1949 Rose Bowl Sidebar: Trick play helps Northwestern secure place in history

Danny Daly

Boise State made the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma a game for the ages by relying on trickery. After scoring the game-tying touchdown with less than 10 seconds left on a hook-and-lateral, the Broncos closed out the shocking 43-42 upset in overtime with a “Statue of Liberty” play on the game-winning two-point conversion.

While not quite as dramatic, Northwestern similarly used deception to score the go-ahead touchdown against California in the 1949 Rose Bowl. As a result, it turned an exciting game into an unforgettable one.

On the Golden Bears’ 43-yard line with about three minutes left in regulation, the Wildcats took a risk by a calling a trick play. Instead of quarterback Don Burson receiving the snap, right halfback Ed Tunnicliff caught the ball from center Alex Sarkisian and started running around the right end.

“It was timed very delicately,” said Tunnicliff, a junior in 1948. “We were on the right side, and our left halfback, Frank Aschenbrenner, was in motion to the right. As he got into a position just past where I was, the ball was timed to be centered between the quarterback’s right leg and the center’s right leg to my left knee.”

Burson faked a pitch to fullback Gaspar Perricone, who was in the left flat, as Tunnicliff raced in the other direction. Because Aschenbrenner had been in motion to the right, he was perfectly positioned to block the left defensive end – whose line of vision was obstructed by the movement.

After that, only the last line of defense stood in Tunnicliff’s way.

“There were two guys at about the 15-yard line,” Tunnicliff said. “Here comes (right guard) Richie Anderson and (right tackle) Bill Forman, and they both came over and blocked those two guys so I was able to cut back inside of them and then go back for the corner. It worked very well.”

The touchdown gave NU a 20-14 lead, which the defense preserved shortly thereafter with its fourth interception of the contest.

It wasn’t the first time the Cats ran the play. Coach Bob Voigts told reporters after the game his team “used it in several games,” including the regular season finale against Illinois. Voigts boasted it averaged about 12 yards per attempt against the Illini.

On the other sideline, coach Pappy Waldorf admitted Cal had practiced against the play that produced Tunnicliff’s score. Even that preparation couldn’t prevent it from working.

“I remember, after the fake, I stopped and took a look at Eddie, thinking, ‘My God, he’s going to make it,'” Perricone said.

Not only did Tunnicliff make it – he solidified a spot in NU history.

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