The Historical: Texas' McEachern Miracle and Cornell's Fifth Down

Each week The Historical looks ahead to upcoming contests in order to look back at the history of college football. This week we relive the 1973 Red River Shootout that saw a third-string quarterback coming off the bench to lead Texas to the victory and the infamous "Fifth Down" game between Cornell and Dartmouth in 1940.

Texas vs. Oklahoma, The Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas, 1973

The Red River Rivalry (or Shootout as it was once known) has been a series marked by dramatic games, unexpected outcomes and high drama but when Texas and Oklahoma met in 1977 no one expected a third-string quarterback to come off the bench and clinch the game.

Longhorn quarterback Randy McEachern stunned a Cotton Bowl crowd of 72,000 and all of college football when he led his fifth-ranked Texas squad to a 13-6 win over No. 2 Oklahoma. It was something, said Texas head coach Fred Akers, you had to see happen to truly believe.

"You might see something like that in a storybook. Maybe make a movie about it, but I’ve never seen anything like that," he told reporters after the game

At the start of the 1977 season, Texas’ chances seemed to be a daunting long shot much less the fate of the red shirt Junior quarterback from Pasadena, Texas. McEachern wasn’t even in the Longhorn media guide and his team was absent in the AP’s preseason poll. Playing in the

The 103rd iteration of the Red River Rivalry was a matchup of unbeatens but, as Sports Illustrated’s Douglas S. Looney put it, "Everyone knows Oklahoma is more unbeaten than Texas."

The twilight of Darrell Royal’s head coaching career in Austin had not provided much success against the team he played for in college. While the Longhorns had eked out a 6-6 tie for Royal’s final Red River rivalry, Texas entered the 1977 game with a six year drought of wins against the Sooners.

When Royal relinquished his head coaching duties to become UT’s athletic director in 1977, Texas’ former offensive coordinator, Fred Akers, was tapped to lead the Longhorns. Despite his nine-years experience on the UT sideline, the Arkansas native was only able to muster a mediocre 10-13 record in two seasons as the head coach in Wyoming.

While hopes were high among the Longhorn faithful, the rest of the country was skeptical of how much the first-year head coach could accomplish with the young squad he inherited. Texas wasn’t even listed in the AP’s preseason poll.

But the Longhorns boasted a not-so-secret weapon, running back Earl Christian Campbell. The native of Tyler, Texas has been heavily recruited out of high school but had not lived up to that promise as a fullback in the Longhorn’s influential wishbone offense. Akers decided to sink or swim on Campbell’s ability by dumping the wishbone, which had been the mainstay of Texas offense for more than a decade, and rely on the power I formation.

The results were dramatic. In the first three games of the season Texas outscored opponents 184-15 and climbed to No. 5 in the AP polls. Texas had scored just 195 points in all of 1976. The naysayers noted that the gaudy stats came against underwhelming programs like Virginia. Oklahoma, meanwhile, had been busy toppling goliaths like Ohio State.

Oklahoma, by contrast, was enjoying the heyday of the Barry Switzer era. Since his arrival in Norman in 1973, the Sooners had been conference champions or co-champions each and every season and picked up a pair of national championships along the way. The 9-2-1 1976 season had actually been the low point for Oklahoma under Switzer.

The polls were bullish on the Sooners in the pre-season, overwhelmingly voting them the No. 1 team in the land. A closer-than-expected season opener against Vanderbilt saw the Sooners dropping to No. 5 but an epic victory against Ohio State on Sept. 24 had restored them to the top spot in time for the 103rd edition of the Red River Rivalry. It was the tenth time the two teams had met with both ranked in the top ten.

A capacity crowd of 72,032 was on-hand for the early afternoon kickoff at the Fair Park venue. While the 78-degree temperatures were about ideal, a 15 mph wind offered caution for the kicking games. Akers gathered his charges in the locker room and delivered his pre-game speech.

"There is nothing we can’t overcome. Nothing. Good luck men," he said. "Ah, the hell with luck! Let’s go out there and be us."

Being themselves proved pretty catastrophic off the bat. The Longhorn’s second play from scrimmage – a halfback pass by Campbell – failed disastrously when Oklahoma intercepted the ball. Things seemed to improve when the Sooners fumbled the ball back three plays later but that was the invitation for the real disaster to begin.

Texas’ starting quarterback Mark McBath made it to the seventh play of the game before he suffered a broken ankle and was forced out of the game. John Aune took over and lasted nine plays before falling awkwardly after being hit by an Oklahoma defender. The result was torn ligaments in his knee and he followed McBath to the locker room. Both injuries proved season-ending.

The spotlight then fell on little-used backup McEachern who came off the bench to lead the Longhorns the rest of the way. Prior to having his name called that afternoon, McEachern had never worked out with the first unit and, in fact, had watched the game the previous year from the press box where he was a spotter for a radio network broadcast.

"Sure, I was scared," he admitted after the game. "I really didn’t know what to think when [Aune went down]. I never played in a big game like this. I was uneasy the whole game."

With Campbell in the backfield, McEachern wasn’t asked to be a miracle worker, just not make mistakes. He passed eight times the rest of the way completing four for just 57 yards. But that was sufficient to open up the Oklahoma offense enough to give Campbell an opportunity to score.

The game was a battle of defense, field position and kickers. And it was the last that made it a game. Oklahoma’s German-born kicking ace, Uwe von Schamann, booted a 47-yarder mid-way in the first quarter to put the Sooners on the board.

McEachern led Texas down the field but the drive stalled on the Oklahoma 46-yard-line. That’s when the Longhorn’s trotted out their other secret weapon, kicker and punter Russell Erxleben.

"Kicking," Erxleben once confessed. "is no fun if you are no good at it."

The young man from Seguin was arguably one of the best at it. A three-time All American he had booted an NCAA record 67-yard field goal two weeks prior against Rice. The 64-yarder didn’t pose any more of a problem.

Texas’ next drive proved the key to the game. McEachern commanded the 80-yard-drive topped by a 24-yard touchdown run by Campbell. It would be the only touchdown of the afternoon and, when the final whistle was blow, Campbell had racked up 124 of Texas’ 209 total yards on offense.

The game was a kicking battle through the second half. Von Shamann earned the Sooners another three points which were matched by Erxleben in the last period of play.

As the clock ticked down on the fourth quarter, Oklahoma was not about to go quiet into any type of night and was driving to the Texas goal line with less than four minutes left in the game. With fourth and one at the Texas five-yard-line, Oklahoma attempted a quarterback sneak but Sooner signalman, Thomas Lott, was stuffed for no gain by tackle Brad Shearer and defensive back Jonnie Johnson.

The Sooner’s defense stiffened as well and held the Longhorns on the six-yard-line but Erxleben boomed a 69 yard punt out of the Texas end zone to put the Oklahoma threat to rest. The final score was 13-6.

Despite being the underdogs, Texas overwhelmed his Sooner squad admitted Switzer after the game.

"It was just too much Campbell, Shearer and Erxleben," he said. "Campbell is unbelievable and Erxleben with the wind at his back is automatic."

When McEachern was asked after the game what his biggest thrill of the afternoon had been, his reply was simple; "The end."

Texas would continue to barrel though the season with its neophyte quarterback under center and Campbell in command. The legendary running back would lead the nation with 1,744 rushing yards and win the Heisman Trophy. The wins kept coming and Texas finished the regular season undefeated, earned the Southwest Conference championship and were No. 1 in the AP poll.

Yet the storybook ending ended on New Year’s Day when a half-dozen Longhorn turnovers led to a 38-10 Notre Dame victory in the 1978 Cotton Bowl. Texas slid to No. 3 and the Fighting Irish claimed the national championships.

Oklahoma’s fortunes in the Orange Bowl were arguably worse. Despite the setback in Dallas, the Sooners went undefeated through the rest of their regular season schedule as well and were sitting at No. 2 as 1977 came to a close. The highly-favored Sooners were then thrashed 31-6 by Lou Holtz’s Razorback squad and finished the season ranked No. 8.

Dartmouth vs. Cornell, 1940, Hanover, New Hampshire

Dartmouthcornell_medium

When the Dartmouth Indians and Cornell Big Red faced each other on Nov. 18, 1940 it was a battle of two undefeated squads with nothing less than a national championship was on the line. Nothing more than absolute chaos was the result.

It was, until the Colorado vs. Missouri tilt in 1990, the most infamous "Fifth Down" game in the history of the sport.

Carl Snavely's Cornell team was atop an 18-game win streak when they rolled into Hanover, New Hampshire on Nov. 18 as the No. 2 team in the country. Earl "Red" Blaik's Dartmouth Indians were undefeated as well but were unranked and considered a considerable underdog to the powerful Big Red squad. It was the coach’s next-to-last game with the Big Green as he took over at Army the following season.

The weather had other plans. A snowstorm muffled the power Cornell air attack and injuries devastated the line. Dartmouth, using Blaik’s delayed defense designed to give up the short gain but stifle Cornell’s explosive attack, dug in and held on, keeping the Ithacans from taking control of the contest. It was a brutal affair. Five players went down with injuries in the first quarter wiping out an entire side of the Big Red line.

The game remained a scoreless slog until the fourth quarter when Dartmouth’s Bob Krieger succeeded in booting a 27 yard field goal. Starting on their own 48-yard-line, Cornell launched a last gasp effort to keep its two-year winning streak alive. The Ithacans threw a series of successful passes to reach the Dartmouth 5.

With less than a minute remaining it was first down on the five-yard-line and the final fateful series of plays unfolded. On first down a run by fullback Mort Landsbert directly into the Dartmouth line earned 2 yards. Another the following down made it to the 1-yard-line. One more try left the Big Red on the one-foot-line.

Then Snavely tried to call a time-out to stop the clock but Cornell was penalized for delay of game. Fourth down from just outside the five-yard-line. With nine seconds left in the game Cornell’s Pop Scholl passed to Russ Murphy but it was batted down in the end zone.

Then referee W.H. "Red" Friesell put the ball on the 20-yard-line suggesting Dartmouth had possession but then conferred with linesman Joe McKenny. The decision was made to move the ball back to the six-yard-line – despite the protest of the Indian’s captain – and indicated the ball was Cornell’s.

With two seconds left on the clock Scholl attempted a second pass to Murphy who leaped high in the air and caught it on the edge of the end zone. Touchdown. With a successful point-after kick the Ithacan’s claimed the victory, 7-3, but inherited a controversy.

Several officials with the two schools said they believed both teams had been called for offsides on the initial "fourth" down which had nullified the down. At a dinner following the game, the athletic directors were told of the possibility the fifth down had been incorrectly allowed by a newspaperman.

That suspicion was proved valid when Snavely examined the films the following Monday, there seemed to be no offsides and that Cornell had benefited from an extra down. Friesell, who also viewed the game film, soon issued an apology saying he had made the incorrect decision.

The ruling body over the matter was the Eastern Intercollegiate Association but, given the game had been decided and entered into the record books, it claimed to no longer have jurisdiction over the matter. The issue would have to be decided between the schools themselves.

Snavely then conferred with Cornell’s acting athletic director Bob Kane and President Edmund Ezra Day, a Dartmouth alumnus, and it was decided the school would forfeit the contest. A telegram was sent to Dartmouth’s director of athletics and the head coach saying "Cornell relinquishes claim to victory and extends congratulations to Dartmouth."

The Ithacans responded: "Dartmouth accepts the victory and congratulates and salutes the Cornell team, the honorable and honored opponent of her longest unbroken rivalry."

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