Legendary Game Series
Sep. 14, 1951: Reitz vs. Louisville Flaget
by Mike Whicker
The Evansville Press, in its preseason football prognostications in 1951, would declare:
“REITZ TO FIELD ITS GREENEST FOOTBALL SQUAD SINCE 1944.”
“The Evansville and Southern Indiana football teams that have been hankering for so many years to beat Reitz had better do it now.
For once Reitz isn’t loaded.
This year’s team, which Coach Herman Byers will first send into action Friday at Vincennes, will be the school’s greenest since 1944, its last poor season. The opener is at 7:30pm (cdt), and the Reitz athletic office has tickets.”
Sportswriter Larry Middlemas went on to mention that the Panthers had only 5 returning lettermen and 14 seniors, a few of which, according to the coach, “might not last out the season.”
Middlemas’s forecast of a down year for Reitz would prove accurate as the ’51 Panthers lost that first game to Vincennes 12-14 and would go on to finish the season with a very un-Reitz like 2 wins, 5 losses and a tie — Herman Byers’ worst record ever on the Hill.
But the second game of the season would long be talked about, not just because the young Panther squad would battle back to effect a tie against a highly favored opponent, but also because this day would see what might be the most bizarre ending to a game ever played on the Hill.
The flashy Louisville Flaget Braves entered the game undefeated and highly ranked in Kentucky. Flaget’s quarterback Paul Hornung (yes, that Paul Hornung) was the top quarterback in the country according to most college scouts. End Howard Schnellenberger (yes, that Howard Schnellenberger) was another big gun for the Braves. Featuring speed and talent, Flaget was expected to hand Byers’ inexperienced gridders a lesson they soon wouldn’t forget.
Flaget came out with all pistons firing. Shooting their speed ball backs from a split T, the flamboyant Kentuckians awed the crowd with dazzling ball handling and a pin point passing attack. It looked early like Reitz would be in for a long day. However, despite the fact the visitors dominated statistics, the first half saw the youthful, but gritty, Panther defense stiffen when it had to. Flaget took only a 7-0 lead into intermission.
The second half saw Flaget come out hard again. The Braves Sherrill Sipes fielded the Panther kickoff at his own 10 yard line, raced into the clear at the 40 and finished the run in the Reitz endzone for a 90-yard kick return. Hornung, however, missed the kick and the Braves lead 13-0. The missed kick would prove momentous.
Suddenly the Reitz offense started to click and momentum, always a fickle mistress, seemed to sway. A flea flicker from George Brunson to Don Thomas to Dick Georgette picked up 17 yards and broke the ice for Reitz’s offense. On the next play Brunson heaved a high pass downfield to Jim Aurs who snagged it on the Braves 28 and galloped toward paydirt, ending the play by dragging a tackler over the goal line with him.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, the Panthers Bob Bromm recovered a fumbled Flaget handoff at midfield. Byers’ boys saw their chance and they were determined to take advantage. Brunson passed six yards to Georgette before running the ball around end for another eight. Georgette then hauled in another Brunson pass and roared down the sideline before being bumped out at the 10.
Flaget was penalized five yards for offside. Brunson first banged for one tough yard and then crashed for four more and the score. Don Wade made sure the tying kick was good.
The remainder of the 4th quarter was a seesaw battle between the teams until just over a minute remained when Flaget, who had worked the ball down deep into Panther territory, scored what looked like the game clinching TD. But an offside brought the ball back and Reitz ended up taking over.
Backed up against their own goal line, the Panthers could not move the ball. Only seconds remained in the game and it was 4th down. Reitz had no choice but to try and punt the ball out of peril.
This set the scenario for one of the wildest endings ever witnessed by Reitz fans, 4000 of whom were there that day.
Punter Tom David, standing in his own endzone, fumbled the ball! Knowing a safety would give Flaget an immediate win, he managed to maneuver the ball out of the endzone, getting tackled just within the field of play. David, who was a two-year letter winner and a solid player for his beloved school, was wearing an oversized pair of goat horn’s.
The Flaget sideline was jubilant. They had the ball on the Reitz one foot line. Hornung and his teammates rushed to line up for one last shot at the Reitz endzone as the clocked ticked away.
The ball was snapped. Hornung tried to squeeze the ball over on a quarterback sneak, but met a solid wall of Reitz resistance. Hornung fumbled the ball!
To this day, many of those who were there swear time paused for just a moment. There was the ball, lying on the ground, both teams frozen and the crowd even seemed to go still. Then a savage fight for the ball. Flaget players seemed to get there first. Could they get a quick timeout and have one more go? But when the dust had cleared and the pile unstacked, one lone Panther had fought through and wrestled the ball away. Who was the Reitz hero? Tom David, the Reitz punter who had fumbled the ball away just a few moments earlier, lifted the ball skyward as the gun sounded.
Paul Hornung would go on to win the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame and be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Howard Schnellenberger would later be a head coach in the NFL and win a college National Championship as the head coach of the Miami Hurricanes.
But on this day they were just two more of the many opponents that have left Reitz Bowl without a win.