Saturday, October 25, 2014

UTA Football Game Eight: What Coulda Been

Today's game is more or less like last week's, chosen for the opponent, rather than anything significant about the game itself, though it was the first win of the 1980 season. Remember, this was the year of big expectations, a 9-2 finish in 1979 and a new on-campus stadium were supposed to be signs of better days ahead for the UT Arlington football program. Instead, the ultimately disappointing football season of 1980 saw its first win come on the road, in the last week possible of October.

I highlight this week more for Louisiana Tech and to make a broader point. At first glance, the Bulldogs were clearly the superior team, owning a 13-5 mark against all time against the Mavericks. However, it really isn't that dominant as it would appear.

La Tech won the last four meetings, of which they were Southland Conference champs twice. They were a dominant team in the mid '70's when UTA struggled and again in the '80's right before what I believe was about to be a UTA surge (hard to argue that a team which was a combined seven points away from a league title and returning 20 of 24 starters in '86 would not have been). In both '84 and '85, La Tech eliminated UTA from a conference title. In reality, the gap between the teams was quite small.

Nowadays La Tech plays in Conference USA and in FBS, much like the rest of the '70's and early '80's SLC teams playing at the highest level. Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and North Texas are all at the FBS level. Only McNeese and Lamar, which dropped the program for over 20 years, are not. Is it that hard to think had UTA kept the program that they'd not be playing in FBS with those others? They are in the SBC now after all.

The 1986 season is the season where I constantly wonder what could have been. The Arkansas State Indians, now Red Wolves, won the 1986 SLC title and advanced to the Division 1-AA playoffs and all the way to the championship game. They did it with a couple of former UTA players on their roster, including kicker Scott Roper, who is in the record books for both squads. Prior to the start of the season, ASU coach Larry Lacewell was quoted as saying he believed UTA would have been the favorite that year. It isn't hard to think that UTA would have been in a similar position as ASU, advancing to and through the playoffs. Bare minimum a playoff berth isn't out of the realm of possibility, even if they couldn't get past ASU in conference play.

La Tech made the I-AA championship game in 1984 and used that to propel themselves to DI-A in time for the 1989 season. Arkansas State joined 1-A in 1992, a few years after their big playoff run. ULM won the 1-AA title game in 1987 and moved up after the '93 season. UNT made a playoff push in 1994 and joined 1-A in '95.

In the end, it is just suposition. UTA disbanded the team for poor finances. Could a playoff run in one season erase years of decline? UTA had more reasons than what went on in the Athletic Department and the football field for the decline in interest in the sports teams. Its a matter of debate what percentage of disinterest would have been erased had the 1986 team made a playoff run, but there certainly would have been some.

Would that have been enough to minimize the financial red? If not, would it have been enough to convince Dr. Nedderman, the UTA President who made the call to drop the program, to keep it going? It's a matter of perspective and opinion, but the optimist in me thinks so.

In any respect, on this day in 1980, UTA picks up their first win on the season.

Mavs find first win

Special to The News
RUSTON, La. - Brian Happel booted two fourth-quarter field goals as UTA rallied from a 17-point deficit to squeeze past Louisiana Tech, 21-20, and register their first victory of the season Saturday night at Joe Aillet Stadium.

After an 0-6 season start, the Mavs opened Southland Conference play with a victory while Tech slipped to 1-1 in the league and 4-3 overall.

"The team's had a super attitude all week long and all night long," UTA coach Bud Elliott said. "We finally came to play a second half of football and just got after it and got the job done.

"We changed a lot of things," Elliott added. "We had different coaches on the sidelines and in the press box, different rooming assignments. We started like a brand new season...a fresh start."

Happel toed 3-pointers of 22 and 18 yards in the fourth quarter, the last one coming at the 5:22 mark, as the Mavs had to stave off a passing blitx (sp) from the Bulldogs.

Defensive end Ray Webb sacked Tech quarterback Matt Dunigan for a 10-yard loss at his own 46 to end the last Bulldog hope with 1:43 remaining.

Tech had jumped to an early lead, taking advantage of an interception by James Thraxton at the Mav 31, just one minute into the game.

"We believed all night long, even trailing 17-0, that we could win a football game here," Elliott said. "Our second half offense had good execution. We came out and played and did what we had to do."

Texas-Arlington       0   8   7   6-21
Louisiana Tech        7  10   3   0-20
Tech-Greer 2 run (Lee kick)
Tech-FG Dager 32
Tech-Giordano 25 pass from Dunigan (Lee kick)
UTA-Lewis 8 pass from Logan (Jessie run)
Tech-FG Dager 32
UTA-Felder 1 run (Happel kick)
UTA-FG Happel 22
UTA-FG Happel 18
A-13,800 (est)
                                 UTA         TECH
First downs                  12               17
Rushes-yards        57-193        39-118
Passing yards              124             220
Return yards                   5               57
Passing                  8-17-2      17-31-0
Punts                      6-38.2        4-39.8
Fumbles-lost               0-0              3-3
Penalties                  10-77            5-44

RUSHING - UTA, Logan 9-11, Jessie 14-61, Felder 16-62, Price 12-48. LT, Greer 20-92, Dunigan 12-6.
PASSING - UTA, Logan 8-17-2-124. LT, Dunigan 16-30-0-217.
RECEIVING - UTA, Lewis 3-73, Williams 1-26, Jessie 2-13. LT, Padgett 4-56, Brown 2-63, Giordano 3-57, Washington 1-16.

Taken from the Dallas Morning News, 10-26-80.

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