Congratulations to former ET Lion QB Clint Dolezel who led his team to the Arena Bowl Championship last night, defeating the Arizona Rattlers 56-42. This just puts another cherry on top of Dolezel’s illustrious Arena Career. It is past time to nominate him to the Hall of Fame. Congrats to # 13 of old ET!
Now, a final poll before the season starts. The top ten WINS of the Ernest Hawkins Era. The voting was about a week but had a good turnout, so here are the 10 most important wins in the Hawkins era.
10. November 15, 1980, ETSU 44, SFA 7-In the home stretch of the 1980 season, the Lions found themselves in a must win situation. Losing was not an option or their 6-2 start would be meaningless. The Lions took care of business down in Deep East Texas by beating up on the Lumberjacks 44-7. Wade Wilson and Cary Noiel totally had their way with home team and the win accomplished two things. It assured the Lions as long as they did not lose their next game they would be in the NAIA playoffs, and it was Coach Ernest Hawkins 100th career head coaching win. The team bought Coach Hawk a Winchester hunting rifle to commemerate the win. A huge win against a tough SFA team that year.
9. September 9, 1985, ETSU 14, Cameron 3-Prior the end of the 1985 season, Coach Hawkins announced that he was retiring at the end of the year. The team was pumped and Cameron had a strong season and would be national champions in two years. It was Hawkins final season opener and most had picked the Aggies to beat the Lions. Strong and physical line play on both sides of the ball guided the Lions to defeat Cameron on a crisp fall day in Commerce.
8. November 1969, ETSU 36, SFA 35-This game will be forever etched in Lion football history. The stakes could also have not been higher. The Lions had one conference loss heading into their final game, and it was to the Javelinas of Texas A&I, but the Hoggies had been dropped by the same SFA team the Lions were facing to close the year. In a back and forth affair, the Lions had just over 3 minutes and were staring at a 35-28 deficit. The Lion offense worked it’s way down the field with under a minute left found themselves staring at 4th and goal. All-American QB Jim Dietz rolled and bought time and lofted a pass in the corner of the end zone that only George Daskalakes could catch to pull within one point, 35-34. Hawkins had a decision to make, kick the PAT and get the tie, or go for two and clinch a share of the Lone Star Conference title. Hawkins went for it. Dietz dropped back and rifled a quick slant to Daskalakes again with just a handful of seconds left and the Lions took home a share of the title and gave Hawkins title number 2 in 3 seasons.
7. November 3, 1979, ETSU 3, Texas A&I 0-Another classic conference matchup, and nobody was picking the Lions to win. Nobody. In a truly defensive struggle, the Lions were not having their best season, but were coming on strong in the latter part of the season, and in what has been considered the finest defensive performance in Lion history. A&I, the LSC champions in that season had a potent offense, but found a hard hitting defensive Lion team and all it took was a Wade Wilson led drive and Field Goal to notch the victory and keep A&I out of the NCAA Division II playoffs and also give the Lions a tie for second place in the 1979 season.
6. November 12, 1983-ETSU 23, SFA 21-In another huge game that gave the Lions redemption chances, the Lions, led by future NFL QB Kyle Mackey and WR Wes Smith grinder out a tough win against an SFA team that had beaten Southwest Texas, the lone team that had beaten the Lions. Once again the situation was clear, beat the Jacks and get a share of the conference title. The Lion defense kept the potent SFA offense at bay and the running of Ricky Dirks grinded the Lumberjacks down and held off a last possession chance and gave the Lions a share of the 1983 LSC Championship, the program’s 20th and first since 1972.
5. October 12, 1966, ETSU 25, Texas A&I 24-Coach Ernest Hawkins believed his team was good enough to notch a conference title in 1966. He had one huge obstacle to overcome, and that was Texas A&I. During homecoming of 1966, the Lions found themselves down against the Hoggies. In a situation nearly identical to what happened in 1969, Lion QB Jim Adams, who had a tough year throwing the ball, came up big. On 3rd and goal, Adams rolled right and lofted a pass, described as the “dying duck” by those who witnessed it (My Dad included) and looked for Tom Black who jumped up and caught the ball in traffic and brought it in and won the game as ET celebrated their homecoming in front of 10,000 fans and would clinch a conference title 3 weeks later, their first since 1959.
4. November 25, 1972 # 4 ETSU 54, # 1 Central Oklahoma 0-In the first round of the NAIA national playoffs, nobody saw this coming. In a total route, Kenneth Parks and Nelson Robinson ran around, over, and through the UCO defense and the Lion defense, led by Harvey Martin and Autry Beamon pitched a shutout that would send the Lions to the national championship game and was the first of 4 # 1 teams that a Hawkins coached team would defeat.
3. November 5, 1977 ETSU 7, # 1 Texas A&I 6-In another fierce defensive battle. The Texas A&I Javelinas came to Commerce, TX riding a 46 game winning streak and had destroyed everyone they had faced up to that point. Once again, a Boley Crawford coached defense played hard nosed defense and Terry Skinner led a late Lions drive that resulted in a rushing TD to tie the game. With under 2 minutes left, it was all up to kicker Tom Hay to knock the PAT through and beat the # 1 team in the country. Hay split the uprights and an elated Memorial Stadium crowd erupted as A&I once again saw their national title hopes dashed by the Lions once again. Mike Richardson, a 1,000 yard rusher that year was instrumental in the game winning drive. Nobody will ever forget this game.
2. December 8, 1980, # 8 ETSU 27, # 1 Central Arkansas 21-The first round of the 1980 NAIA playoffs showed from start to finish that the Lions of ET were better than their # 8 ranking. The trio of Wade Wilson, Cary Noeil, and Randy Smith jumped out to a 21-7 lead to take the crowd out of it in Conway. The Bears came back to tie it at 21, but the Lions took advantage of a short UCA punt and Noeil burst from 5 yards out to seal UCA’s fate, as the Lions pushed their ticket to the NAIA Semi-Finals, beating yet another # 1 team.
1. December 9, 1972, # 2 ETSU, # 1 Carson-Newman-In the greatest game that ever was played in Commerce, Coach Ernest Hawkins coached his finest game and Lion football was forever etched into history by winning the National Championship. In a back and forth affair, Hawkins never deviated from his game plan, give the ball to Kenneth Parks and keep running it. It was a crucial pass play that won the game. On 3rd down, Coach Hawkins called a timeout. On third and 3, Hawkins deviated from his running game plan and called a pass play. QB Will Cureton dropped back to pass and hit Nelson Robinson on a crossing pattern that allowed the Lions to run out the clock and win the national championship, a master stroke on a great coaching career.