Remembering Detroit Sports History: U of D squares off against Notre Dame under the lights at Briggs Stadium in 1951

University of Detroit vs. Notre Dame football game on 10/05/1951 at Briggs stadium.

Detroit, Mich., Oct. 5. —  In the first night game in the history of Notre Dame football, Frank Leahy’s young Irish wrecked the game for the home crowd by overwhelming an outmanned Detroit squad, 40-6, before 52,371 fans in Briggs Stadium.  The brilliance of the arc lights was rivaled, however, by the flashing cleats of senior halfback John Petitbon as he wrapped up the ol’ ball game in the very first period with three sparkling touchdown runs.  

Before everyone was situated in their seats, Petitbon took the game’s opening kickoff and then charged up the field 85 yards behind fine blocking for his first score.  A little later he crisscrossed on a punt return with Billy Barrett and raced over the Titan goal line after a 73-yard jaunt.  Petitbon added his finishing touches to the ND cause just before the quarter ended when he took a pitchout from quarterback Johnny Mazur and streaked through a host of would-be Detroit tacklers for 39 yards and another six points.  Near the end of the first half the Leahy-men added their fourth tally on a 30-yard pass from Mazur to Jim Mutscheller to put them ahead, 26-0. 

Detroit’s first year coach, Dutch Clark motivated his squad as the tough Titans refused to quit and came back from the intermission with plenty of fire and zip.  Their defense was especially strong during that period and they squelched two Irish scoring bids to hold their visitors scoreless.  The Titans even managed to negotiate a scoring try of their own with a 50-yard march that Bob Lippe made count with a dive into the end zone from the one.  Their first conversion try was good but they were penalized 15 yards and on their next attempt the kick fell short. The Fighting Irish regained command of the game in the final period and struck twice to wind up the contest. 

Sophomore halfback John Lattner intercepted a pass from quarterback Gornak and ran it back for 32 yards and a touchdown.  Frosh Walt Cabral pounced on a Detroit fumble on the Titan 18-yard line not long afterward to set up the final ND tally.  Halfback Paul Reynolds ripped his way to the four, and then to the one.  Frosh quarterback Ralph Guglielmi went over from there on a quarterback sneak.  Menil Mavraides kicked the point after touchdown for the fourth time in six tries during the course of the game. 

The Irish out gained their hosts in every department and piled a grand total of 402 yards from rushing and passing.  Their ground game with 284 yards accounted for three-fourths of their yardage.  Not counting his two long kick returns Petitbon wound up the evening’s play with an average ground gain of about ten yards for 13 tries.  Of the game’s nine fumbles, not one was recovered by the erring team.  The Titans grabbed five Notre Dame muffs while the Irish got the ball from the Detroit club via the blunder method four times.

 The Irish had surprised the football world by overwhelming Indiana last week at home.  All four backs –- quarterback John Mazur, halfbacks Bill Barrett and John Peitibon and fullback Neil Worden — lined up in a row perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.  This was the unveiling of their new “I” formation backfield and they got great results again.

Lattner, primarily a defensive specialist, had a great game for Noter Dame.  The Irish will host SMU next week in South Bend.  Detroit, which plays in the Missouri Valley Conference, travels to Des Moines next week and has high hopes of rebounding against Drake.

A special football game pictorial by The Detroit News (9/30/1951)

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