Despite the futility of the 1970's, UTA football was actually exciting and competitive during this time in the later half of the decade. Bud Elliott had brought an air of optimism to Mavericks everywhere. He began his coaching tenure in 1974 (that season was covered in this series in 2013). UTA hadn't had a winning record since 1968 and hadn't outscored their opponents for a whole season since 1969. In 1974, Elliott's team went 1-10 and were outscored 112-332. In '75, UTA improved to 4-7 and were outscored 213-286.
Then came '76, a memorable year for a few reasons. UTA finished 5-6, the second year in a row for improvement. For the first time in six seasons, UTA's offense scored more than their defense allowed, 250-239, a narrow margin certainly, but much better than what UTA faithful were accustomed to seeing. A 14-13 home loss in snowy, deary conditions to Arkansas State prevented UTA from receiving an Independence Bowl bid.
Think about that last sentence for a minute. 0-10 in 1970, 2-9 in 1971, 5-6 in 1972, 4-6 in 1973, 1-10 in 1974 and 4-7 in 1975. A combined 12-48 the previous six seasons and yet, here was a team two points away from a bowl bid. It was a shot in the arm for a program that desperately needed one. Of course, the team was frustrated by not getting there, but eventually, time healed and the progress was evident.
That also doesn't negate the issues that still surrounded the program and department as a whole. While there were many other issues, the one that received the most press was the lack of a football stadium, or rather, lack of an adequate football stadium.
1976 was the last year UTA played in Turnpike/Arlington Stadium. The first two years UTA occupied the place, starting in 1970, they shared the venue with a minor league baseball team. Then came the Texas Rangers, who were basically given control over the stadium. UTA would only play two September home games at Arlington Stadium during the entire stay there. UTA played North Texas twice at Texas Stadium during that span, equaling the number of home games and once had to move a scheduled home game with Louisiana Tech to the Cotton Bowl because of that conflict.
That had such an impact.
It's not always true, but generally teams that play at home win more games than the road. Just including September, UTA was 1-1 at Arlington Stadium. In that same time frame, they were 1-18 (!!!) on the road. At neutral sites, they were 1-2. Four out of the seven seasons, they started the season with a winless September. So averaging the wins and losses out by season, how many casual fans will any team attract with a .4-3 record by the time the squad get a chance to play in front of a sympathetic crowd.
I don't think we'll ever know the true cause of the issues regarding the team's decline from championship contender in the 1960's. Playing in a stadium built for baseball, with the ability to swing stands around for football, could have hurt recruiting. Playing in an initial 20,000-seat (expanded to 35,000 in 1972) stadium and averaging 4,700 fans in seven seasons couldn't be terribly appealing either. Playing for a team with an abundance of road games early, and therefore a losing record isn't a great sales pitch either. There were only two times the team had a winning record during the Arlington Stadium era, 1-0 to start the 1973 season and 4-3 near the end of the 1976 campaign.
All of that is a long winded way to say moving off campus was an absolute disaster. But the days of playing in Arlington Stadium were over. But not by choice.
Arlington Stadium would commence a renovation after the conclusion of the 1977 baseball season. In short, Major League Baseball in Arlington gave the UTA football program one last punch to the gut before sending them out the door. UTA football would now be played even further off campus, and in a high school stadium at that. Ironic, but Lamar's Cravens Field was a much better venue than Arlington Stadium. Of course, that doesn't really say much.
One can only imagine the embarrassment the department was going through. In the 1960's, the thought was they had to play in Arlington Stadium because their old stadium was old and cramped. Now, they were playing at a high school field that had less capacity than the original spot...and they couldn't fill it.
This also further exposed what has always been an issue at UTA, poor facilities. Football had no proper home, basketball played at Texas Hall, which was considered a substandard venue for the sport almost from day one and baseball's home was little more than a city park with chain link and an infield. Prior to Maverick Stadium, the track team called home something I can find little information about - UTA Track, an eight-lane cinder facility that sat 1,200 is all I can find. Thankfully, UTA has made progress the last decade or so, but for roughly the first fifty years, the athletic facilities at UTA were some of the poorest in the University Division / Division I.
At least University officials were working to fix some of that. By 1977, news reports were out about attempts to build an on-campus stadium and an indoor arena. In yet another story of bad news, the University of Texas system regents delayed action on a building proposal for those two venues. Ironic to think about, but the 1979 team that went 9-2 and generated more buzz around campus than at any other point in that decade could have played in Maverick Stadium rather than Cravens. Once again, the timing was off for UTA.
In any case, UTA would would begin 1977, their first year at Cravens, like it had most every other season in recent memory, on the road. On this day in UTA football history, the Mavericks open the 1977 season against the Northwestern State Demons (just a reminder that I type the story as it appeared in print, mistakes and all).
Mistakes cost UTA 28-24
By BOB HOOD
NATCHITOCHES, La.-They say that mistakes cost you football games and no one should know that any better than UT-Arlington, which saw its chances of ruining Northwestern State University's stadium-opening ceremonies fall short here Saturday night.
UTA, which at times ran the ball well, lost two costly fumbles, both setting up NWS scores as the Demons marched to a 28-24 triumph in the first game ever played in the new Harry Turpin Stadium before 12,000 [BLOGGERS NOTE: Turpin Stadium opened in 1975, but was dedicated on this day].
The Mavs-led by the running of All-America fullback Derrick Jensen and sparked by numerous long gainers by Quarterback Roy Dewalt and backs J.B. McGinty, Jimmy Bailey and Kent Sharp-looked as if they might make a runaway of their first meeting with the Demons, chalking up a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter.
***BUT THE DEMONS already had found the Mavericks' weakness-the secondary-and went to work, slowly chopping away at the scoreboard until they were in command to stay.
Shortly after the Mavs had upped their advantage to 24-7 on a five-yard skip-and-hop touchdown run by Bailey, Northwestern linebacker John Procell recovered the first of two fumbles to set up a score.
Procell jumped on a ball fumbled by Mav running back Danny Williams at the UTA 32. Northwestern quarterback Kenny Philibert, who passed for four TDs, then led his charges in, slapping a touchdown aerial to wide receiver Mike Almond to cut the lead to 24-14.
Philibert led his charges 40 yards to paydirt minutes later, tossing passes of 19 and eight yards, sandwiched around a 15-yard UTA penalty, before hitting end Waymond Waters on a 12-yard touchdown pass.
***THAT CUT THE Mavs lead to 24-21. Then Procell plopped on another Maverick fumble to set up the go-ahead TD. Philibert again took advantage of the Mavs' weak secondary, tossing from the one to Almond in the right corner. Dennis Pendergraft's boot made it 28-24, a score that was to stand up to the end, although the Mavs did move to the Northwestern one late in the fourth but couldn't get in.
The Mavericks lost three of seven fumbles while Northwestern was two for two.
"You just can't win ball games by leaving the football on the ground," said UTA coach Bud Elliott. "They just took advantage of our mistakes."
UTA carried a 17-7 lead into the dressing room at halftime, thanks to a pair of four-yards keepers by Dewalt and a 23-yard field goal by Tom Skoruppa wrapped around a 28-yard Northwestern scoring bomb via second-string quarterback Kenny Philibert to wide receiver James Bennett.
In the opening quarter, UTA marched 56 yards in 11 plays for a 7-0 lead. For a moment. it appeared the Mavericks had died at their own 47 after moving the ball only four yards on three plays, but an offsides penalty against Northwestern on the fourth-down punt gave the visitors second wind.
***AFTER JENSEN plunged a yard, Bailey scooted nine yards around left end and J.B. McGinty galloped seven to the Northwestern 28. Dewalt then kept for 15 yards on another fake-and-run play to put it at the 13. Bailey, on a pitchout from Dewalt, carried to the four, just inches short of a first down.
Dewalt, instead of going for the inches, kept off the left side on a fourth-down touchdown play and Skoruppa booted the PAT.
On Northwestern's second play following the ensuing kickoff, UTA's Rob Michaelson intercepted a pass by NWL's Mark Rhodes intended for tailback Mark Schroeder to put the Mavs back in command at the Northwestern 22.
The Mavs could only move it only 16 yards and finally had to settle for Skoruppa's field goal and a 10-0 lead with 7:05 remaining in the opening period.
Roscoe Lewis intercepted a Dewalt pass early in the second quarter to set up the Demons' first-half marker at the UTA 28. Three plays later, Philibert passed the distance to James Bennett for the touchdown and Dennis Pendergraft booted the PAT.
The Demons moved from their own 23 to the Maverick 25 before losing the ball on downs. A four-yard run by Jensen, a 15-yard personal foul penalty against Northwestern and a fine 17-yard run by Kent Sharp put the ball at the NWS 38. Jensen showed his true all-American form on the next playon an 18-yard gain, getting most of it running backwards and carrying a couple of Demon defenders. on the next play, Dewalt found Jensen all alone up the middle for a 17-yard scoring strike to set up the Mav quarterback's second four-yard TD keeper. Skoruppa hit the uprights and UTA took a 17-7 halftime lead.
The final outcome almost overshadowed the statistics, which showed UTA with 370 total yards on the ground compared to only 86 for Northwestern. In the pass category, however, NWS totaled 212 to UTA's 65, and all four Demon TDs came through the air.
Jensen entered the game needing only 87 yards to become UTA's all-time leading rusher and he got more than enough, galloping 144 on 26 carries.
Texas-Arlington .....10 7 7 0-24
NW Louisiana.........0 7 7 14-28
UTA Dewalt 4 run (Skoruppa kick)
UTA - Skoruppa 23 FG
NSU - Bennett 28 pass from Philibert (Pendergraft kick)
UTA - Dewalt 4 run (Skoruppa kick)
UTA - Bailey 5 run(Skoruppa kick)
NSU - Waters 12 pass from Philibert (Pendergraft kick)
NSU - Waters 10 pass from Philibert (Pendergraft kick)
NSU - Almond 4 pass from Philibert (Pendergraft kick)
First downs...........23 10
Passing yards........39 212
RUSHING-UTA, Jensen 26-144, Bailey 14-65; NSU Schroeder 8-15, Knecht 5-17, Wright 6-17.
RECEIVING-UTA:Jensen 2-21, Burt 2-18; NSU:Almond 3-42, Waters 3-38, Collins 3-81, Bennett 1-28.
PASSING-UTA:Dewalt 11-3-1 for 39; NSU:Rhodes 10-4-1 for 40, Philibert 17-10-0 for 172, 4 touchdowns