That seemed the case in 1981 as well. The Mavericks started the year 1-4, doing the thing they usually do, playing a tough schedule, most of it on the road, to start the season. All four losses were away from Maverick Stadium, two to Southwest Conference schools, one to Southern Mississippi, an independent who would finish the year 19th in the coaches poll and an equal in West Texas State. The lone win was at The Mav versus New Mexico State.
Attendance followed the similar path as previous UTA teams. Okay for the first game, then a dip after returning to Arlington with a losing record. Then they'd be competitive in the SLC, but a loss would make a championship run tough, causing the final games of the season to be paltry, ending in a middle of the pack finish in the conference standings.
1981 was the aberration, however, for reasons both within and beyond UTA's control. After returning home 1-4, they beat Louisiana Tech in the Southland Conference opener, a feat not accomplished often prior, and, where we last checked in, beat North Texas at the Cotton Bowl. At 3-4 and, more importantly, 1-0 in SLC things were starting to look up.
But, as was typical UTA fashion, just as hope began to build, they fumbled (literally) the opportunity, losing to Arkansas State by a field goal at home. What killed support was the fact that UTA would need help and have to win out. Many times they would get one or the other, but not both. That would mean the longest conference title drought of any team in the SLC.
That would lead them to a game in Lafayette, Louisiana against Southwestern Louisiana. The Cajuns had performed admirably in 1980 going 7-4 with a second place SLC finish. 1981 was a different tale for the Cajuns. Entering today's game 1-6-1, USL just couldn't get any traction. The suffered three losses by a touchdown or less and tied Louisiana Tech. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between a good football team with bad results and one that is bad and finds a way to lose.
The later seemed to be the case here. That may have been the biggest reason for UTA's success in '81. In a quirk of scheduling, today was the only conference road game, and it just happened to be against a struggling team that would finish near the bottom of the SLC. After losing to Arkansas State, this game may have been just what the doctor ordered for the Mavericks to right the ship.
On this day in UTA football history, the Mavericks face the Southwestern Louisiana Ragin Cajuns.
Mavericks rush past Ragin' Cajuns, 23-7, to hang in SLC race
By KEITH MAGEE
LAFAYETTE, La. - Tailback Randy Johnson scored touchdowns on runs of 8 and 6 yards and rushed for 127 yards as Texas-Arlington downed Southwestern Louisiana, 23-7, Saturday night in Southland Conference play at Cajun Field.
The victory was Maverick coach Bud Elliott's 100th in his collegiate coaching career. The win lifted his team's SLC record to 2-1 and to 4-5 on the year. USL fell to 0-2-1 and 1-7-1, respectively.
"To be honest, I didn't even think about it (the 100th win) until coach (Fred) Mathews told me about it on the sidelines with about a minute to go," Elliott said. "It keeps us in shooting distance of (of the SLC race). If we keep on winning, we'll be in line to get it."
"Anything we ran right at 'em worked for us tonight," Elliott said. "We ran the tailback up the middle and the fullback up the middle. We felt like coming in we were a better team."
For the most part of the evening, the homecoming crowd of 18,103 saw a comedy of errors as eight turnovers were committed by the two teams. Each suffered three interceptions while the Ragin' Cajuns fumbled twice.
Quarterback Curt Caldarera took the Cajuns 71 yards in 12 plays in the opening drive for their only score. Caldarera hit three of four pass attempts in the drive, includng a 25-yarder to running back David Chatman. Chatman scored his first TD of the year from the 3 five plays later as USL led, 7-0.
Mav quarterback Scott Logan tied the score on the next drive with a 47-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career. Split end Byron WIlliams threw the last block at the USL 15 as Logan cutback to the right and took it in with 7:15 left in the opening quarter.
UTA had other scoring opportunities to score in the first half but Brian Happel missed field goal tries of 24 and 51 yards, the latter hitting the left upright and bouncing back Two other drives in the first half were halted by interceptions.
The Cajuns also had two drives stopped by interceptions by linebacker Noel Spraggins and cornerback Stacy Rayfield. Spraggins' was his first of the year.
Linebacker Dan Carter, playing for injured Mike Brooks, recovered a fumble by USL's Greg Davis after almost grabbing an interception the play before.
After both teams finally quit committing turnovers, UTA mounted a 49-yard drive on 12 plays. Happel connected on a 21-yarder with :59 left in the half to give UTA a 10-7 lead.
Caldarera quickly got his team into field goal range on a 55-yard pass to Claude Charles, but Oscar Speers missed from 34 yards as the half ended.
UTA's Melvin Ikner recovered another Davis fumble at USL's 30 in the third period and this time the Mavs cashed in. Johnson ran 8 yards around the right side for the score and UTA went up 17-7. Logan suffered his third interception early in the fourth quarter when Mack Scott picked off a pass at the USL 13. Backup QB Dwight Prudhomme's fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
Midway in the fourth quarter, Prudhomme had his first pass picked off by linebacker Mark Kitchin, after it was tipped by Carter. Kitchin returned the interception, his first the year, to the USL 20 and Johnson scored his second TD from the 6 to increase the Mavs lead to 23-7.
Texas-Arlington 7 3 7 6 - 23
SW Louisiana 7 0 0 0 - 7
SWL-Chapman 4 run (Speer kick)
UTA-Logan 47 run (Happel kick)
UTA-FG Happel 21
UTA-Johnson 8 run (Happel kick)
UTA-Johnson 6 run (kick failed)
A - 18,103
Mavericks Ragin' Cajuns
First downs..........................17 13
Passing yards.......................30 226
Return yards.........................26 53
Taken from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, 11-8-81.