When it comes to earth-shaking upsets in Nebraska high school football, a game played 56 years ago still registers the strongest.
Ask Don Ellerbee of Lincoln, who was the starting left halfback for Hastings when it was undefeated and ranked No. 2 statewide entering the 1956 Big 10 Conference playoff game against 4-4-1 McCook, a team that the Tigers had written off as inferior.
McCook won 3-0.
“It was a devastating loss and still hurts to this day,” Ellerbee wrote. “On paper the teams were not even close. One thing we didn't pay enough attention to was the fact that they also had upset Kearney for the East Big 10 title, which was Kearney's only loss.
“Well, we thought all we had to do was show up. You know the rest of the story.”
McCook's Walt McGuire made a field goal from the 15-yard line in the first quarter for the only score of the game. The visiting Bison made a goal-line stand at the end of the first half.
McGuire years later told The World-Herald that his kicking disc was left behind in McCook and tape was wound around a piece of sponge rubber for a replacement.
“I didn't know if it would work,” he said. “I'd never tried a field goal before.”
Earlier this season, I requested help in compiling the following list of memorable upsets in football. York's 28-9 win over Scottsbluff, a No. 16 seed in the Class B playoffs beating No. 1, was the seed for the idea.
Jeff Buss, also from Lincoln, writes, “While I can appreciate a No. 16 seed upending a No. 1 seed as an upset, I don't know it qualifies as a 'biggest upset' in my book. After all, both teams qualified for the playoffs, so both are reasonably good.
“Therefore, 'biggest upset' has to be a pretty mediocre or even awful team defeating a top-ranked and/or undefeated team. By my definition, you'd never see the 'biggest upset' coming from any kind of playoff or championship game.”
This list isn't that rigid, as some other postseason upsets merit inclusion. Also used in this compilation, besides personal recollections and reader input, were the newspaper's archives and research by the late prep historian Jerry Mathers.
After McCook-Hastings, the list (in order of descending shock value):
1987: Omaha Benson 27, Omaha Central 26. The Bunnies had lost 15 games in a row while No. 2 Central had strung nine wins together. Troy Travis, whose 4-yard run with five minutes left was for the game-winning touchdown, threw for a school-record 323 yards and tight end Jeff Jennings scored on catches of 36, 39 and 54 yards.
1980: Hastings 15, Grand Island 14. The Tigers, who never had scored more than one touchdown in any game of an 0-7 start, beat a 6-1 Islander squad ranked in the Top 10.
2007: Papillion-La Vista South 44, Central 21. The once-beaten Eagles were third in the Top 10 before Anthony Dunn threw four touchdown passes to give the Titans their first winning season. Central recovered to win its first state title since 1984.
1976: Lincoln Northeast 20, Ralston 12. The Rams, 8-0 and ranked No. 1 with all-state quarterback Steve Michaelson, were playing a Rocket team that was 3-5. Two touchdown passes by Doug Berka gave the Rockets a 20-6 halftime lead. The loss kept Ralston from the playoffs. Lincoln Southeast (8-1) was state playoff champion but The World-Herald's Larry Porter kept Ralston as the ratings champion. Porter's choice landed him with a pie in the face at Southeast's football banquet.
1991 playoffs: Lincoln Southeast 7, Grand Island 0. Less than a month after losing to the No. 1 Islanders 33-7 to fall to 4-3, the No. 7 Knights began their run to a state championship. The shutout loss ended the storied high school coaching career of Grand Island's Ken Fischer. Southeast then beat No. 4 Omaha Westside and undefeated No. 2 Omaha Creighton Prep for the title.
1966: Omaha Westside 46, Omaha Tech 6. This one, the subject of a Sunday World-Herald cover story last month, makes it in because of the shocking score. Tech was No. 1 but gave up four touchdowns to Westside running back Guy Ingles. The Warriors went on to win the Metro playoff, finish 9-1 and capture the state ratings title.
1945: Gothenburg 27, Prep 21. “Oh, Mr. McBride! What are you gonna do now?” The World-Herald's Gregg McBride had arranged an end-of-the-season game between No. 1 Prep and the Swedes, whom he had moved into a tie for 10th prior to the game. Gothenburg's Jim Holmes outdueled Prep's Don Leahy, throwing the winning touchdown pass to Jim Cunning in the final two minutes and holding on as time ran out. The win elevated the Swedes to a share of the state title.
1920 title game: Cambridge 10, Omaha Commerce 0. The Omaha school, which became Tech High, took an 8-0-1 record to the southwestern town for a Thanksgiving Day game that drew 4,000 people. The win gave Cambridge (7-0) the official state title.
1998 playoffs: Lincoln Pius X 25, Elkhorn 8. Pius had been Class B state champions in 1995 and '97. Elkhorn took the '96 title after beating the Thunderbolts in the semifinals, then Pius returned the favor the next season. Top 10 No. 8 Elkhorn had beaten its first 11 foes by an average of 48 points while Pius was 7-2. The Thunderbolts led 25-2 at the half and held the Antlers to 155 yards. Pius regained the state title.
2012 playoffs: York 28, Scottsbluff 9. The host Bearcats were 9-0 and ranked second in Class B, but never led against the Dukes, who were the last team in the playoffs with a 5-4 record.
1931: Lincoln Cathedral 6, Prep 0: Cathedral was winless before beating a Junior Jay team that won its first six before a 7-6 loss to Omaha North.
1978: Tekamah 16, Lyons 6. Tekamah was only 3-5 prior to winning its season finale against the Class C-2 No. 1 Lions, costing them an undefeated season and a playoff berth. Many of the Lyons players went on to their fabled state-championship season in Class C basketball.
1996: Falls City 12, Auburn 6. In the regular-season finale, Auburn was 6-0 with future Husker Chris Kelsay and ranked fourth in Class C-1 when it visited the 3-3 Tigers. Falls City broke a 6-6 halftime tie by opening the second half with a 21-play drive, converting two third downs and two fourth downs.
>> Coming Friday: Final 2012 ratings
Contact the writer:
402-444-1041, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/stuOWH