On November 25, 1955, the Norsemen stunned Western Illinois State 24-20, capturing the Corn Bowl Championship. The victory also marked a string of 20 consecutive games without a loss dating back to a 13-6 victory over Central College in the final game of the 1953 season. That game was followed by undefeated records in 1954 (9-0) and 1955 (9-0-1).
Luther was extended an invitation to play in the third annual Corn Bowl by Western Illinois who hosted the game. The first two years were played at Illinois State, but due to funding, decided not to host the game in 1955. Western was the defending Corn Bowl champions and was looking to play a solid football team, but was also looking for a squad that would probably bring an easy victory for the Leathernecks. Little did they know the heart and desire of Head Coach Edsel Schweizer’s undersized Norsemen.
Before the Norsemen could make the trip to Macomb, Ill., the Luther faculty had to give its approval. Many factors were discussed during a specially called faculty meeting, including playing on Thanksgiving Day and safety issues for the Luther players who would be playing a much bigger and physical team. The faculty vote was cast vocally, with the yes votes securing the majority, thus setting up the match-up between the Leathernecks and the Norsemen.
The following account of the game was published by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald on November 26, 1955 and was written by staff writer Bob Beasley.
MACOMB, Ill. – Luther College, sparked by the brilliant play of backs Jack Schultz and Dick Rundle and a great effort of a stubborn defensive line, upset Western Illinois State, 24 to 20, in the annual Corn Bowl game here Thursday morning.
A small crowd of 3,000 fans watched a desperation rally by Western in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter produce two touchdowns and a third that was called back for backfield motion.
The game ended with Western on the Luther 17 and threatening to score again.
Trailing 24 to 7 with only 10 minutes left in the game, Don Lashmet slipped lose for a 49-yard touchdown run. Minutes later Frank Esposito passed to Lashmet again from the 32 for a second quick score.
Western obtained possession of the ball again with only 2:10 remaining and ran without the use of huddles whenever the clock was not stopped.
Esposito’s first pass was nearly intercepted but his second hit Lashmet for a first down on the 30. Then he fired to Jack Whitehouse who carried to the 10.
With only 10 seconds remaining, Esposito’s toss was taken in the end zone by Lashmet but the officials ruled the backfield was in motion. It gave Western one last try and the throw was too far.
The victory, No. 20 in the Norsemen’s current undefeated string, was hailed as one of the greatest in Luther’s illustrious football history.
Coach Ed Schweizer paid tribute to his team after the game with the following statement: “This is the greatest game Luther has played since I have been here. They (Western Illinois) are one of the best in the country.”
Rundle, who was voted the most valuable player by the sports writers, provided the clinching margin with a difficult, 16-yard field goal.
Luther was leading 21 to 7, at that time in the fourth quarter and had marched all the way to the Leatherneck’s 10 before running out of steam. It was on fourth down that Rundle sent the kick through the uprights.
Don Nesheim, Luther’s dependable halfback, scored two of the Norsemen’s touchdowns while Dick Rundle carried the other one over for himself.
Luther drew first blood when Nesheim carried over from the nine with 6:30 gone in the first period. Rundle ran the extra point into the end zone.
Western tied the game up in the second period after Frank Esposito’s screen pass to Dan Lashmet moved the ball from midfield to the 10. From there, it was only a matter of time before Ron Little punched the ball into the end zone.
But Luther didn’t call it quits there. The Norsemen marched right back, thanks to a series of roughness penalties on Western, and drove to the Leathernecks nine.
Then, with fourth down showing, Rundle passed to Nesheim on a screen play and the halfback went over for the score. He was cleared of tacklers by a tremendous block from
Bruce Hartman on the play.
Rundle kicked the extra point and Luther took a 14-7 lead out to the half.
The Norsemen sent Western reeling with a fast start in the third period. Luther picked up another touchdown on Rundle’s 10-yard run around end on the option play. The powerful quarterback literally ran over two would-be tacklers on his way into the end zone.
Early in the fourth quarter, Luther marched back for its field goal.
Schultz won top honors in rushing for the day with 90 yard in 25 attempts. Nesheim carried 15 times for 61 yards and Rundle picked up 19 in nine carries.
Lashmet of Western had the top average, however, with 84 yards in only 12 carries.
The play of the Luther line was exceptional. Although outweighed by the veteran Western forwards, the Norsemen checked the Leathernecks running attack and forced Western to go by air.
Frank Esposito handled the Western quarterbacking in the absence of regular Bill VanderMerkt, the nations leading small college passer in 1954. He was injured a week ago in a game and sat out the entire contest.
Western was the defending Corn Bowl champion and it marked the first time an Iowa football team has won that bowl game.
Following its second consecutive undefeated season, post season honors were presented to a number of Norsemen. Jack Schultz was named first team fullback on the Williamson Syndicate Little All-American team, and Don Nesheim received honorable mention. Bruce Hartman, Dick Rundle and Schultz were first team all-Iowa Conference selections, while Mel Lucht and Paul Duckstad were named to the second team. Senior guard Denny Mair was selected to play in the Christian Bowl game, played December 26, 1955.