October 29, 2022 | Last updated Jun 2, 2023

Timeline Tuesday: Cambridge vs. Omaha Tech for State Football Title, 1924

Welcome to our weekly series, “Timeline Tuesday.” Every Tuesday, we’ll post a brief Nebraska history story. The late NSHS historian and Nebraska History Associate Editor Jim Potter authored these columns, which are also printed in newspapers around the state. Cornhusker football kicks off this weekend, so we thought a football-related post was appropriate.

The Crawford football team in 1920, four years before losing to Cambridge for the western Nebraska championship. NSHS RG1517.PH86-5

 

While it seems unusual today, large and small Nebraska high schools often competed against one another for “state championships” in the early years of high school athletics. The system of classifying high schools according to the number of students had not been implemented. Championship games, such as the one played between the football teams from Cambridge and Omaha Technical high schools in 1924 pitted the best western Nebraska team against the best team from the east, as determined by their records. The same two teams had played in the title game in 1920, which was won by Cambridge, 10-0, before 4,000 fans at Cambridge. In 1924 Cambridge, coached by Superintendent C. E. Claar, was again declared football champion of western Nebraska, piling up 481 points to its opponents’ 28. Its toughest game was a 14 to 3 victory over Crawford. Omaha Tech, whose coach was Jim Drummond, became eastern Nebraska champion with a 14 to 9 defeat of Omaha Central. According to the Lincoln Nebraska State Journal of Nov. 26, 1924, “This year, as a result of Tech’s cleanup of eastern Nebraska and Cambridge’s undisputed supremacy in the western part of the state, the two teams found themselves arrayed again as claimants for the championship.” Because the 1920 game between the two schools had been played at Cambridge, it was agreed that the 1924 contest would be in Omaha. Tech would pay Cambridge $650, plus half of the gate receipts. The Nov. 29 Omaha World-Herald made Tech the favorite to win the game. ”The Omaha forwards will outweigh the Cambridge line, while the Tech backfield is heavy and fast enough to handle itself in Cambridge territory.” The Cambridge team was lighter and faster and its best chance to win rested on hopes that “the four colts of the Cambridge backfield will be able to break loose for a series of thrilling touchdown runs” as they had done in previous games. Alas for Cambridge players, duplicating the 1920 title was not to be. According to the World-Herald, “beef and brawn were mightier than speed and craftiness and Coach Drummond’s Omaha Tech huskies ripped and passed their way to a 16 to 0 win over Cambridge.” The star of the game was Tech halfback LeRoy Zust, who scored all of Tech’s points on off-tackle and end runs that the Cambridge defense was unable to stop. Tech amassed 200 total yards to 105 for Cambridge. The Cambridge paper, the Clarion, took the loss with good grace noting, “It is no discredit to lose a game to such a school as Omaha Tech when you consider it has an enrollment of over 4,000 students,” much larger than the Cambridge student body. Moreover, “We all feel proud of the gameness of the team and the town is with them whether they win or lose. . . . We never saw such a loyal supporting town to its football team as Cambridge is to theirs.” To learn more about the programs and services of the Nebraska State Historical Society, call 1-800-633-6747 or visit our website at https://historynegov.wpengine.com

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