Today is just such a game. When we last left the 1981 UT Arlington football team, they had just gotten annihilated by SMU, 48-0. It wasn't much better afterwards. After beating New Mexico State 26-13 at home, UTA faced a three game road trip and lost every one, 38-16 at TCU, 35-31 at West Texas State and 52-9 at Southern Mississippi. At 1-4, it was looking like the same old Mavericks. Four of five games on the road to start, one home game in September, tougher competition in TCU and SMU and a lot of losses.
If this team had followed the usual script they would have lost the game after Southern Miss. UTA had opened Southland Conference play against Louisiana Tech six times, most since Trinity from 1965-'70. Unlike against Trinity, UTA was 2-4 in those games versus the Bulldogs, thanks to dominant Tech teams that won national championships and Independence Bowls. So not only did they have to travel to harder competition, they had to open against arguably the toughest school in the conference.
Same happened in 1981, yet Louisiana Tech was facing hard times and UTA won their conference opener over the Bulldogs for the second straight year. Prior to 1980, UTA was 1-4 against Tech to open SLC play. First time they had won the conference opener two years in row since the end of the 1960's. Heading into today's game, UTA was 2-4, 1-0 SLC.
North Texas State was UTA's opponent. This was usually one of the most anticipated games of the year. UTA hadn't faced the Eagles/Mean Green as a four-year University until 1973, a 31-7 win. After that, the series was all NTSU, 27-14, 24-7, 15-6, 28-23, 19-14 and 31-14. The main benefit for UTA was the crowd. It was always the highest attended game of the season for UTA in DFW. 19,131 at Texas Stadium, 14,798 at Texas Stadium, 14,800 at Fouts Field, 17,300 at Texas Stadium, 16,821 at Texas Stadium, 14,297 at Texas Stadium and 18,033 at Maverick Stadium.
Today's game takes place at another notable area stadium, but with an interesting backdrop. UTA previously played in the Cotton Bowl in 1974 against Louisiana Tech. The Texas Rangers had exercised a clause in their contract with Arlington Stadium and wouldn't allow UTA to play their home opener. So instead, they traveled 25 miles to open their home schedule at Fair Park. However, UTA and North Texas scheduled the game at the Cotton Bowl and were part of the State Fair of Texas on this date in 1981. I've often wondered why SMU, TCU or North Texas don't do more with the Fair.
Reality was about to set in for North Texas. After flirting with the top 25 in 1977 and '78, UNT was angling to get an invite to the Southwest Conference and join UT Austin, Texas A&M, Texas Tech et al in the premier conference of this area. Hayden Fry was getting success, but was saddling the program with lots of monetary debt. It would have paid off had they gotten in the SWC, but they didn't and had no conference revenue as an independent. This would be North Texas' last year as a Division 1-A school too, as the NCAA would mandate they drop to the 1-AA level in 1982. What would also hurt was the NCAA lost a court case in which "smaller" schools would no longer receive TV money from the NCAA TV contract. That was a big reason for UTA's demise, but it hurt a lot of schools, including North Texas, really hard.
Their coaching situation was becoming unstable too. After Hayden Fry took off for Iowa, Jerry Moore took the reins. He lasted two seasons of 5-6 and 6-5 before Bob Tyler took over. He'd last one 2-9 year before Corky Nelson would head the sidelines. Moore would later coach at Appalachian State and win three national championships, so he obviously knew what he was doing. For whatever reason, UNT as a whole has just struggled for consistency since 1979.
The Dentonites were 1-5 heading into this one, though that was somewhat of a misnomer. Losses to two Southwest Conference schools, an SEC and a Big 8 meant they could still be a better team than UTA, who sported a stellar 2-4 record. They shared two common opponents in SMU and New Mexico State and both had the same outcome in those games, though North Texas had better scores.
Either way, it had the makings of a good game, and it was. On this day in UTA football history, UTA looks to end their losing streak against North Texas State.
UTA, Ikner pin Eagles' wings, 7-6
By Temple Pouncey
Staff Writer of the News
Melvin Ikner went to the fair Saturday and won a stuffed Eagle.
All of his UT-Arlington teammates enjoyed playing with the prize, for they had lost six football games in a row to North Texas State, dating back to 1974.
Ikner's defensive work enabled the Movin' Mavs to defeat the Denton team that once was called the Mean Green, 7-6, before a Cotton Bowl crowd estimated at about 6,000. NTSU cooperated in the UTA victory, turning the ball over six times and missing two field goals that could have made the difference: a 30-yarder with the wind just before halftime and a 47-yarder with 1:22 left to play that ran up against that stiff south breeze and died.
The Eagles fumbled the ball away at the UTA 28 and 14 in the third quarter, but the most crucial short-circuits were devilishly applied by Ikner, the 6-2, 200-pound UTA senior strong safety.
First, Ikner provided the only touchdown of the day, with 11:47 left in the third quarter. Coming up
on the outside as tight end Dennis Kuithe ran a square-out, Ikner stepped in front of the receiver, caught NTSU quarterback Rusty Hill's pass at the Eagle 48 and ran untouched into the end zone behind a wall of blockers. Brian Happel supplied the extra point for a 7-3 UTA lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Hill's 30-yard sideline pass to Tony Merriwether and a square-out that Marvin Walker caught sitting down moved North Texas to the UTA six. Hill faked a handoff, then threw into the end zone where tight end Mark Witte appeared to be open for a touchdown. But as Witte put his bands on the ban, Ikner hit him, and the ball fell free. On the next play, cornerback Stacy Rayfield broke up a corner pass to ace Eagle receiver Pete Harvey, and NTSU had to settle for a field goal that left them a point short.
Ikner wouldn't fault Hill for the interception. saying, "It was a good pass. The quarterback must not have seen me behind the tight end. Once I caught it, I knew I was in there, because the wall was there."
On his fourth-quarter play, Ikner said, "The power back was my responsibility, but when he blocked I took the tight end. He was wide open. He had it in his hands as I hit him. I thought it was a touchdown for a second.
Carlen Charleston, a 5-6 speedster, almost won it for NTSU on a 42-yard punt return with 2:48 left in the game. He took a line-drive punt, cut between two seal blocks and almost broke free, but UTA's Noel Spraggins dragged him down at the Mavs 28. On third down at the 26, Mavs defensive tackle Keith Pressley, also a senior, broke in and sacked Hill for a 4-yard loss while the backs double-covered Harvey on the left sideline. That forced Lonnie Green to attempt a game-winning kick from 47 yards, but against that wind his boot never had a prayer.
Both teams suffered offensive frustration. NT's Hill fumbled on the first play of the game as he was hit by Pressley, and Mike Brooks recovered at the NT 24. But the Eagles made a ferocious goal-line stand, stopping first Randy Johnson, then starting quarterback Randy Logan cold at the 1-yard line on third and fourth down. Zac Cypert, Louis Haynes and Mike Sizelove led the charge.
Logan went out with a bruised shoulder in the second quarter and Guy Lisak took over from there. The UTA offense fumbled the ball over four times, once when the center snap hit the upback in the chest on a fake punt. NTSU fumbled the ball away three times and was intercepted three times. UTA sacked Hill seven times; NT's defense recorded five sacks.
Hill was disconsolate as he looked back at Ikner's winning play.
UTA 7, NTSU 6
Texas-Arlington.......0 0 7 0 - 7
North Texas..............0 3 0 3 - 6
UTA -FG Green 35
NTSU - Ikner 48 Interception return (Happel kick)
UTA - FG Green 23
First downs.....................................17 18
Passing yards..................................74 210
Return yards...................................97 103
RUSHING-UTA, J. Johnson 22-122, R. Johnson 14-50 and 11-27. NTSU, Charleston 12-52, Brady 7-51, English 6-22.
PASSING-UTA, Logan 4-10-1-58, Lissak 1-6-1-16. NTSU, Hill 17-32-3-210, Carter 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING-UTA, Williams 2-39, Lewis 2-32, J. Johnson 1-3. NTSU, Harvey 6-97, White 4-34, Merriwether 2-44, Walker 2-14, Bradley 2-13.