This is part 4 of the 5 part series chronicling my years at ETSU. 1991 season.
Having won the ’90 LSC crown and making our first NCAA quarterfinal appearance we were riding high. Our offense was basically all coming back except for the best receiver to don the blue and gold, Gary Compton. Recruiting was a lot easier though after a 10 win season and with the guys they brought in plus the returners, Bounds and Meador had plenty of options. Only difference this year was that we were the team being hunted. We were stacked though at every position. A new defensive player we got named Curtis Buckley was so good Coach Copeland and the other defensive coaches absolutely had to get him on the field in some type way. He would not dissappoint.
Year started well with a 44-6 thrashing of Livingston (West Alabama) in the 2nd annual Chennault Cup game. Very balanced attack all around game from all 3 phases. Week 2 was the big one though. Coach Vowell secured a home and home series during the off season with the team that knocked us out the playoffs the year before…those Pitt State Gorillas…and their unprecedented 57 game regular season win streak came with it. It would be a top 10 matchup. Having seen their home atmosphere in the playoff game the year before our alumni came home and went to work for us. We unveiled our brand new 30 foot Lion mascot a la the Gorilla. For the first time in my time in Memorial Stadium it was filled to capacity. It was an electrifying environment with stars shining bright on each team. Our All-American DB Eric Turner one on one against PSU’s all everything wide receiver. We took control from the start with Bounds doing Bound-like things, scrambling and making a big play. While I was running a backside route I look up and see Bounds coming back to my side. I ran to the sideline and he spotted me and hit me with the pass. As I came down with it the PSU linebacker was waiting to try to lay me out but instead he helped me regain my balance and I was off to the races with an 80 yard td and the fans going crazy. But to the fans and my dismay a clipping penalty would bring it back to the around our 45 yard line. I remember going back to the huddle and saying “who was clipping 20 yards BEHIND me?” and the big phone booth of a man and hof’er Dwayne Phorne said “I did.” Not wanting my butt whooped I told him “that’s alright we will get em next time”l. We continued right on down field and scored the go ahead score and never lost the lead. A 4th quarter goal line stand gave us the biggest win of the Eddie Vowell era and a #5 national ranking 20-13. Their 57 game winning was no more. We were riding high at the top of the hill and no one could touch us. We were gonna beat you one way or another because we were that good…at least for that night.
As I have said before usually after a big win comes a big letdown…a flat and befuddling loss at Southern Arkansas 14-6. The next week at 1-AA NW Louisiana saw mistakes kill us at the end after Bounds set a stadium passing yards record 432 yards. A penalty on a Micah Haley blocked fg attempt gave them another chance and a 26-23 win but they knew they got away with that one. We would head into conference play again with a 2-2 record.
UCO came to commerce to open LSC play. We got off to a slow start the first quarter as the offense wasn’t clicking like normal. As Coach Vowell had done previous years he called on Mike Meador…the Broncho killer. He would lead the team that afternoon to a school record 660 yards of offense en route to a 51-21 win. Next up…the little piggies in Kingsville, were we hadn’t won since 82. The piggies were picked to win conference again even after the drubbing we had given them the year before. Our team showed heart as we played a tight game in front of a raucous crowd if almost 12k. We were unfazed though as I caught a late 24 yard td from Bounds as he made another Bounds-like play that put us up 24-16 and hushed the little piggies so quietly you could hear them squeal all the way back in Commerce. They scored again but the defense stopped the conversion and we ran the rest of the clock out inside their 10 yard line as another epic win was put in the notch of Coach Vowell. His first “roll call” in Kingsville. He even eliminated the curfew for the night and let us enjoy the Corpus Christi night life! It was a memorable night for sure.
After blowing out Wayne State at home 54-16 we headed out to ENMU. It was a chance to keep control of the conference but turned into the debacle in the dessert as we lost 17-14 in a game of missed opportunity after missed opportunity. Between my teammate Anthony Brooks and me defending eachother for an uncontested missed td and failing to convert points having been inside their 10 yard line several times it was a terrible loss and ended up costing us the LSC crown. We also lost Anthony that game to a season ending ACL injury. We were very disappointed in that entire weekend. We would rebound with a 37-3 home win against Abilene Christian the following week and followed that with a trip to face Angelo State. Coach gave what I felt was the most fiery pre-game speech ever and we preceded to lay an egg the first quarter falling back big. Then the second quarter saw us come all the way back and take the lead. Back and forth the second half and we ended like we had taken our sister to the prom…a 39-39 tie. Wow. Our LSC and playoff hopes seemed like they were dwindling with our record of 6-3-1. One last game at Memorial Stadium against Cameron to close the season. We would need an impressive showing and that’s what we got as we beat them 39-7 to make our home record 5-0 for the second year in a row. Now we wait for the playoff pairings.
New life! Not only did we make the playoffs…it was gonna be here in Commerce, America…for the first time! Grand Valley State would have to make the trek down south this time around. ENMU had won the LSC but we were given the prize of new life. Its good to be at the top of the hill. On a chilly November afternoon and after a closely played first half we pulled away for a 36-15 win in front of a relatively small crowd that cheered very loudly. Next up…the rematch.
After our first home NCAA game we had to make the trip back to Pitt State again. Having pulled off the upset earlier at home they were hyped for the second chance. We found ourselves down 31-7 at halftime. But we had a Bounds. We had a Meador. We had a Tennison. We had a Buckley. We had a Turner. We had a Hooker, Perry, Chapman and Mozeke so we felt we had a chance. We fought our way back to cut the lead to 31-28 going into the 4th. Fought hard and had a couple chances to take the lead but it wasn’t meant to be for us that day as they scored a late td to beat us 38-28 and they cruised to blowout wins on their way to the national championship. Their only loss that year was to us and no other team played them like we had. Our 8-4-1 record was deceptive. We just didn’t perform consistently. A great team though that put up record numbers, especially on offense. This team would be rated as one of the best in school history by the Lion Wire, and rightfully so. We would be losing a lot this year though with guys like Jimmy Hooker and Micah Haley on defense and the greatest passer in school history Bobby Bounds and the rest of the backfield on offense. Our work would be cut out for us trying to rebuild this offense with only 3 starters coming back. Defense was not going be a problem though.