By Steve Sinclair
Omaha World-Herald

Lincoln — The finale to Nebraska’s 1981 spring football practice Saturday offered a mix of entertainment in the form of daring coaching tactics, the explosive and record-breaking running of Roger Craig and, just 24 seconds before the final gun, a touchdown and two-point conversion that left the Whites a 22-21 winner over the Reds.

Quarterback Turner Gill scored on an 11-yard run and added the two-point conversion to climax a desperation drive for the victory. The Whites moved for their touchdown in just over a minute after gaining possession at their own 46 with 1:30 to play. Craig, a junior from Davenport, Iowa, gave the Memorial Stadium turnout of 25,431 a fine sampling of his running skills with a spring game record of 126 yards on just 11 carries. The performance wiped out the previous record of 113 yards by Ben Gregory in 1967.

The crowd was also a spring game mark, according to NU officials.

Craig’s showcase run was a 61-yard sweep for a touchdown that gave the Reds a 14-0 lead near the end of the first quarter. He also had the Reds’ first touchdown on a 2-yard run.

On the less than entertaining side for Coach Tom Osborne was watching the two teams combine for a total 13 fumbles and five pass interceptions. Six of the fumbles were lost, five to them by the Reds. The Whites threw three of the interceptions.

“The execution was not good,” Osborne said. “We had too many turnovers and interceptions, probably more than we’ve had in any scrimmage this spring. I was displeased with that.”

The Whites, the team formed with the second and third units, ended a two-game losing streak in spring games with their last-minute heroics. The Reds consisted of players from the No. 1 and No. 4 units.

“A lot of people will be surprised that the Whites won, but the last seven or eight minutes there we had the third unit going against the fourth so they had a little bit of an edge in that period.

“But the first units had some chances earlier that they didn’t capitalize on. They didn’t score and that put them in a position where they were vulnerable to lose the ball game.”

John Melton, one of the Whites coaches, wasn’t in the group of the people surprised by the outcome. He flatly predicted a win by the Whites.

“It just took us a little longer than I thought it would,” Melton said.

Melton was one of the coaches responsible for some surprise calls in the game. He ordered an on-side kick on the opening kickoff that failed and another that also

didn’t work after the Whites scored their first touchdown just before half. Dave Burke produced the score on a 1-yard run with 42 seconds left.

“We let each team put in one trick play or so,” said Osborne. “There were sometimes when we went for it on fourth down or used on-side kicks when we probably wouldn’t do it in a ballgame. We let everybody have a hand in making some of the calls. We did do some unusual things.”

The first on-side kick was a ploy to take some of the edge the Reds had in opening the game with the first units on the field. “We thought we needed a little psychological edge early,” said Melton.

The early move may have backfired as the Reds marched to Craig’s touchdown the first time they had the ball, but the final piece of strategy used by the White coaches worked to perfection in producing the winning points.

Bruce Mathison was the quarterback for the Whites when they began their final drive at their own 46 with 1:34 left in the game. The good field position resulted when Kevin Seibel, the Reds’ punter, fielded a low snap and was forced to run. He gained 11 yards but was short of a first down.

After backtracking to the 31 on a penalty for an illegal receiver down field, the Whites began their march with a 19-yard gift on a pass interference call.

Mathison had scrambling runs of 11, 11 and 17 yards. The last two carries came with the Whites facing third-and-10 and the 17-yarder advanced the ball to the Reds’ 11.

At that point, Gill replaced Mathison and swept the end for an 11-yard touchdown with 24 seconds remaining. Gill also kept on the winning conversion run, stepping through the middle of the Reds’ defense standing up.

“Taking Bruce out was a smart move,” said Charlie McBride, one of the assistant coaches for the Whites. “He had been running all over the field out there and was a little tired. Turner has good speed and we knew he had a good chance of getting around the corner.”

Mathison, a junior, was satisfied with his day’s work. “I threw an interception in the end zone. That is a no-no. But otherwise, I thought things went fairly well.”

All four quarterbacks had some difficulty passing on the hot and windy day. The temperature was 85 at game time and the wind was 25 mph.

Only 21 of the 60 passes attempted in the game were completed. Senior Mark Mauer, the starter for the Reds, had the best day as he connected on eight of 16 for 91 yards.

Gill was 6 of 16 for 82 yards and had two intercepted. Mathison, the second-leading rusher in the game with 100 yards on 11 carries, threw for 88 yards. He was five of 18 in passing for 82 yards and had two intercepted. Craig Sundberg, who directed the fourth unit for the Reds, was 2 of 10 for 27 yards and had two intercepted.

“It was a little bit of a hard day to throw the ball in fairness to the quarterbacks,” Osborne said. “In throwing the ball deep, the ball was spraying around a little bit because of the wind.”

The trick play used by the Whites was a guard-around that sophomore Anthony Thomas turned into a 17-yard gain in the second quarter.

Craig was within 15 yards of Gregory’s spring rushing record with 90 yards in the first quarter alone. He had five carries for 33 yards as the Reds marched 63 yards in nine plays for a touchdown on their first possession.

The Reds made it 14-0 on their third possession, with Craig contributing a 4-yard run and his 61-yarder to the drive. Craig went past Gregory’s record with a 16-yard gain in the second quarter, but was back under the record when he lost 5 yards on the next play.

He secured the record for certain with an 8-yard gain on his first carry of the second half.

McBride, the Husker defensive line coach, said he is glad his players won’t have to defend against Craig in the fall. “If Roger would have played against the Whites with any regularity, it might have been a different story (outcome) altogether. The one thing you don’t want to do in a game like this is to take a chance on getting a good back like Roger hurt.”

The Whites took advantage of a fumble recovery to tie the game in the third quarter. The break came when a pitchout by Mauer went astray because Craig ran the wrong direction on the play. Allen Lyday recovered the fumble at the Reds’ 34.

The Reds went back on top 21-14 with Mark Moravec’s 15-yard touchdown run with 1:24 left in the third quarter.

Osborne said on pleasing aspect of the game was the improved play by the defensive secondary.

“I was really pleased with that,” he said. “They broke on the ball well and made some big plays on the options.”