Greetings, Lion fans, and welcome back to 100 Days, 100 Reasons, and today, we reveal Reason #98, Fantastic Finsihes and Miracle Comebacks.
If you want a fantastic finish, look no further than the bizarre match up between the Lions and the Mustangs of Midwestern State. A game that took two days and two different stadiums to complete. This one had enough twists, turns, and changes of fortune that would enable Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame to come up with a week’s worth of episodes.
It almost didn’t happen at all. A severe thunderstorm was moving quickly into the Wichita Falls area, and according to conversations I overheard from people involved with the Lion athletic department, Bill Maskill of Midwestern did not want to start the game at all. Colby Carthel intensely disagreed, and the game kicked off, albeit 30-45 minutes late. It was a well played and hard fought first half that ended in a 10-10 tie. No sooner than both teams had left the field, ,the skies opened up, and the downpour began. Fans huddled under the stands, awaiting the restart at some point. With no let up in the rain, after what seemed like forever, the game was declared a no contest and would not be completed.
It was at this point that the real shenanigans began. I was lucky enough to be on the same fan bus with some personnel from the athletic department, and was able to get some of the inside scoop on efforts to restart/complete the game. Campus activities at Midwestern had brought many parents in town, so hotel accommodations for the Lions were out. Midwestern again did not want to complete the game, while Commerce was just as adamant to do so. All the while AD Tim McMurray worked the phones and his contacts to come to some sort of agreement, while at the same time, searching for a centrally located stadium that could host the game.
Finally, after a long night of negotiations, and copious amounts of coffee, along with a phone call to the LSC Commissioner, who decreed that the game had such a bearing on the conference title that it would, in fact, be completed, McMurray was able to secure the stadium in Denton at the University of North Texas, on the condition that it would be done in such a manner as not to interrupt UNT athletic operations.
Finally, early on a Sunday afternoon, the second half was started. More twists and turns, a late safety the pulled the Mustangs within a single point, and the game was decided on a missed field goal that gave the Lions a 20-19 win. It was just one of those instances when all that could be said was, “you had to be there.”
By far, the biggest miracle comeback involving a Lion football team had to be the 2017 second round playoff game against Central Washington. This one had so many things that makes the game what it is. A road trip of over 2,000 miles for the Lions, the second long trip, and the second one played in less than desirable conditions. Lion quarterback Luis Perez was questionable to play. Central Washington was the #1 seed in the region, and the Lions were still a question mark.
The seeds of doubt began to take hold after a first half that saw the Lions fall behind, 28-7. I can recall being on the phone with Brian, who was just as discouraged as I was. The one encouraging thought we both had was, “With our offense, as much as we throw it, and as long as we keep Luis upright, we have a chance.” A chance.
And were we ever proven right. Luis stayed upright, the defense clamped down, forced a turnover or two, and on a fourth and goal with just under 30 seconds left, a short pass from Perez to Buck Wilson tied the score. After an exchange of possessions, Kristov Martinez drilled a long field goal for the win. I ran outside yelling, resturants all over Commerce exploded in joy, and the Lions moved on. On that day, the smallest man on the field played the biggest.
One Lion connection to a real fantastic finish was former coach Guy Morriss when coaching at Kentucky. Morriss had already received his celebratory Gatorade bath, only to look up to see an LSU wide out catch a long heave and sprint into the end zone as time expired.
The 1969 Big Shootout between #1 Texas and #2 Arkansas deserves mention here. It was the 100th anniversary of college football, the first game moved to a prime spot in December where it was the only game in town. President Richard Nixon was in the stands, much like a regular fan, only six years after the shooting of another President in a southern state. Arkansas opened a 14-0 lead, Texas scored late in the third, and, on a fourth down and three yards, Darrell Royal, who once remarked that only three things can happen when the ball is passed, and two of them are bad, dared to throw a long corner route to a tight end, and the Longhorns cashed in, emerging with a 15-14 win. Texas went on the the National Championship on New Year’s Day in the Cotton Bowl.
One miracle finish that often gets overlooked is the 1984 classic between Maryland and Miami. First year coach Jimmy Johnson was making big changes in the Hurricane program, and they roared out to a 31-0 halftime lead. Maryland quarterback Frank Reich then led a furious second half that saw the Terrapins outscore Miami 42-9 enroute to a 42-40 win Reich and Johnson would meet again, Reich as a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, and Johnson coaching the Dallas Cowboys, and Johnson would get a measure of satisfaction.
Later that same season, Miami would be involved in another miracle finish, this time the victim of a Hail Mary pass from Boston College’s Doug Flutie. His heave fell into the arms of Gerard Phelan in the end zone to stun a over flow Hurricane crowd.
Probably the most incredible finish of them all involves the 2013 Iron Bowl battle between Auburn and Alabama. The Crimson Tide lined up for a last second long field goal attempt that would have given them an SEC West championship, a berth in the conference championship game, and most likely a return to the national championship playoffs. Auburn deployed Chris Davis just under the goal posts to either return a short kick or possibly bat away if he could. Davis managed to catch the ball just under the goal posts, and returned it 110 yards for a game winning touchdown, which propelled the Tigers to a national championship game appearance.
Pure joy. Inconsolable heartbreak. That’s what makes college football great, and why we love it so.