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The Goal - See 'em all!
SMU Rally stuns Tulsa, 34-24, for bowl eligibility;
CFF joins Mustang Club
(See Review of FAU vs. North Texas below)
Dallas, TX – The SMU Mustangs (6-5,4-3) overcame a first half 24-7 deficit against the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes (7-4, 4-3) on the legs and arm of Frosh QB Justin Willis to rally with twenty-seven points in the second half as the ‘Stang defense re-adjusted and shut down Tulsa in the second half to win its sixth game of 2006. For the first time since being dealt the death penalty in 1986, SMU is now eligible for a bowl bid. But hold your Mustangs! There’s no guaranteed bowl bid as the Ponies take on Rice (6-5, 5-2) in next week’s season finale for both squads. As one Mustang die-hard stated to us, “We’ll take any bowl!” For Collegefootballfan.com, SMU became our 112th team added to The Goal! This was also the third game in a row we attended where the eventual winner overcame at least a 24-7 deficit in the first half. Princeton, now Ivy league co-champs, did it last week at co-champ Yale, and Rutgers did the same on the previous Thursday against Louisville on national television when it came back from 25-7. We dub 2006 as CFF’s Year of the Comeback! We got to meet several die-hard Mustang fans and alum when we ventured on to “The Boulevard” before the game where we saw a beer wagon with no line. Little did I know it was the perfect trap! I was approached by Brian Bischoff of the Mustang Club. The offer was $5 a beer, or join the Mustang Club for a nominal fee for all the beer and wings I could handle, two tickets to the game, and a ticket for the evening’s basketball home-opener against Dayton. He made an offer that couldn’t be refused! With Matt Doherty (formerly of Notre Dame and UNC) now the new head basketball coach at SMU, the last part of the offer was tempting, but Collegefootballfan.com was on a mission this evening. After the 2 pm game in Dallas, we were heading 40 miles north to Denton, TX to see a second game at 6 pm to add teams #113 and #114! That review follows this one.
Tulsa’s first drive was slow and methodical burning two time-outs and eating 9:23 off the clock. PK Jared Tracy’s 21-yard FG gave the Hurricanes a 3-0 lead at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. That score held until the end of the period on a beautiful, sunny day in Dallas before a sparse crowd of 14,658 on Senior Day, the last Mustang home game of the season.
Tulsa extended their lead capping a 70-yard drive as RB Courtney Tennial carried it in from the six. Tennial (13 rushes for 54 yards) is a JR transfer from Oklahoma who decided not to wait his turn to play behind classmate Adrian Peterson. Smart moves by both he and Tulsa Head Coach Steve Kragthorpe! Tracy’s PAT made the score, 10-0. SMU began the next possession from its own 20. Justin Willis connected with WR Columbus Givens (3catches/68 yards) for 34 yards and a face-mask penalty to get to the Tulsa five. Set back by a holding call, Willis (11 of 18 for 190 passing yards, 2 TD passes /17 rushes for 93 yards, 1 TD) scrambled on a later play to fire a 10-yard TD pass to WR Bobby Chase to cut Tulsa’s lead. Thomas Morstad’s extra point cut the margin, 10-7. Tulsa retaliated immediately with an 80-yard scoring drive of its own on the following possession. A screen pass from QB Paul Smith (22 of 30, 230 yards, 1 TD) to RB Tarrion Adams went 46 yards to the Ponies’ five. Also pushed back, Smith threw to WR Idris Moss (13 catches for 120 yards) who caught it at about the two, went down but prevented his knees from touching by holding himself up with his free arm, and crossed the goal line for a 12-yard scoring play. The Golden Hurricanes led, 17-7. Tulsa’s D held SMU to a three-and-out series, and took back over at its own 46. A 22-yard pass to TE Cody Madison got Tulsa to the SMU three. Smith faked a handoff up the middle and optioned left from the one to go in unscathed for a dominating 24-7 lead with :36 left to go in the first half. TU scored every time it had the ball thus far in the game. That’s the way the half ended, but little did anyone know that CFF.com was there and that the last two teams we saw with similar early leads would eventually succumb in the end. Little did we think that we could be déjà vu’d for the third game in a row!
We left section 215 in the end zone at half-time to check out food and concessions on the home side while SMU’s marching band in “Ivy League style” uniforms performed for the thinning crowd. CFF believes though that they have to come up with something better than the tune of “She’ll be coming around the Mountain” as a fight song! That’s a song mothers teach little kids. Maybe you hear it at the end of a John Wayne movie or during a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but it’s not a stirring fight song that gets the blood flowing or that strikes fear or respect into the hearts of the opposition! We stopped in to visit SMU’s Heritage Hall. There’s a tribute to the late Heisman Award winner Doak Walker, whom we met briefly about ten years ago at a Heisman autograph signing. I remember the big strong hands he had even as a man in his ‘70’s. Other Hall of Famers included Forrest Gregg of Packer fame, Raymond Berry, great Colt receiver, and Lamar Hunt who played end for SMU, but is best known for helping create the American Football League, and Dallas Texans, now known as the Kansas City Chiefs. He was also instrumental in funding the development of this stadium built in 2000. Eric Dickerson was one of the more recent, noteworthy, Hall inductees. There were also tributes to teams including the 1982 team with its 7-3 win over Pitt in the Cotton Bowl, several years before the NCAA hit the Mustangs with its first “death penalty”. Two wins to end the season this year, however, is what’s sorely needed at SMU to squash that floundering memory, but those hopes were already fading after one half of play against Tulsa.
To begin the second half, the SMU following seemed more sparse than in the first half as many decided the Ponies were done, down, 24-7. The Mustangs didn’t give any reason to make the faithless think differently to begin Q3 as they lost nine yards before punting. However, the defense offered a glimmer of hope as they set Tulsa back one yard and forced its first punt of the game. On the first play of this possession from his own 41, Willis connected 38 yards to RB Cedric Dorsey who made an outstanding over-the-shoulder catch. The Mustangs put three more on the board with Morstad’s 35-yard FG to cut the lead to 24-10. The SMU defense maintained its tenacity and forced Tulsa into another three and out. The offense chipped away with Morstad’s 47-yard FG to trail, 24-13. The ensuing kick-off turned out to be SMU’s rallying point. WR Zack Sledge hammered returner Nick Graham from the side to cause a fumble as Andrew McKinney recovered for the Mustangs at the Tulsa 24. Willis lofted a perfect pass to WR Reynoldo Pellerin on a corner route from eight yards out to cut the lead again to 24-19 before the two-point try went for naught. The Mustangs must have seen the ad on the scoreboard that with a win, a game ticket meant free wings that night at Plucker’s! “Comin’ Around the Mountain” couldn’t be doing it for them! Tulsa had the ball as Q3 expired, but once again SMU’s defense held and Tulsa punted from its own 30. Willis’s long pass to Givens got SMU down field. Two consecutive off tackle plays to DeMyron Martin totaled 26 yards to the Tulsa six. With the same action, Willis faked to Martin and carried around the right side for a six-yard TD run. Perfect set-up! Willis ran the QB draw to perfection on the two-point conversion, and SMU took the lead, 27-24, with 12:46 remaining. The defense continued to stifle the Tulsa offense (only 80 yards in the second half) and forced another punt. A big play occurred on a third and seven on SMU’s next drive as Willis scrambled, escaped tacklers, used up clock, and drilled a throw to a receiver who was interfered with. The first down was awarded because of the penalty, but it was Willis’s ability to scramble to get receivers open that was the key. The play was reviewed to check if the pass was tipped, but we saw it clearly, as did the replay booth, and the play stood. Willis led his team to the TU 14 where he fired a long lateral to WR Blake Warren on his left. Warren picked up two beautiful blocks and went into the end zone to extend the SMU lead, 34-24, with 4:31 left to play. Tulsa started its next possession from its twenty-two, On third and five at the SMU 45, Smith was sacked by DE Justin Rogers for a six-yard loss. Tulsa called a time-out to regroup but to no avail as DB Jonathan Lindley broke up Smith’s fourth down pass. With 2:32 remaining, the Mustangs had the game well in hand. We would have stuck around for a celebration, but CFF was on a mission to find our way to Justin Willis’s hometown of Denton, where our #113th team, Florida Atlantic had a date with our 114th team, North Texas State, starting at 6 pm. It was a little after five now, but we listened to the PA and the final cheers of the remaining SMU faithful as we approached our rental car to search for Highway 75. Great game!
SMU is now bowl eligible for the first time since 1984. The Mustang Club members say that they’ll take anything – New Orleans Bowl against the Sun Belt, or even the nearby Ft. Worth Bowl which we come to find has a new sponsor and is now called the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl! However, there’s no guarantee of a bid until the final result of next week’s game versus Rice, a team void of a bowl since 1961! As reported in “Steveo’s Salvos” earlier this season, the Owls got off to an 0-4 start under new Head Coach Todd Graham who left Tulsa as defensive coordinator last season. They lost against the likes of Houston, UCLA, Texas, and Florida State before beating Army and righting themselves during conference play. Next week’s showdown will be an intense, interesting game for both teams with a long-awaited bowl bid on the line! Tulsa, whom we added as #110 earlier this season in a 24-23 OT win at Navy, was off to a promising 7-1 start, but the Ponies tagged them for their third loss in a row to set them back at 7-4, 4-3 in C-USA. It was the second time this year that we saw Tulsa play in the first end of one of our 1-A “double-headers”. They host Tulane next week in hopes of receiving a bowl bid as well, but the bid will be a lesser one than what was anticipated only a few weeks ago. With our addition of SMU as #112 on this day, CFF.com has now completed the full complement of C-USA teams toward our Goal to see every 1A team play at least once. We won’t mind going back to The Boulevard at SMU again in the future to hook up with fellow members of the Mustang Club, hopefully with the opportunity to see an even more meaningful game.
Extra Points: Met with Mustang members Brian Bischoff, Chip Hiemenz ‘06, Jamie, and Jeremy among others. Chip works for SMU’s office of Development and Alumni Affairs. We promised to send him some of our favorite hot sauce, Frank’s, to use on their next batch of hot wings, hopefully at a bowl game. The beer wagon was equipped with three TV monitors to keep up with action around the country. At the Natorium across the street, music was provided buy the PitPops band. We also met Jared Romo, QB of last year’s Mustangs who was instrumental in leading SMU past the #22 ranked TCU Horned Frogs at that time. It was SMU’s first win over a ranked team in many years. All nice guys, these die-hards were disappointed on the turn-out t his week compared to last week’s homecoming loss to Houston. We’re hoping they get their bowl wish this year.
All the guys are very supportive of Mustang Head Coach Phil Bennett who’s overcome some personal tragedies while building the Mustang program. There are changes going on at the athletic department as Steve Orsini., formerly AD at Central Florida, has stepped in and gotten great financial support from the school’s alum. He made a big name hiring in basketball when he brought Matt Doherty in to take over an average program at SMU. Supporters envision other moves to be made as Orsini strives to improve SMU athletics, but they hope Bennett will be around for a while. A win over Rice and a bowl bid would be a step in the right direction. The Dallas Morning News reported on Sunday that Orsini called the Tulsa game a “great win”, but wouldn’t commit to anything until the season was over.
Not quite Ralphie the Buffalo from Colorado, two handlers run a small black Mustang down the field between periods and after scores. Though three handlers work with “my little pony” as opposed to eight for Ralphie, we think one big handler could carry this mascot across the field himself!
On the way to my seat in section 215, I was met by a fan named Scott who recognized me and my “119” jersey from my CSTV interview at the Colorado-Colorado State game early this season. An avid fan at the game with his family, Scott played ball at Tarleton State in Texas which was an NAIA school at that time.
Senior Day was the final home game for SMU seniors who were introduced before the game with their families. Senior cheerleaders, band members, and others were introduced throughout the day. The SMU football team is comprised primarily of Texans, but we were happy to see that one of the female cheerleaders introduced is from Colts Neck, NJ.
Gerard J. Ford Stadium is a nice setting to watch a game (too bad many fans left at the half to see a great comeback). We believe that it’s the first D1 facility we’ve been to this year that didn’t have the All State “Good Hands” netting behind the goal posts to stop field goals from going into the stands. Maybe Army didn’t as well. Without netting though, it’s entertaining to watch all the young kids mass on the hill of the south end of the stadium for extra points. On the kick, a swarming horde starts to charge down hill, but the kids who always remained in the rear at the top were always the ones to get it. Speaking of Army, SMU starting OG Caleb Pevoto is from Highland Village, Texas. Army JR QB David Pevoto is from Coffeyville, TX. Wonder if there’s any relation?
On the way out of the stadium heading northeast, we ventured across Doak Walker Plaza which has a statue of the SMU Hall of Famer running the ball on his way to the Heisman.
Some interesting notes from SMU Game Day regards punter Thomas Morstad who doubles as the team’s place kicker. He’s on the Ray Guy ‘”watch list” for the 2006 award averaging 44.0 yards per punt. SMU’s all-time leader is former RB and ABC College analyst Craig James, who averaged 44.9 when punting for the Ponies. Morstad grew up playing rugby. He impressed the SMU coaches with his first try of a 50-yard drop kick through the uprights!