This is part 3 of the 5 part series of my years in Commerce (88-92). The 1990 season.
After a dissappointing 4-6 season in 89, the turn of the decade was looked upon as a fresh new start. I was coming off my ACL surgery after playing only a few plays in the opener before succumbing to the injury. Coaches hit the juco hard during recruiting shoring up key spots like rb and db depth. No spring football for me with my injury so I asked Coach Vowell if it would be ok if I ran track for the school as part of my rehab. He agreed so my spring was spent with those guys. Seven months after my surgery I ran a 10.5 in the 100m which was an event I had never even ran when I was in high school. I(and Dr. Bahm) declared myself ready to go. My end of the year meeting with coach came next. He made sure I knew that to be on scholarship I needed to produce and he expected more from me than the 3 catches I had the first 2 seasons. Coming back to the team to back up the greatest receiver I ever laid eyes on along with expectations meant this little kid from Paris would have his work cut out for him.
When we started camp I saw quickly how much we had loaded up. The juco kids were studs and we found a little kid a few miles down the road in Sulphur Springs named Billy Watkins who had a huge big toe and would leave commerce as the all-time leading scorer.
Game 1 was at home against Livingston in the first annual Chennault Cup game. It started eerily similar to the disaster I had in Mobile the year before. Then things for me changed. 1st and 10 from our 20 yard line. I got to go in and Bobby Bounds called the play…right pro 26 stop ponteac. It was a staple for our offense and I got to run the post route. A beautiful strike from Bobby after I had shook the db and it was a foot race after that. Even with the bulky brace on my knee I left the kid easily for the 80 yard td to #80. Redemption for me as Compton was the first guy to congratulate me as I went to the sideline. I would catch another td from Mike Meador in the 3rd quarter and both Compton and I ended the day with over 100 yards each and 3 tds between us in the 45-6 win.
The next 4 games saw a lot of up and down with the team as we went 2-2. Played good in a 42-0 shutout of East Central, terrible in another loss to Southern Arkansas 22-17 , well in a game we should have won against Northwest Louisiana but loss 24-17 and then we played pretty bad against Central Oklahoma but somehow escaped with 17-10 win with a solid defensive effort led by Jimmy Hooker and Terry Bagsby. Now the meat of our schedule was up though and we weren’t sure yet what kind of team we would be as we had been in the same spot the prior two years and both went different ways. This one would also.
3 teams were picked ahead of us for the LSC title and we had them all in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. First up was the defending champion piggies from Kingsville. We knew we needed a near perfect game and boy did we get it. A dominating 26-6 victory and invigorating “roll call” to follow. The 88 win was great but this one was different. We dominated those guys and made them like it. It was nothing they could do to stop us and our defense was the stuff of legends.
After a big win usually comes a big letdown. We faced that the next week in Canyon against a WTSU team that wasn’t supposed to be that much of a threat. An early injury to their starting QB brought in a familiar face though, Royce Schletcha who had transferred from commerce. Everything was crashing around us as Royce had his team leading us big time at halftime. Good thing we play two halves though as after some adjustments we came out and showed them this wasn’t the same Lions of recent memory overcoming a 20 plus point deficit and winning going away 51-35. During the game Compton sealed his name at the top of the receiving list…a spot he still holds on to today.
Next up was ENMU back in Commerce. Defense again was the name of the day as we shut them out 19-0. Road trip to Abilene to face ACU and my old high school teammate Todd Johnson and his Wildcats. We had an ongoing bet for bragging rights back in Paris over the summer. He had a 2-1 record against us going into his final matchup for their homecoming game. We beat them so bad (63-34) that he wouldn’t even shake my hand afterwards…lol. I told him don’t be mad at me, I only had 1 of the 9 tds we scored that day. He didn’t talk to me again for 20 years but oh well.
The Rams of ASU were up next and a lot of us remembered the beatdown they put on us at home in 88. Not this time. 42-7 to close out the home schedule outscoring our opponents 174-19 in those 5 games and clinching at least a share of the crown but we wanted more. Cameron University was up next and we owed them for an embarrassing loss in 88 also so what better time to repay them huh? Everything clicked as the defense scored their 3rd shutout of the year in a 59-0 rout. Undefeated in the LSC for our 1st title in the Vowell era. We were riding high.
Then came a first for our beloved school, an invite to the NCAA playoffs and a trip to Michigan to face Grand Valley State at their place. We were sitting pretty at 9-2 and facing a tough opponent…but 2 guys stood out to me in Compton and Bagsby. They showed tremendous leadership on the offensive and defensive sides respectively and no one wanted let them down. We clawed and fought our hearts out as we left the state of Michigan with a 20-14 win, first “roll call” after a NCAA playoff game, a 10-2 record and a date with the undefeated Pitt State Gorillas up next in Kansas.
Thanksgiving was the next week also and for the first time in my life I wasn’t going home to Paris Texas to spend it. I got to spend it instead with my ETSU family though as the school let out for the holiday but we stayed to prepare for the quarterfinals. Heading to the game I saw for me what was the first true college town in Pittsburg, Kansas. Red and gold was everywhere we saw on the path to the stadium. Their fans were jam packed in it and as rowdy as I had ever seen. They had a 30 foot menacing looking blowup gorilla in the endzone and “welcome to the jungle” blaring so loud on their intercom system we couldn’t hear the guy next to us during stretching. They jumped on us early scoring 4 tds to build a 31-7 halftime lead. We adjusted and cut the lead to 31-28 after 3 quarters but turnovers and other mistakes doomed us in the final one as they ran away with a 60-28 win.
What an amazing experience. Such great leadership on that team and valuable experience the underclassmen gained. Plus…we got rings! No one would ever be able to take those bad boys away either. It would be the best finish of my ETSU career and 1st of 3 really great teams I would play on. We would be losing great players in Compton and Bagsby among others but the future was bright as Bounds had established himself as a leader and my roommate Jimmy Hooker had also had a 1st team all LSC season on the defensive side. A young sophomore corner named Eric Turner had 10 interceptions also and we had lots more returning as well. 1990 was one of the best ever for ETSU football. I was a first hand witness to it!