4 record, led by rugged senior halfback Roger Suelter – one of Albion/Boone Central’s best.
Suelter rushed for 1,240 yards and eight touchdowns and received All-State honors at the end of the season. He went on to a standout career at Kearney State College, receiving All-Conference and NAIA All-American awards, and experienced a training camp with the NFL’s Washington Redskins after signing a free agent contract in 1984.
Albion actually began 1980 with a 4-1 record, rattling off four straight wins after dropping a 6-3 decision to rival Aurora in the opener. The Cards’ finish was a tough one, however, losing games to G.I. Central Catholic (13-35), Schuyler (6-7) and G.I. Northwest (20-28) around a 14-7 win over Central City.
Suelter was joined by standout lineman and fellow Cardinal captain Kim “Hank” Nelson on the Central All-Conference team. Junior linebacker Kevin Schrad led the Card defense with 107 tackles and received Central West Division honors, along with Sever Paulson and Brian Fitzgerald.
The 1981 campaign might be one of the most underated Cardinal seasons ever. A quick glance at a 7-3 record might not impress greatly, but it was a milestone season that unfortunately ended in disappointment.
Anchored by a strong contingent of returning lettermen, Albion began the year with victories over Aurora (24-19) and St. Paul (35-6), then nipped a tough O’Neill outfit 20-14 in double overtime. Perhaps a bit mentally and physically fatigued from that donnybrook, Albion then dropped a 14-6 decision to Central Conference West rival Ord.
The Cardinals regrouped and ripped off wins over Adams Central (31-0), Lakeview (28-18), Central City (28-0) and Schuyler (21-12), setting up “the” game of the regular season vs. powerhouse G.I. Northwest.
Northwest stormed to a 20-0 lead with touchdowns on three of its first four possessions. The Cardinals fought back in the third period, pulling to within 20-14 before Northwest was able to grind out a 26-20 victory behind star runner Kirk Berggren (215 yards, 47 carries).
Despite the loss, however, Albion had earned the first NSAA state playoff berth in school history, facing Lincoln Pius X.
It was another slow start for Albion in Lincoln. Piux X took a 6-0 lead when quarterback Jeff Heng’s pass to tight end Les Sieker carried to the two-yard line and Micah Heibel bulled into the end zone from there. Postgame coverage in the Albion News by a certain young sportswriter named Flanagan included the following, “The big pass play from Heng to Sieker was doubly damaging to Albion, as leading tackler Kevin Schrad was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury by an apparent clip that wasn’t called. Albion also lost starting halfback Jay Bolin in the first half with a knee injury.” (No bias on the officiating, I’m sure!).
Pius X built its lead to 14-0 on the final play of the first half. The Thunderbolts intercepted an Albion pass with :01 remaining, and on the following play Heng heaved a pass to Jeff Magsamen. “Magsamen broke open when a Cardinal defensive back slipped on the wet field, corralled the ball inside the five-yard line and dove between two more Albion defenders for the touchdown.” Pius X added a two-point conversion.
The second half began no better for the Cardinals. Tim Matrisciano pinned the Bolts at their own one-yard line with a punt to end the initial possession of the third quarter, but Pius X marched 99 yards in 13 plays to go ahead 21-0.
Brett Lind finally provided a Card spark on the wet night, returning the ensuing kickoff 77 yards for Albion’s first touchdown. Kent Carder’s two-point conversion run made the score 21-8. Albion missed two subsequent opportunities after recovering Pius X fumbles, but finally struck again late in the contest after Scott Garder batted down a Bolt fourth-down pass at the Albion 10-yard line. The Cards relinquished possession on downs at the 15, but then recovered an errant Pius X pitch at their 27.
Albion quarterback Doug Morgan hooked up with Lind for a gain to the Piux 39 and, on third down, tight end Ken Glaser took a handoff and passed to Lind for the touchdown. Morgan hit Lind for a two-point conversion to pull the Cardinals within 21-16.
Unfortunately for Albion faithful, Piux X recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt and ran out the clock from there.
When I mentioned earlier that this season was more impressive than the final record might indicate, consider the following …
The Central Conference West Division included four teams ranked in Class B’s Top 10 that season, including #1 and eventual state champion Northwest. Albion’s only losses were to Northwest (#1), Pius X (#3) and Ord (#9), and the Cardinals were the only team to defeat #2 Aurora prior to the state playoff final. After holding off Albion 26-20 in the regular season finale, Northwest stormed through the playoffs with victories over Kimball (36-13), Pius X (41-0) and Aurora (55-0).
Those details make Albion’s 7-3 mark and final #8 ranking shine quite a bit brighter.
The slick Morgan might have been considered Albion’s version of Husker star Turner Gill, adroitly operating the Cardinals’ split-back veer option with nifty running and a deft passing touch. Carder led Albion with 618 rushing yards and 11 TDs, and Lind was the top receiving threat (22 rec., 526 yds, 8 TDs). Schrad (113) was again a tackling machine in the heart of the defense, joined by Glaser (98 tackles), Matrisciano (88) and budding sophomore lineman Todd Suey (79).
Schrad, Morgan and Lind were All-Conference selections for a very successful, and probably underated, Albion football team.
Albion returned just eight lettermen in 1982, and the inexperience and youth played a major factor in the Cards’ final 3-6 record.
Greg Gustafson passed for a pair of touchdowns to spark a 14-6 victory over Lakeview in the opener and Albion improved to 2-0 with a 20-6 win over St. Paul, setting up a week three battle with O’Neill.
The Cardinals and Eagles had developed quite a “mini-rivalry” in the late 70s and early 80s. Albion nipped O’Neill 20-13 in overtime in 1980, then needed two OTs to defeat the Eagles 20-14 in ‘81. The Cardinals bolted to a 13-0 lead in 1982 before O’Neill forged a rally and Mike Hedlund’s two touchdowns keyed a 20-13 victory.
On top of inexperience, injuries began to chip away at the Albion squad. Glaser was lost with a broken arm in a 35-7 loss to Schuyler, Suey had gone down previously with a knee injury, and defensive lineman Scott Breon would later break his foot.
The Cardinals improved to 3-2 with a 22-14 overtime victory over Hartington Cedar Catholic, but then finished the campaign on a ‘death march’ against Northwest (0-27), Aurora (6-28), Ord (0-38) and Central City (12-27). Glaser would return to the field after missing four weeks, but Gustafson (broken thumb) and lineman Kelly Iverson (broken jaw) were knocked out, along with linebacker Dan Olson (walking pneumonia).
While 1982 was a tough, disappointing campaign, Albion was able to build off of it over the following seasons.
Twenty lettermen returned in 1983 and Albion came out of the gates with a 5-0 record, entering Class B Top 10 discussion. The Cardinals blasted Lakeview 60-0 with three scoring plays of more than 60 yards and seven touchdowns covering over 25 yards. David Krohn began his junior season with a punt return touchdown of 65 yards, another 41-yard punt return, and TD runs of 33 and five yards.
Albion’s offense was sluggish the following week, and the Cards trailed St. Paul 6-0 through three quarters. Albion finally came to life in the final stanza, Gustafson throwing a touchdown pass to Tim Krohn and David Krohn adding scoring runs of 56 and 10 yards. Led by center Shannon Sullivan and tackles Todd Suey and Dan Zoucha, Albion totaled 371 yards and six TDs in a 42-20 win over O’Neill, David Krohn scoring four times and gaining 126 yards. The Cardinals followed with a 19-6 victory over Schuyler and were ranked #5 by the Lincoln Star and #7 in the Omaha World-Herald.
Albion stormed to a 20-0 lead over Adams Central the following week before holding off a Patriots’ rally. Kelly McClintic threw an 80-yard TD pass and Adams Central scored again after recovering an onside kick, but Albion pounced on another onside effort and ran out the clock.
Then followed the almost annual Central Conference West Division ‘battle royale,’ as #5 Albion faced Class B #2 Northwest, #10 Aurora and #6 Ord in consecutive weeks.
The Northwest contest was a slugfest. Zoucha blocked a Northwest punt, Albion recovering at the Viking five-yard line, and Gustafson scrambled for the touchdown to give the Cards an early 7-0 lead. Late in the first half, Northwest pounced on a Cardinal fumble at the Albion seven following a bad punt snap and tied the game, 7-7. The second half was a defensive stalemate, and when the teams went to overtime, the Vikings intercepted a Gustafson aerial on the opening play. Three plays later, Chris Eberhardt drilled a 27-yard field goal for the win.
Albion’s offense continued to stall in hard-fought losses to Aurora (14-0) and Ord (19-6) before taking out the Cardinals’ frustrations in a closing 50-0 victory over Central City.
A solid 6-3 season, with line pillars Suey and Zoucha earning All-Conference and AP All-State honors.
Albion coaches, players and fans were optimistic about the 1984 season, which in many ways, might be compared to 1981. An excellent season, with important contributions, and oh-so-close to being oh-so-much-more.
The ‘84 season was Albion’s first in Class C1 and prep raters, respecting the school’s history as a consistent contender in Class B’s toughest conference, ranked the Cardinals #3 (OWH) and #7 (LJS) in preseason.
“We don’t have a lot of depth,” Coach Ron Laux told the Albion News. “But we have some very fine players and some people with experience.”
With Doug Evans rushing for 131 yards and Krohn adding 121 and three touchdowns, Albion opened with a 32-13 victory over Lakeview, then blasted Hartington Cedar Catholic 40-6, scoring three third-period touchdowns after leading 14-6 at halftime. Krohn added 183 yards and three scores and linebacker Bill Michael led the swarming defense with 16 tackles.
With Evans injured, O’Neill keyed on stopping Krohn in week three. No problem for the Cards, as junior Sam Wood burst for 192 yards and two touchdowns. Krohn still got 94 yards and scored twice as Albion won 38-23.
Albion moved to #1 in both Class C1 Top 10s and may have entered the Schuyler contest a bit distracted. The game was tied 7-7 through three quarters before the Cards got a key stuff by Michael on a fourth-and-one play at the Albion 15-yard line. Quarterback Kelly Nelson concluded an 85-yard drive with a 38-yard TD pass to Jay Borer, and Albion took control from there.
The Cardinal defense took full control the following week, holding Adams Central to 33 total yards in a 23-0 victory that boosted Albion to 5-0 and set up another showdown with Northwest. Class B #1 vs. Class C1 #1.
The Albion News headline would read “Stuhr-dy Albion defense holds Vikes to lone field goal” the following week. Unfortunately, those were the only points scored on a rainy, windy night. Northwest Coach Dick Anderson lauded 270-pound Albion senior noseguard Randy Stuhr as, “the strongest player we’ve faced to this point.”
The defense could not hold up the following week, as unbeaten Aurora topped Albion 21-7 behind Kirk Reichardt’s 189 yards.
With the season and playoff qualification teetering on edge the Cardinals regrouped and defeated Ord (27-6) and Central City (36-14) to earn Albion’s second NSAA postseason berth.
Albion had been without All-State candidate David Krohn in the second half of the season, and despite terrific efforts and performances by Evans and Wood, his contributions would be missed in the playoffs.
Albion was still ranked #1 in both state newspapers, and seeded #2 in C1 behind Wisner-Pilger. The Cardinals drew an opening-round assignment against Bridgeport and prevailed 28-0 despite losing three fumbles and an interception. “We’re kind of rookies at this (the playoffs). The kids were nervous and it showed,” Laux commented after the game.
Still, the first playoff win in Cardinal football history!
That set up the beginning of what has become an enduring and intense rivalry for Albion and Boone Central against current Mid-State Conference foe Norfolk Catholic in the second round.
Unfortunately, despite a strong physical effort, Albion was still a bit unsteady, committing seven turnovers (4 fumbles, 3 int.) and missing a PAT kick in an excruciating 14-13 loss to the Knights. The Cardinals outrushed Catholic 196-24, but simply could not take advantage due to the miscues.
Albion did open scoring, taking the opening kickoff and blasting 63 yards, with Wood covering the final 34. John Taylor’s PAT made it 7-0. Catholic tied the contest, then went ahead with 1:29 remaining in the first half. At the end of a 53-yard drive, Catholic’s Ted McCarthy fumbled inside the Albion five, but teammate Steve Denn recovered in the end zone. The PAT put the Knights up 14-7.
The first half fireworks weren’t quite over, however. Albion began from its own 39 and Wood raced 27 yards. On third down, Wood lofted a halfback pass and Borer made a, “fantastic, juggling catch while battling a Knight defender just inside the end zone.” A bad snap threw off the timing of the PAT attempt and foiled the tie, as Taylor’s kick sailed wide right.
The second half was about missed opportunities. Terry Fisher and Borer intercepted Catholic passes, but Albion could not threaten. Fisher then pinned the Knights at their seven-yard line with a punt and, on second down, Breon burst through the line and nailed McCarthy, seemingly in the end zone. Officials ruled, however, that despite the runner’s legs being behind the end line, the ball was at the half-yard line.
The teams traded interceptions, and Albion’s Evans was halted two inches shy of a first down at the Catholic 30 on a fourth-and-four play. Albion again came up short on a fourth-down attempt with 3:59 to play, then suffered its third interception after forcing the Knights to punt.
The Cardinals had one final chance, taking possession with 1:00 to play. Nelson connected with John Bell to the 40-yard line, but the Albion receiver lost a final fumble after a hard hit by the Catholic secondary.
There have been many more spirited gridiron battles between the two schools, with each enjoying tremendous successes and agonizing disappointments. This one definitely left a bitter taste.
Norfolk Catholic advanced to the C1 championship game, where the Knights were defeated 26-0 by North Platte St. Patrick’s (coached by Albion grad Mark Skillstad).
Seven Cardinals – Michael, Sullivan, Stuhr, Borer, Evans, Scott Pochop, Andy Falk – were awarded Central Conference West Division honors following the campaign. Michael and Stuhr were both All-State 1st Team selections.
The ‘84 season boosted Laux’s Cardinal coaching record to 68-59-3 heading into the second half of the decade. There would be changes and transition ahead, as Albion joined new conferences and developed new rivalries in Class C1.
One thing would remain the same, however. The excitement of Cardinal football – and the devotion of Albion fans to the sport and their Friday night heroes.