October 26, 2005

October 26, 1912 - Utah at Colorado Mines

HOW IS IT GREAT? Nineteen-twelve was the year that Utah won its first-ever conference championship in football . . . sort of.


Utah football trivia buffs may know that Utah won the 1912 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championship. That season, Utah went 5-1-1, with a 3-1 RMAC conference record. This achievement was widely reported locally, and is memorialized in Utah's official record book (see pg. 160) as its first OCC in football. But you won't find the championship trophy anywhere in Salt Lake -- because it's in Golden, Colorado.

It seems just about everyone else -- including the RMAC's own official record book -- remembers the Colorado School of Mines as the outright conference champion that year. In those days, RMAC schools often didn't play all the other conference schools every season. So teams didn't necessarily play the same number of conference games. The 1912 season was an example of this: there were six RMAC teams (Utah, Colorado Mines, Colorado A.C., Colorado, Denver, and Colorado College), but only two played the full five-game conference schedule.

The Colorado Mines finished the season with a 4-1 conference record (8-1 overall). Utah finished with only a 3-1 conference record. Mines had the better winning percentage, but Utah won the head-to-head matchup. Furthermore, Utah's victory over Mines was decisive, and the game was played in Denver.

Utah was led by three all-conference players: Lon Romney, his cousin Otto Romney, and Sam Olsen. Utah also had four other players earn honorable-mention that season. Mines was 2-0, and had shut out both their previous opponents (they only gave up 35 points in nine games that season). The Utah-Mines game was expected to determine who the RMAC Champion would be, and a large crowd showed up to watch the game at the Broadway Grounds baseball park in Denver. From all accounts, Utah outplayed Mines from the start, and left with a convincing victory.


With the win, Utah was the only RMAC team without a loss. But that ended two weeks later when Utah fell to Colorado in Denver, 3-0. This created a tie for first place among the three one-loss teams: Utah, Colorado, and Colorado Mines. With the Mines-Colorado game still looming, the prevailing thought was that the championship would be decided on November 23rd, when Colorado and Mines played each other. If Mines were to win that game, then Utah would be the champ (the tie-breaker being Utah's victory over Mines). If Colorado were to win, then Colorado would be the champ (the tie-breaker being Colorado's victory over Utah).

The good news for Utah is that Mines went on to beat Colorado, 24-3. The bad news is that Mines now felt entitled to the RMAC title -- or at least a share. So Mines' coach challenged Utah to a rematch at Cummings Field in Salt Lake on December 7th: winner take all.

But Utah declined, citing the fact that they had already beat Mines, and did so in Colorado. Utah's Coach Fred Bennion stated that Utah would have everything to lose and nothing to win in a rematch. However, Utah's refusal to play Mines again (coupled with Utah's tie against non-conference Utah State A.C., during the final week of the season) is probably what caused the powers-that-be in Denver to ultimately award the title to Colorado Mines.
So did Utah get screwed out of the RMAC championship that year? I choose to side with the U. of U.'s record book on this one. I'm convinced that Utah was indeed the 1912 RMAC champion; their 18-3 victory over the Colorado School of Mines was the de facto 1912 championship bout, and it deserves inclusion as one of (and perhaps the first of) Utah's all-time great games.

Now all we have to do is organize a trip to Golden, CO to take back the championship trophy! Who's with me?!?

FURTHER READING:
• From the 1914 Edition of the the Utonian Yearbook, page 162 (Click image to enlarge):

• Excerpt from the Colorado School of Mines Magazine, Vol. II, No. 15 (December 1912), arguing Mines' claim to the 1912 championship.

• The Colorado School of Mines is still a member of the RMAC, and has won the conference championship in football as recently as 2004.

• From the October 28, 1912 edition of the Salt Lake Telegram, chronicling the team's reception back in Salt Lake following the victory against Mines:
A large crowd greeted the team on its return and escorted the players to their homes in automobiles. This morning was turned over to the students to celebrate in any fit manner. At a big assembly in the museum building Coach Bennion and each of the players were called upon to tell how it happened. Coach Bennion holds the highest place now in the eyes of the "studes." Even President Kingsbury takes a back seat and all that can be heard on the east bench is "Rocky Mountain championship."
• Utah only gave up one touchdown all year. They scored 153 total points over the course of the 1912 season, while only giving up 16.

• Utah didn't win an undisputed conference championship in football until 1922. While they claim a share of the 1919 title, they do so despite circumstances similar to 1912. The 1919 Utah team finished with a 4-1 Conference record, while Colorado A.C. (aka Colorado State) finished with a 5-1 conference record. However, Colorado A.C. beat Utah that year on the field.

Nevertheless, Utah still claims a tie because, according to the 1921 Utonian: "Utah and Colorado A.C. . . . each lost one conference game."

WHAT THE PRESS HAD TO SAY:

COLORADO MINERS DEFEATED IN DENVER: SCORE 18 TO 3
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Ott Romney, Lon Romney, and Hampton Make Touchdowns for Varsity
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The Salt Lake Tribune
October 27, 1912

DENVER, Colo., Oct. 26 -- Tearing great gaps in the vaunted Miners' defense, the University of Utah swept the Silver and Blue to defeat here today, 18 to 3, in one of the hardest yet most cleanly played games of the season.

In the opening quarter, a perfect forward pass from Lon Romney to Ott Romney was followed by a superb forty-five yard dash to goal that brought friends and foes alike to their feet in a gasp of admiration. In the second quarter, Harper, standing on the Utah thirty-one-yard line, attempted a forward pass. Ott Romney intercepted it and made a whirlwind dash across the field for fifty yards.

Utah was penalized ten yards for pushing, and the ball was Utah's in the center of the field.

WITH a perfect attack that included every variation of straight football, the Utahns crumbled the Miners' line and marched down the field to their second touchdown. Lon Romney going over for the touchdown.

In the final quarter, with three minutes to play, the Utah eleven advanced the ball forty yards, principally through the superb running of Hampton, who finally carried the ball over. Fitzpatrick failed to kick the first two goals, Sutherland the last, making Utah's score 18.

In the final quarter, Harper made a twenty-two-yard run around the end to Utah's twenty-yard line, and then standing on the twenty-eight-yard line, dropped the ball over the posts for the lone score of the Golden team.

THE magnificent team play, the individual work of the Romney cousins, and the finest interference that has been displayed here this year, were the features of the visitors' play. Harper and Schneider in the back field and Young in the line bore the brunt for the Miners.

RARELY, if ever, has a finer football machine been seen on a Colorado gridiron than that which the Utahns comprised. Uniformly built, rangy and speedy, they made play after play which bespoke long, thorough training, and the finest kind of team work. On the offense, the line broke through repeatedly. Behind them, the backs picked their holes, with the interference closing in with a snap each time. The first backs waited for the pat on the back before dropping, and when they did, they most invariably strewed the Mines men in front of them, making possible good gains.

The offensive play of Lon Romney was superb. Cool, steady, using his head as well as his muscles, he waited for his interference to form, and then picked his holes surely and with a speed and power that was good for yards at a time, nor were the other backs much inferior.

HAMPTON, indeed, took up the brunt of battle in the second half and showed as well as Romney. If he lacked the latter's ability to get under headway. Holmstead, Summer, and Hamilton all responded well when called upon, as did the quarters Fitzpatrick and Sutherland, who, by the way, will compare favorably with any in eastern football.

Mines did not display the formations which had been expected. Practically their entire attack was based upon three formations, the straight football attack, the wheelshift, and the fake formation pass. The last was used frequently in the last half, too frequently. With the fullback or quarter standing close to the line, one of the backs would drop back and throw up his hands as if to take the ball. The pass would go to the man standing close in and a line plunge would follow. The attack was successful, but in the effort to gain by it, the Mines overplayed it in the end, Utah holding like a stone wall.

Otto Romney, playing a loose center on defense, was not infrequently caught off guard by the play, but not once did a Mines' player succeed in getting clear on the play. In the last half, when frantic Mines' rooters were imploring the eleven to loosen up and take some chances at forward passes, the team continued the steady plodding gait which it had hit early in the game, apparently more bent on holding down the score than on taking chances, which might result in intercepted passes and loss of ball.

Schneider was probably the individual star on the offense for Mines getting away with a dash, that was surprising. Young and Cadot of the line were the Mines' primary stars.

Fumbles were frequent in the first quarter by Utah, the Mormons having some difficulty in getting their plays under way. The field was slow and spongy, both elevens finding it hard to start quickly, and it took some time for the players to accustom themselves to the field. A high, clear sky was not conducive to good football, but the superb condition of the men offset this, neither team losing a man through injury in the entire game, and but very little time being taken out.

The Mormons were penalized far more frequently than Mines, being offside and holding often. Several times, however, the Mines' backs were underway before the ball was snapped, the officials being intent on other plays.

Aside from his field goal, Harper made one other attempt at a score in the first quarter. This was an attempt from the Utah twenty-seven-yard line, but the line failed to hold for him, and the ball swerved off. As a comparison of the offensive strength of the two elevens, it may be noted that Utah made first down thirteen times while Mines made it but five and not at all in the first quarters.

The light Mines' backs were seriously handicapped in their efforts to get away and their returns did not average over five yards. In all, the game was a fine exhibition of football and if it is to be regretted that the Colorado squad lost, they have the consolation in defeat that they played good football, clean football, and accepted their defeat as sportsmen should.

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