Saturday, November 21, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 12: The Championship Game at The Mav

Today is my absolute favorite entry this year. It is a scenario not often seen in UTA's history. Win and the Southland Conference championship resides in Arlington. Lose and the trophy goes somewhere else.

In the early days of the SLC, UTA played a few of these games. However, the 1970's just weren't kind. UTA finished 2nd a few times, but the title was lost early in the conference season. Those early losses meant some teams would have to lose for UTA to get the crown, and oftentimes a bowl berth, and those breaks never happened. It hit Coach Harold "Bud" Elliott harder than any other coach, as he finished one win out of first in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979. Most of those years would have included an Independence Bowl berth had he gotten that extra win.

When we last left the 1981 squad, they had just bounced back from a loss to Arkansas State by beating the Southwestern Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns. They still trailed McNeese State (2-0-1) and Arkansas State (2-1) in the standings and the likelihood of both losing was remote. But the second to last week of the season was one of the best for UTA as the Mavericks were playing the league leaders in the MSU Cowboys. The Cowboys had beaten Arkansas State a week prior to the Indians (now Red Wolves) win against UTA and controlled their own destiny. A tie to Lamar was MSU's only blemish.

In a very un-Maverick twist, one of the best kickers in Southland Conference history, Don Stump, had the tying extra point blocked in the fourth quarter after the Cowboys drove for the score down seven by UTA's Brent Hargrove. Then, MSU drove down to ten yard line and with 17 seconds left and Stump missed the game-winner. For a top SLC guy to miss not one, but two kicks just never happened to UTA. They rarely got those kind of breaks, it was usually the other way around.

The win moved the Mavericks up a slot in the standings, but they still needed help. Louisiana Tech, a dominant team for most of the time in the SLC, was in a down cycle and were not a contender. Most of UTA's all-time wins against the Bulldogs came in this late 1970's - early '80's period. They played Arkansas State the same week UTA lined up to play McNeese. The odds of a La Tech win were low, but apparently, the football fates were smiling on UTA that day as the Bulldogs pounded the Indians (now Red Wolves), 32-0. So in the course of one game, UTA went from third to first and actually set up the ability to play for the championship on the final game of the season,

The opponent couldn't have been better for the Mavericks confidence. Lamar had ended the Mavericks conference schedule every year but five since the Southland was founded in 1964. They were riding a six-game winning streak against the Cardinals heading into the 1981 affair. Lamar was 1-2-1 in conference play and 4-5-1 overall. So while they weren't playing for a title like UTA, they were playing for a winning season and respect. They had a potent offense, especially the air attack, but weren't able to translate that into points, rarely scoring more than 20 that year. The defense was above average and had they been able to score more, they may have faced UTA with their own chance for a conference crown.

The cherry on top in setting up this scenario was UTA was playing at Maverick Stadium. After a disastrous start in 1980 (1-5), UTA was 3-1 at The Mav heading into this one in 1981.  For a two-year old stadium, that was quite an honor. The fans should have responded more, but 1981 was looking like the blueprint of typical Maverick seasons for the previous decade plus. However, in a show that the fans do respond to winning, 1981 was a season were the last game of the year was one of the more highly attended games. Quite often, it was the least.

With a conference championship one win away, on this day in UTA Football History, the Mavericks host the Lamar Cardinals and attempt to break a decade and a half championship drought.

UTA wins championship, 31-7

Logan leads Movin' Mavs over Lamar

Star-Telegram Writer

ARLINGTON-UT-Arlington captured its first Southland Conference title in 14 years Saturday night, but as seat upon empty seat in Maverick Stadium seemed to indicated, few cared.

Little more than 8,000 dedicated souls witnessed UTA's 31-7 victory over Lamar, which sewed up the title and a winning season all in the same breath. But, if the Mavs noticed the sparse crowd, they were keeping it to themselves.

The Mavs were beaten by 48 points by SMU and 43 points by Southern Mississippi. They lost four of their first five and five of their first eight. But if they cared about that either, they weren't telling.

"This bunch, you've got to give them credit," said UTA coach Bud Elliott. "When we were down, they wouldn't quit. The seniors really held them together. Anytime a team bounces back like this one did, it isn't just the coach that gives them motivation."

Saturday, the Mavs did what they've been doing all season long. They bent but they would not break. Before the night was through, Lamar would pile up 424 yards in total offense. Quarterback Fred Hessen, the Southland Conference's leading passer, would throw 61 passes and complete 27 for 367 yards. But only once did the Cardinals get into the end zone.

"They only got seven points on the board and that's what's important," said Elliott, who is not about to make any apologies for his 6-5 team.

The Mavs didn't exactly stand still en route to their fourth SLC victory in five games. Led by quarterback Scott Logan, they ran up 466 yards , 287 in the first half when UTA jumped out to a 24-7 lead.

Logan closed out his college career with perhaps his finest performance of the season. The 6-foot-1 senior threw for 126 yards and one touchdown and ran for 76 more and another score.

"We knew what we wanted to do and went out and did it," said Logan. "We didn't do much the second half except watch the game. But fortunately, we had a big enough lead that we could get away with it."

The Mavs' only trace of offensive movement in the second half came in the final minutes of the game. With the game already well in hand, tailback John Johnson ripped off a 65-yard run with 4:12 left, going all the way to the Lamar six.

Three plays later, another of the Mavs' celebrated Johnsons, this time Randy, barged in from three yards out to put the icing on the cake.

John finished with 125 yards in 15 carries to pace the UTA running attack. Randy chipped in 80 more, including two scores.

"I don't know what happened in the second half, though," said Elliott. "We just couldn't get cranked up again. We were flat as the weather. And then John broke that run. That was a senior running back run."

The 63 passes Lamar threw-including 61 by Hessen- were the most ever thrown against a UTA club. But the Mavericks defense, which came up with three interceptions and a couple of fumble recoveries, kept the damage to an amazing minimum.

"We knew they were going to throw a lot," said UTA cornerback Stacey Rayfield, whose first quarter interception led to the Mavs' first score. "They're a passing team. We showed the, some different coverages to try to confuse them. He hurt us a lot. But when we needed the big play, we got it."

The Mavericks wasted little time getting the upper hand on Lamar. They scored the first two times they got their mitts on the ball, and by halftime, had charged out 24-7 lead.

UTA moved at will against the Cardinal defense in the first two periods, collecting 287 yards in total offensive mileage, 190 of it on the ground.

Brian Happel's 24-yard field goal with 9:23 left in the first quarter gave the Mavs their first points. Cornerback Stacey Rayfield picked off Lamar quarterback Fred Hessen's first pass of the game a couple of minutes into things, and 10 plays later, after a UTA drive fizzled at the seven, Happel did the honors.

Lamar took the lead on its next possession, driving 80 yards in six plays with Hessen hitting fullback Tim Johnson on an 18-yard scoring pass. But UTA came roaring right back, and four plays later it was Mav quarterback Scott Logan finding his flanker, Gilbert Smith, down the right side for a 38-yard score and a 10-7 Mav lead.

Logan, who ran for 61 yards in the first half, gave UTA some breathing room when the 6-1 senior scored on a nine-yard option keeper with 11:29 still to play in the second quarter.

UTA's next scoring charge came a little later in the period after Lamar's Mike Marlow muffed a 37-yard field goal attempt with less than seven minutes left. The Mavs took over on their own 20, but three plays later, they were forced to punt.

However, Cardinal return man Joe Cormier couldn't handle Mike Horn's boot and Mav linebacker George Holmes fell on the loose ball at the Lamar 37. After a Logan incompletion, tailback Randy Johnson, who picked up 44 yards in five first-half carries, broke through the Lamar defense and scampered 37 yards for a touchdown with 5:38 left in the half.

MAVERICK NOTES: UTA coach Bud Elliott was awarded a new two-year contract Saturday. The announcement was made shortly before the start of the game. The pact was recommended by UTA Athletic Director Bill Reeves and approved by university president Wendell Nedderman...Happel became the second leading scorer in UTA history Saturday.

Lamar                     7  0  0  0 - 7
Texas-Arlington     10 14 0  7 - 31
UTA-FG Happel 24
Lam-T. Johnson 18 pass from Hessen (Marlow kick)
UTA-G. Smith 38 pass from Logan (Happel kick)
UTA-Logan 10 run (Happel kick)
UTA-R. Johnson 37 run (Happel kick)
UTA-R. Johnson 3 run (Happel kick)

                                    Cardinals     Mavericks
First downs                            21                 20
Rushes-yards                   26-57          50-340
Passing yards                       367               126
Return yards                            7                 31
Passes                          27-63-3           7-22-0
Punts                                  3-44              8-35
Fumbles-lost                         2-2               1-0
Penalties-yards                    9-96            9-100

Taken from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 11-22-81.

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