As quarterback Jerry Huntsman ’52 led the Wabash team onto the field, he only had that week’s Bachelor headline in mind: “Beat DePauw.” This may have been the 59th encounter between the two rival sides, but never had the occasion been more important. For the first time ever, both Wabash and DePauw came into the Monon Bell game unbeaten. But if the fans that day had expected a close game, Huntsman and his team were about to prove them wrong.
The atmosphere on campus leading up to the 1951 Bell game was electric. “To Wabash College, the Wabash student body, and the Wabash football team, the most important game is being played this Saturday,” wrote Paul Trippett ’53, at the time a press writer for the Bachelor. “Without this victory the rest of the undefeated season means little or nothing. Without this victory the season is creditable, nothing more.”
“Without this victory the rest of the undefeated season means little or nothing. Without this victory the season is creditable, nothing more.”Paul Trippett ‘53
The Cavemen, as the Wabash team was most frequently referred to in those days, had had a stellar season. They came into the game against DePauw with an unbeaten 6-0-1 record, a 26-26 tie against Butler the only stain on the team’s form. Despite this one slip, the Little Giants had otherwise inflicted heavy defeats on Ball State, Olivet College, and Sewanee. In all, Wabash had averaged a margin of victory of 28.5 points per game across seven games, a testament to their impeccable offensive and defensive capabilities.
However, if the Cavemen were enjoying a remarkable season, so too were the Tigers. DePauw came in with an even better record than Wabash, having won all seven of their games. Tigers quarterback Bob Stephens sported a .625 completion percentage and a total of 715 yards on the season. Little wonder, then, that Wabash fans were nervous. “Stephen’s ability to make quick decisions and to make unbelievable gambles pay-off,” wrote Les Nell ‘56, “has been the margin of victory for the Tigers this year.”
Little Giants supporters need not have worried, though, for in their own ranks was arguably one of the finest throwers of a football in Indiana: Jerry Huntsman. Jerry and his running back brother Stan Huntsman ’54 commanded the Wabash offense. Prior to the DePauw game, Jerry had thrown 11 touchdown passes on the season. And in the previous game against Hanover, he had thrown just two incompletions. Stan, meanwhile, had caused opposition defenses trouble all year; as well as football, he also ran track for Wabash, his lightning pace a phenomenal asset to the Cavemen offense.
“The Huntsman brothers were very good athletes,” said Norm Buktenica ’52, captain and Most Valuable Player on the 1951 team. “Jerry was our quarterback. They transferred to Wabash from Earlham College and came mainly because their dad had been the track and field coach at Wabash. They were very good teammates.”
When game day finally came, the air of excitement around the Wabash team was almost at a fever pitch. The temperature had plummeted to a chilling 30°F as the Cavemen set off for DePauw’s Blackstock Stadium. As the fans piled in, pre-game opinion sat on the fence. While the Monon Bell rivalry always throws up unexpected results, both teams looked stronger and more ready than ever. Everything building up to this game, then, suggested it would be a close-fought, hardy affair.
Indeed, the opening quarter was very tight. After scoreless opening drives for both teams, Wabash’s second series of plays saw them take the ball all the way down to the COURTESY OF THE RAMSEY ARCHIVES Jim Shanks ‘67 was the architect behind the successful “Operation Frijoles” heist. COURTESY OF THE RAMSEY ARCHIVES This 1951 comic premiered in The Bachelor leading up to the Bell Game. DePauw five. Disaster almost struck when Jerry Huntsman fumbled the ball, but Ted Steeg ’52 recovered and the Little Giants scored on the next play, a passing touchdown to Ken Beasley ’52.
The Tigers responded almost immediately, capitalizing on a series of Wabash errors that allowed Stephens to work his magic. A passing touchdown to Ward Shawver opened the DePauw scoring, but the extra point missed wide. With the score 7-6 in Wabash’s favor at the end of the first quarter, most fans buckled up for a nervy game.
Yet on the sidelines, Coach Garland Frazier was not so worried. This was Frazier’s first ever Bell game having arrived at Wabash just a few months earlier from Hanover. Frazier had played football at Indiana University and Ball State and served in the Navy during the Second World War. In all, he would go on to spend ten seasons as Little Giants head coach from 1951 to 1960.
“Frazier was always a very gentle man,” said Buktenica. “He would never swear at you or tell you to suck it up. He was much more supportive of the players and interested in each player and their capabilities. And he did a good job there. He was very knowledgeable about current procedures, formations, and the things that were happening in college football.”
Frazier knew what his undefeated team was capable of, and soon the Tigers would find out too. In the second quarter, Wabash unleashed the full force of their offensive might. No sooner had DePauw put points on the board when Stan Huntsman did what he knew best and scored a 55-yard rushing touchdown. Soon after, the Cavemen regained possession and Joe Dooley ‘52 ran the ball into the end zone. Frazier’s team scored once again before the half, Jerry Huntsman’s pass out to Robert Holstine ’52 securing the touchdown. To cap the second quarter, a twopoint pass play to Beasley made the halftime score Wabash 27-6 DePauw.
The 1951 DePauw team was notorious for second-half comebacks. However, the Cavemen showed no signs of letting up and in the second half Jerry Huntsman threw an additional two touchdowns, the first to Steeg and the second to Holstine. The Tigers’ only response was a third-quarter rushing touchdown, but once again the point after was not good. In fact, DePauw played so poorly that many fans and students left during the final quarter. On the contrary, the Wabash supporters erupted at the end of the game as the team retained the Monon Bell and brought their undefeated season to a cheerful close.
In total, Jerry Huntsman hit 11 of 16 for four touchdown passes while brother Stan racked up 142 yards. The Cavemen defense was just as solid; DePauw finished with a total of negative 17 yards and Bob Stephens, the quarterback Wabash had feared so much in the lead-up to the game, was sacked for losses totaling 86 yards.
It was a fitting end to a remarkable season that will go down in Wabash athletics history. In 2013, to honor the achievements of the Little Giant’s second-ever undefeated season, Coach Frazier’s 1951 team was inducted into the Wabash College Athletics Hall of Fame.
“We had many fine, fine athletes on that team,” added Buktenica, who as well as being an excellent athlete went on to pursue a career as a world-renowned psychologist. “The team and four other players were all admitted to the Athletics Hall of Fame, which probably holds some record. They were not players who only looked out for themselves, everyone seemed to look out for the well-being of the whole team. That’s what our team was.”
Tomorrow these two great rivals meet once again for the 127th Monon Bell Classic. The memory of the stinging loss two years ago will be incentive enough for the Little Giants. When the team walks onto the field tomorrow, they do so in the shadow of Jerry Huntsman and his teammates. And so, I offer the present team the same advice Huntsman had ringing in his ears on November 17, 1951: “Beat DePauw.”