The year 1969. It was a very good year for the Cardinal football program.
Albion was fresh off a strong 7-2 season in 1968 and optimism in the Cardinal camp was high, with 10 starters and an outstanding group of seniors returning for accomplished Coach Martin Petersen.
Those 15 seniors – Randy Dodds, Bill Karges, John Brengelman, Alan Iverson, Doug Haave, Ron Levander, Jerry Tisthammer, Kerry Philmalee, John Riley, Chris Nelson, Tom Borer, Charles Krohn, Tom Niedhardt, Brad Beckwith, Paul Kettelson and Jim Kiesling – were experienced and talented, forming the nucleus for Albion’s best team since the undefeated 1965 Cardinals.
Albion entered the season with the ability, and every intention, to post another unbeaten season.
The Cardinals began to gain state notice by opening the season with dominant wins over Hartington Cedar Catholic (40-0), Centennial (24-8), Ord (54-0) and Neligh (56-14). A 32-0 whitewash of David City then set the stage for a battle of unbeatens – Albion vs. Central 10 West Division rival Central City – at the Albion athletic field.
It was certainly the biggest game of the season to that point, and might have been considered the biggest hurdle the Cardinals would face in their quest of a perfect record. After all, the Bison had scored a late touchdown to hand Albion a 26-19 loss in 1968, halting a season-opening five-game win streak.
Petersen told the Albion News that Central City would “unquestionably be the strongest team faced by Albion this year.”
The veteran coach added, however, “I think my kids want this game badly enough to go out and do the job.”
The Bison were led by standout Steve Zikmund, “a versatile 185-pound senior who runs out of all slots.” Central City also had a dangerous air attack, with quarterback Dale Abel and 210-pound tight end Dean Gissler.
There was worry through the week in the Card camp that halfback Ron Levander would be unavailable due to injury. Fortunately, Levander strapped it up Friday, October 17, and was again a huge part of Albion’s success.
The News reported that Petersen and his assistants formulated a defensive plan to stymie Zikmund and the Bison. The Cardinals keyed ‘monster man’ Tom Borer on Zikmund and used a man-to-man pass defense. Albion also stacked a linebacker and tackle over Central City’s tackle to help stuff the run game.
Levander, defense, it all worked in an exciting and memorable 30-18 Cardinal victory that many around the area and state termed an upset.
The News reported, “Albion drew first blood, taking the opening kickoff and marching 64 yards for a TD in three and one-half minutes. Levander legged it the last 13 yards after taking a pitchout. The conversion try failed.”
And it was on.
Albion would never trail in the contest, but the Cards could not completely shake the tough, determined Bison for the majority of the contest.
Central City bounced right back with its own touchdown drive, highlighted by a 41-yard pass completion and capped by Zikmund’s one-yard run. The Bison also failed on the conversion.
Tom Borer culminated a 66-yard touchdown drive on the ensuing possession with a three-yard dive into the end zone. Chris Nelson connected with Brad Beckwith for the conversion and a 14-6 Card lead.
Back came the Bison, driving 63 yards in 15 plays and scoring on Scot Butcher’s short TD run. Albion denied the PAT and held on to a 14-12 advantage at halftime. The third period was a stalemate until late, when Albion fashioned a 55-yard touchdown drive finished by Nelson rolling around end from the six-yard line. Levander bolted up the middle for the conversion and the Cardinals had breathing room, 22-12.
Central City did not fold. The Bison took the kickoff and mounted a 77-yard march that carried well into the fourth period. Zikmund scored from the three, but the Central conversion was again foiled and Albion still held a 22-18 advantage.
There would be no Central City comeback in 1969. The Cardinals intercepted an Abel aerial late in the contest at the Albion 32-yard line and Nelson raced 11 yards for his second touchdown to complete a 68-yard scoring drive. Levander’s PAT run made the final 12-point margin.
Levander proved to be plenty healthy, leading all rushers with 146 yards, while Petersen’s defensive scheme worked to perfection. The Cardinals outrushed Central City 336-119 and controlled much of the game clock with a 20-11 advantage in first downs.
Albion moved up to #4 in the Omaha World-Herald Class B Top 10 after the win and appeared poised to complete their goal of an undefeated season. The Cardinals rolled over Schuyler 40-8 and blasted St. Paul 42-6, leaving only the season finale against another Central 10 West Division rival, Aurora.
Alas, the Class B #8 Huskies, whose only losses in a 6-2 start were to #1 Cozad and #3 York, knocked off the Cardinals 7-0 in a defensive donnybrook.
One win short of perfection, but still a tremendous season by a team that is definitely in the conversation when discussing the best in Cardinal history.
The game October 17 in Albion? A memorable victory over a tough rival – quite possibly the crown jewel of a royal 1969 season.