Tuesday, September 8, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 1: End of an Era

First, let me apologize for the late start. The last two editions of This Day in UTA Football started in the second week of the current NCAA football season. Got an alert from a reader asking why I didn't have one up and was told my reasoning was flawed and UTA had played games on September 5. When I looked, sure enough. So hopefully this is the last late entry.

There are a few good milestone seasons for this year's edition. Later on, we'll see UTA's first season as the then-Rebels transitioned to the four-year ranks from the Junior College level. We'll see UTA's last season as the equivalent of a Division II school. But the one we'll visit first is the last UTA spent as a Division 1-A school, 1981. I'll save the meaning of this season til the last game (that should be a hint right there), but we'll open up with the season opener.

UTA "traveled" to play SMU in the '81 opener. The Mustangs were coming off an eight-win season, their first winning season in six years. They were a talented team, several members of this team would play at the professional level. Once the game story starts, I have no doubt you'll recognize several names, so I'll hold off giving details of the team. If you need a refresher, the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Pony Excess, is a great view. There's also clips of this very UTA game in it.

UTA played SMU the prior year, and it wasn't pretty. Some of it was due to SMU's talent, but the 3-8 Mavericks weren't hardy competition for much of anyone that year, getting outscored 341-248. When the highlight of your year is a stadium debut, there are real issues. Coach Harold "Bud" Elliott's squad was hoping for better results. He was on the hot seat as well. There was a lot of talent on the 1981 team, names that received all-conference honors in the current and future years. No one really knew it at the time, as the 1981 UTA Mavericks were a very young team.

A few of the best offensive lineman UTA had seen were on this team. Sophomore Mark Cannon was the starter at center near the end of the previous season and would be the starter until his graduation. He would get drafted into the NFL and play for many seasons. While not an NFL player, Junior guard Danny Stout was an excellent lineman. I'm sure it is a pun used many times, but he was quite stout. Coming off a second-team all-conference selection, he'd make first team the next two years. After his playing career, he ended up on the UTA coaching staff. Tackle Bruce Collie, a future NFL player was on the roster, but was medically redshirted this season. David Kahlig, an under-rated tackle who would run into trouble with injuries in later years, was a more-than competent sophomore lineman and started every game in 1981.

The line helped make way for the skilled players. These skilled players were good and usually get most of the credit, but I think it was this line that made the offense work. You just won't know that from this game.

Randy Johnson, the starting tailback in 1981 had all the makings of an all-time great UTA RB, something that UTA had a great tradition of producing. Johnson started his career at fullback in 1980, but was about to play his first game at tailback. Had good speed and was a strong, punishing runner. He wasn't a flashy running back, but made you pay to bring him down, a la Earl Campbell.

Scott Logan was the main quarterback. He was a junior-transfer to start the 1980 season. One of the bright spots that year, the senior QB was one of the few senior starters to open this year. He wasn't a big numbers kinda guy like Mike Baylor in the '60's, Roy DeWalt a few years earlier from this game or David Bates a few years later. He was a good field general though and would finish fifth on the Mavericks all-time passing yards list, third in completion percentage and first in yards per completion. This was key as Logan was transitioning the Maverick offense from the wishbone to the I-formation.

The norm for an Elliot-coached UTA team was a solid-to-fantastic offense with below-average-to-bad defense (minus 1979). The 1981 team may have been the second best D of the Elliott tenure. The defensive line mirrored the offensive and was the heart of the team. Defensive tackles Keith Pressley and Brent Hargrove along with end John Wade made the 1st or 2nd all-conference teams this year. Keith Hankins was one of the better middle linebackers UTA ever knew and sophomore Stacy Rayfield would make all-Southland Conference at both the safety and CB position.

But no matter how you look at it, either side of the ball was going to have a challenge against the national championship-caliber Pony Express. On this day (sorta) in UTA Football History, UTA lines up against metroplex rival SMU at Texas Stadium.

NOTE: Remember, I type these as they appeared in the newspaper. Any errors are as they appeared in original print.

Mustangs run wild over Mavs

Star-Telegram Writer

IRVING-With a pair of mulish Mustangs leading the way, and a tormenting defense covering from the rear, SMU's wagon train ran UTA out of Texas Stadium, 48-0, Saturday night.

The junior tailback tandem of Eric Dickerson and Craig James ripped off 300 yards between them and the stingy Mustang defense - led by a nightmare called Armstrong-Carter-Neely - limited the Mavericks to just 30 yards of total offense.

And just when veteran UTA coach Bill Elliott thought last year's 52-16 debacle between the teams had been bad enough, along came this one, which saw either Dickerson or James scoring on SMU's first four possessions of the second half.

"They must not be real deep at tailback," the UTA boss half-grinned when the desolation was done.

It was a half-jibe, half-jest, half-practical statement because his nemesis on the other side of the stadium turf, SMU's Ron Meyer, had kept his juniors in the game long after their defensive counterparts had departed.

Harvey Armstrong, Michael Carter, and Richard Neeley were long gone.

Before the game, Elliott said Meyer had approached him with the line, "Bud, we don't have much depth at tailback." And it was true that Michael Charles, SMU's third tailback, was playing fullback late in the game. But still, the Mustangs list some three tailbacks on their roster. But it was none of them who were in midway through the fourth quarter - when the only issue still left in doubt was whether the 20,130 on hand would still be awake at the end.

It was 34-0 with 11:16 left and there was Dickerson still going around right end for 16, Dickerson, going over left tackle for seven. Dickerson, running twice more in a row. Until fittingly, No. 2 quarterback Jeff Courtwright who had taken over for baby-faced starter Lance McIlhenny lofted what had appeared to be a 33-yard touchdown pass to junior Jackie Wilson.

But what appeared to be was not. The TD strike was wiped out by an illegal procedure penalty.

Fittingly, James fumbled on the next play.

The onslaught would continue, although Meyer finally did get his horses out of the backfield - to go along with their quarterback, line and defensive mates who had been lingering on the bench throughout most of the second half.

A Guy Lissak pass was intercepted by SMU junior Sterling Wilson to set up one more score, Lott McIlhenny's nine-yard TD at 2:26. Eddie Garcia promptly added one of his conversions.

The final touchdown was set up by another Maverick turnover - one of six on the night - when another Lissak pass fell into the hands of sophomore Mustang backup Dwayne Anderson, who plowed 21 yards for the final score with 63 seconds left.

It was fitting that the defense would cap the night since UTA's Elliott noted, "SMU is much better this year because of their defense. That front of causes you all the problems. Those three guys gave our whole front line a headache all night."

Those three guys - the 260-pound Armstrong, the 278-pound Carter and the "tiny" 248-pound Neely - shrouded Mavericks' starting quarterback Scott Logan, much less let him pass.

The trio led a sacking party that caught Maverick backs nine times behind the line of scrimmage and controlled the offensive front all night. The Mavericks rushed for just 17 yards.

"I don't know what happened...I don't know if we were bewildered into not doing anything about them or not. I thought our passing game was terrible," said Elliott. "It was like they had our playbook every time we dropped back to pass."

Logan completed just two of 10 with an interception for 13 yards. But seriously folks, Roger the Dodger could have been back there instead of Logan and the SMU defense would not have let up. At least Meyer wouldn't have until the issue was no longer in doubt.

The Mustangs scored the first four times they had the ball after intermission.

"After halftime, I knew they'd come out fired up. We were beat up. I knew that. I was worried about it," said Elliott.

The first time the Mustang express got on a roll, it was for 80 yards with the big play coming when James, who rushed 23 times for 136 yards and three scores, busted out for 29 yards. The rest was yeoman's work until Dickerson, who finished with 23 carries for 164 yards, stepped off 18 to the two. The smooth running 6-foot-2, 215-pounder went the rest of the way there for the score with 11:37 left in the third. Garcia added the point.

James took over from there.

After McIlhenny, who completed five of 12 for 111 yards and a touchdown had found Wilson streaking straight down the field for a 53-yard pass play, James ran around left end untouched to make it a three touchdown spread with 4:49 left in the period. Garcia again added the PAT.

It was becoming laughable when, on UTA's next series, sophomore Russell Carter nabbed a Logan pass and raced 54 yards to the Mavericks five. James tried three times before finally squirming home. Garcia missed for the only time of the night, and it was 27-0.

The Mustangs scored on their fourth straight  possession when James cruised 12 yards to culminate a six-play, 58-yard drive just 67 seconds into the fourth period. Garcia made it 34-0.

Apparently Meyer didn't notice because he kept his twin backs in at least five minutes.

Meyer wrapped a warm arm around Elliott's shoulder when this thing was over. Elliott said the SMU coach, whose team is on probation but still would like to rack up points so the Associated Press board will notice, said nothing about the tailbacks.

"He told me before the game he had a problem there," said Elliott, who did not seem perturbed in the least that Dickerson and James had logged all four quarters to help them letter this year.

"I think it's great we're opening with them. They're our next door neighbors," Elliott continued, when the question about why the Mavericks subjected themselves to all this finally started to be posed.

"The only problem is that you get a lot of people beat up. You get people hurt when you don't substitute," Elliott added. "We tried to get as many people into the ballgame as we could.

"Injuries," Elliott continued, "occur when one team is fresh and the other is not."

Amid the second half travesty it was completely forgotten that SMU led this game only 7-0 at the half. But the Mavericks could not take advantage of opportunities SMU handed them. The Movin' Mavs recovered two Mustang fumbles and picked off one errant McIlhenny pass, but could not cash in.

"Why do we keep playing?" said Elliott, repeating a question. "Because in 1979, we could have beaten them. That's why."

Texas-Arlington...................0  0  0  0  - 0
SMU..................................0  7 20 21 - 48

SMU-Jeane 17 pass from La. McIlhenny (Garcia kick)
SMU-Dickerson 2 run (Garcia kick)

SMU-James 3 run (Garcia kick)

SMU-James 8 run (kick failed)SMU-James 12 run (Garcia kick)
SMU-La. McIlhenny 9 run (Garcia kick)
SMU-Anderson 37 interception return (Garcia kick)

                                            UTA        SMU
First downs                               5             23
Rushes-yards                     41-17      65-379
Passing yards                           13           125
Return yards                            34           165
Passes                              2-15-3      7-17-2
Punts                                  11-43         3-46
Fumbles-lost                          2-2            6-4
Penalties-yards                     3-19        13-61

RUSHING - UTA, Johnson 9-26, Price 4-20. SMU, James 23-136, Dickerson 23-164, McIlhenny 2-10.
PASSING - UTA, Logan 2-10-1-13. SMU, La. McIlhenny 5-12-2-111.
RECEIVING - UTA, Williams 1-7. SMU, Smith 2-30, Jeanne 2-23, Wilson 1-53.

Taken from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, 9-6-81.

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