Unlike the 1968 season, there was no game in 1985 that sticks out. While many of the games have certain characteristics of memorable games - today's game does - it is the milestone of what this season is, and this game in particular, that is the overall defining characteristic.
Today's game was the last football game UTA played.
To close the 1985 season, UTA traveled to North Texas State University to play the Mean Green/Eagles in what was shaping to be a good rivalry. The top two highest attended games in Maverick Stadium came when UNT (then known as NTSU) was the opponent. 1984 was hampered by poor weather, otherwise it may have been up there as well. Conversely, when UTA played at Fouts Field, it too was one of the higher, if not highest attended game of the year for the Green.
After flirting with top 25 polls in the 1970's with Hayden Fry leading NTSU, the Mean Green's fortunes had dropped tremendously. When the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA couldn't control the TV rights of its members, revenue for schools like UTA and North Texas dropped as the NCAA couldn't divide the TV money to give to the non "Power" schools, since they didn't have it anymore. Many members of D 1-A were forced to go down to 1-AA.
This created a lot of chaos that rivals today's conference realignment. A good portion of today's non-P5 conference schools (those not in the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) were forced to go to the lower level. There is a lot of politics, hurt feelings and bad blood from that time, but it hit these two schools and the Southland Conference especially hard.
I also feel compelled to mention a seldom known fact about North Texas' athletic department. While UTA ultimately dropped football, NTSU was one Regents vote away from doing the same thing. They suffered from the exact same problems UTA did. A red budget, poor attendance, poor student support and poor performance on the field. In fact, NTSU's winning percentage was worse from 1980-1985 than UTA's was. The Mavericks were 28-37-1 in that time frame. The Eagles/Green were 24-42-1. In the five games before this one, North Texas held only a 3-2 advantage against UTA. The only accomplishment they hold over UTA in that time was making the 1-AA playoffs in 1983. To hear the common fan of today, most view the UNT's athletic department as far superior (I would put our basketball program up against theirs any day).
I have often wondered if there was a parallel universe where UTA kept their program and UNT dropped theirs instead. Over the years, both programs have held similar student populations, markets and overall success. At the time of this game, their overall athletic budget was a bit larger than UTA's, but not by much. It isn't unreasonable to think UTA could have followed the same path, had UNT dropped their program. With one less 1-AA school to compete against after the Maverick's demise, I am sure they were able to get better recruits and position in the market. Again, it isn't unreasonable to think UTA could have done the same.
Lastly, I want to point out that at the time of this game, no one save for the President knew he was about to make the announcement to drop the program. That would happen on November 25, 1985.
"We regret that we find it necessary to take a drastic step in modifying our athletic program at the University of Texas at Arlington. A level of deficit financing has been reached which cannot be continued. Thus, we have no choice but to immediately discontinue our most costly sport - football - and thus reduce our athletic budget by over $1 million per year."
As far as anyone knew immediately after the game, UTA was set to return 19 starters from one of their better overall offensive teams that scored the third most points of the decade and a defensive team that gave up the least and third least amount of points in the DI era at UTA. Arkansas State's coach Larry Lacewell, who won the SLC championship in 1986, said he thinks it would have been the Mavericks. He also inherited Scott Roper from the Mavericks roster. In two years, he would set records at ASU (just like he did in this game at UTA) and his name still appears all over the ASU kicking records.
I could go on on why I am conflicted in the end about the dropping of the program. On the one hand, our other programs were funded on a tiered system and didn't have the full resources to compete. I am a firm believer that no matter the sport, if you field it, then try to win it. On the other, I obviously would like to have a program at my alma mater, but maybe that is a post for another time.
When we last left the 1985 season, UTA had just lost to Arkansas State. The loss was their first in conference and dropped them from the top of the SLC standings with a 2-1 conference mark, UTA then played McNeese to a 10-10 tie in Lake Charles. The tenth game was the home finale against Louisiana Tech. That game was also the last game Maverick Stadium would host its namesake team. Just like in 1984, Louisiana Tech ended UTA's quest for a conference title in a 29-14 loss. That set the stage as 4-5-1 UTA traveled 3-6-1 North Texas.
North Texas finds a new way to beat UTA, 23-20
By Brian Dunbar
DENTON, Texas - If the starters had started, this game probably would have been something completely different from North Texas 23, UT-Arlington 20.
Instead, North Texas had a new quarterback, a new running back, and a relatively new kicker. The Mavs had a new running back, and although their quarterback had played before, he had missed three weeks. [NOTE: I don't know what he is referring to here. Tony Brown had played every game this year and David Bates was sore in previous weeks, but he played in every game of the year]
And the end result was freshman walk-on kicker Kevin Chapman - out of a hold by newly designated starting quarterback Byron Beal - kicking a 32-yard field goal to win the game for North Texas.
Before Saturday, the most recent snap Beal had taken from center in an honest-to-goodness game came when he was playing for the Lewisville Fighting Farmers - in 1981.
Since then, Beal, a former pitcher, spent 2 1/2 seasons in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system, then walked on at North Texas in the spring of 1984, after an injury ended his baseball career.
Not having played in a real game in four years posed no problems, said Beal, who completed 7-of-10 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown.
"I felt in control the whole time," he said. "I never felt flushed or panicked."
Coach Corky Nelson's mid-season switch to the Wishbone, though not designed for him, helped a lot, Beal said.
"The move to the Wishbone gave me confidence I could play quarterback. I ran for six years before I got here."
In addition to playing a green quarterback, Nelson had to worry about his inexperienced kicker. The North Texas coach, who watched Chapman miss a 46-yard field goal a week ago that would have beaten Northeast Louisiana, said he had no qualms about putting the pressure on Chapman, even after Chapman missed a field goal attempt and extra point try earlier against UTA.
"If (the misses) had been his fault, I'd have second-guessed myself. But he got a bad hold on the extra point," Nelson said.
Chapman's counterpart, Scott Roper of UTA, set a school season-record for field goals with his 16th and 17th Saturday. But with three seconds left, Roper, 17-of-24 on the year, missed a 35-yard attempt that would have tied the score.
"He hurried a little bit," UTA coach Chuck Curtis said.
The entire UTA offense was hurried. North Texas had eight tackles for losses, including four sacks. The Eagles' defense also set up the team's last two scores, stopping a quarterback sneak on fourth down and recovering a fumble on the UTA 21-yard line.
The Eagles, however, could not control Mavs quarterback David Bates, who completed 27-of-39 passes for 344 yards, despite a sore throwing shoulder.
Three completions by Bates in the third quarter set up Roper 23-yard field goal that tied it at 13.
But when Bates tried a sneak on fourth-and-1 on the Mavs next possession, the Eagles defense threw the entire line back.
The Eagles then went 59 yards on 10 plays, the last a 7-yard touchdown run by Billy Brewer, to take a 20-13 lead.
The Mavs came right back behind Bates, who completed four passes on a 7-play drive, including a 23-yard score to James White. Roper's extra point tied the score at 20.
UTA..........3 7 3 7 - 20
NTSU.......7 6 0 10 - 23
NTSU - B. Brewer 6 run (Chapman kick)
UTA - FG Roper 52
UTA - Brown 5 run (Roper kick)
NTSU - Camper 57 pass from Beal (kick blocked)
UTA - FG Roper 27
NTSU - B. Brewer 7 run (Chapman kick)
UTA - White 23 pass from Bates (Roper kick)
NTSU - FG Chapman 32
A - 6,200
First Downs.................28 14
Passing yards.............344 174
Return yards................22 0
Time of Possession...35:30 24:30
Rushing - Texas-Arlington, Tony Brown 25-130, Chris Jackson 13-3, David Bates 9-(-29). N. Texas St. B. Brewer 19-95, Beal 11-40, Monty Moon 6-23, Sims 3-3, C. Brewer 8-21, Cook 1-0.
Passing - Texas-Arlington, David Bates 27-39-344-1-1. N. Texas St. Beal 7-10-1-174, Camper 1-0-0-0.
Receiving - Texas-Arlington, Keith Arbon 8-154, Tony Brown 6-47, James White 5-71, Willie Meredith 3-29, Chris Jackson 2-10, Teykl 1-15. N. Texas St. Dirk Davis 3-50, Camper 2-74, C. Brewer 2-50.