July 20, 2009

November 6, 1948 - Utah at Colorado A&M

HOW IS IT GREAT? Utah's 1947 and 1948 teams were two of the best of the Ike Armstrong era (1925-1949).

Both seasons they went 8-1-1 , and were undefeated in conference. In 1947, they even enjoyed their first-ever national ranking -- a week at #18 in the AP Poll. I believe it was the first time a team from the Mountain States Conference (aka Big Seven or Skyline Conference) was ranked. The 1947 team also received an invitation to play in the Raisin Bowl, which they turned down.

But whereas the 1947 team was essentially unrivaled in conference play, the conference was much better in 1948. Colorado A&M was right there along with Utah all season. In fact, when the teams met in Fort Collins, they had identical 6-1, 3-0 records.

I suspect that the Rams were pretty desperate to become a major force in the league. Colorado U., had just joined the Big Eight and they left a vacancy for a team to step up and be Utah's next rival for conference supremacy. Ram fans wanted A&M to be that team. 10,500 of them turned up in the hopes to see their team dethrone the mighty Redskins, and were undoubtedly on the edges of their seats the entire game.

This game had all the makings of an ambush . . . until the opening kickoff. Utah's Gil Tobler ran it back for six points right off the bat. From there, it was a close, defensive struggle. And from what I've read about this game, Utah's defense did to Ram QB Bob Hainlen what later generations of Utes would do to the likes of Carson Palmer, Tyler Palko, and John Parker-Wilson.

Utah left Fort Collins with a 12-3 victory, and finished the season with a perfect conference record and the Mountain States Conference title. Colorado A&M finished in second place with only this one conference loss.

During the Ike Armstrong era, Utah rarely had the chance to play a big-name team or attract the attention of national media or pollsters. Instead, they just consistently dominated their regional foes, racked up numerous conference titles (11 OCCs and 2 shared titles during Armstrong's 25-year tenure), received a few bowl invitations, was ranked briefly, and produced the occasional All-American.

It was probably the most success a team from this region of the country could hope to accomplish during that period.

So as I was researching games to highlight on this countdown, I continually found that Utah's greatest wins during this era were ones against the usual foes: Utah State, Colorado A&M, Wyoming, Colorado, etc. Sure, these wins went unnoticed on the national scene; but such wins were a huge deal to the local community, the students, and definitely to Ike "Chief Kickapoo" Armstrong and his players.

Here are a few other notable examples from the 1947 and 1948 seasons:
October 18, 1947 - Utah vs. Denver
Utah hosted Denver and their "Little Monsters" defense for homecoming. With just four minutes left in a tie game, Utah's Bill Van Sandt intercepted a tipped pass at the Denver 27-yard line. Cannon Parkinson scored the game-winner on a three-yard QB sneak with just 45 seconds left. UTAH 13-7.
November 1, 1947 - Utah at Colorado
Trailing 7-6, the Utes scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The drive included two fourth-down conversions, and resulted in a four-yard touchdown pass from Parkinson to Tally Stevens. The Ute defense then came up with two crucial interceptions deep in their own territory to preserve the win and ruin Colorado's homecoming. 22,000 fans went home disappointed, while a band of 700 traveling Utah fans took down one of Folsom Field's goalposts. UTAH 13-7.

. . .
October 30, 1948 - Utah vs. Colorado
Each team scored two touchdowns, but the difference was that Colorado missed both their PATs, and Utah's Bud Gleave hit both of his. Parkinson connected with Bob Matthews for a 50-yard touchdown pass and run in the second quarter. And then halfway through the fourth quarter, "Parky" found Banard Hafen for a 15-yard touchdown pass. After the game, Coach Armstrong praised his kicker by saying "Gleave us this day our extra points." UTAH 14-12.
FURTHER READING:
• The 1948 Rams were coached by Bob Davis, who once played quarterback at Utah under Ike Armstrong, and was captain of the Utah's 1929 RMAC Championship team. He was also named the Skyline Conference coach of the year in 1948.

• Colorado A&M received their first ever bowl bid that season. They lost to Occidental 21-20 in the 1949 Raisin Bowl.

• Utah declined two bowl bids at the end of the 1947 season. They turned down an invitation to play Pacific in the Raisin Bowl (in Fresno) and an invitation to play Nevada in the Salad Bowl (in Phoenix). The decision was left to the players, who voted down the proposals at a 3 to 1 ratio.

The following season, Utah was invited to play against #17 William & Mary in the Delta Bowl on New Years Day 1949, and they would have gone but for a little snafu:

Utah's players initially voted to decline the invitation. But Delta Bowl officials urged them to reconsider; they did, and this time decided to accept the invitation. So everybody's happy. But on the day the Bowl match-up was officially announced, the Delta Bowl declared that William & Mary would play Oklahoma A&M . . . not Utah.

I don't believe all the details ever surfaced about why Utah didn't get the official invite. It was generally believed, however, that if Utah had agreed to play in the first place, the invitation would have been theirs. Instead, they lost out on the bowl and the $35,000 payout. One member of Utah's Athletics counsel said of the missed opportunity: "that was an easy punt we muffed."

WHAT THE PRESS HAD TO SAY:

REDSKINS CAPTURE 12 to 3 BATTLE
----
By John Mooney
Salt Lake Tribune
November 7, 1948

FORT COLLINS, Colo., Nov. 6 -- Scoring the first time they handled the ball in the game and the last time they held the ball in the third quarter, the University of Utah Redskins clinched at least a share of the Skyline Six football championship here Saturday afternoon by defeating a game and gallant Colorado A and M crew, 12-3, before an estimated 10,500 fans.

Actually, Utah won the game in the initial seconds of the game when Gil Tobler took the kick-off in the end zone and raced 101 yards for the touchdown. Tobler fumbled the ball, picked it up, found his blockers opening a hole in the converging wedge of Aggies, and burst into the open on the west sidelines for his amazing solo jaunt.

Bud Gleave missed the conversion attempt and Utah settled down to protect its six point lead.

Aggies Come Back

And that settling down almost proved fatal to the Redskins hopes for their second straight Skyline Six crown. The never-say-die Aggies rose up after the opening punch by the Utes and had the Redskins in trouble the entire first period. Three times in that initial round the dauntless men of Coach Bob Davis drove within the shadows of the Utah goal post and three times the Utes rose up to hurl them back -- just when it seemed the Aggies would break a scoring drought which has plagued them through their last three meetings with the Redskins.

The Aggies drove to the Utah 14 after receiving the next kick-off, came back after a punt exchange to reach the Utah 32 and then saw their last threat of the quarter die out on the Utah 28-yard line. Utah handled the ball only six times in the initial quarter and two of the six were to punts. Utah never neared the midfield stripe.

Neither could fashion an offense in the second period as the Aggies line thwarted the Utes' vaunted running attack and Hainlen's inability to connect bottled up the Aggie offense.

Parky Pitches

Oliver Woods' punt return, from the Aggie 40 to Utah 35, fired the Coloradans to their only offensive in the second period. The Aggies finally lost the ball on Utah's 38 and Parkinson started to dive into his bag of tricks. Parky's first pass was short, his second hit Gene Evans who was dropped on the Aggie 35, his third hit Banard Hafen on the Aggie 24 and his fifth in a row was taken by Tally Stevens to the Aggie 11. With time running out, Parkinson elected to pass again and Woods stole the ball off Stevens' fingers in the end zone to stop the threat in the half.

The Aggies made their bid for an upset and the conference title midway in the third period.

After an exchange of punts, the Aggies started rolling from their 31. Hallmark, Woods and Eddie Hanna carried to the Utah 22 on three plays. With the attack bogging, Hainlen dropped back to loft a perfect 30 yard field goal through the uprights to make the game 6-3. And then the Aggies gambled to win and almost did it.

Dasel Hallmark, the reserve Aggie fullback, kicked a crazily bounding on-side kick which Bill Adamson pounced on for the Aggies on the Utah 48 to keep the ball in Aggie possession.

Hainlen passed to Adamson on the Utah 36, but big Ralph Olsen was in on the receiver like a tent to cause a fumble which Olsen recaptured for the Utes on their own 36.

The threat had been enough to snap the Utes out of whatever lethargy remained in their systems. The Utes opened up and drove the 64 yards necessary for their clinching touchdown without surrendering the ball.

Ficklin scooted around right end to the Utah 46. Allen wracked the center of the line for four more and Parkinson's hook pass was carried to the Aggie 35 by Tally Stevens. Ricklin and Summerhays pounded out a first down on the Aggie 18, and Parkinson passed to Hafen on the Aggie six.

On the first play, Allen found a gaping hole and sliced over left guard for the score. Bud Gleave's accurate toe, which beat Colorado U. a week ago missed the conversion again.

But that was the ball game, and although the Aggies pulled everything in their book, the Utes had the ball game won. Holding the spotlight for the Utes was Cannon Parkinson, who broke the Aggies back with his great passing. Parky hit 11 of 16 passes for 90 yards, and his alternate, Herb Anderson completed one pass in one attempt for 14 yards. In contrast, Bob Hainlen, the ace passer of the Aggies, connected with only three passes in 13 attempts as the Ute linemen shattered his pass protection unmercifully.

Colorado A. and M. had the edge over Utah's running game, piling up a net of 160 against Utah's 144 yards from scrimmage. But Parkinson's 90 yards through the air, against Hainlen's 52 yards in passing, spelled the difference.

Utah's line, defensively, was sparked by Rusty Thornton at tackle and Tally Stevens at end. Three times Stevens broke through to smear Hainlen on pass attempts, just when the Aggies appeared on the verge of cracking loose. Summerhays and Hal Tate led the Utes' running game while Herb Anderson's punts matched the superb efforts of Hainlen, both averaging nearly 40 yards each for their seven kicks.

Oliver Woods, subbing for the injured Keith Thompson at halfback for the Aggies, was the big gun, although Eddie Hanna was dangerous all afternoon.

But in the end, it was Utah's superior air arm which told the story. And, with the passes clicking, the Aggies had to juggle their defense. When they did, the Ute backs rolled every time the Aggies went out in their in-and-out line shift.

Pickups- When Hainlen booted that field goal, it was the first time in four games that the Aggies had scored on the Utes. The victory leaves Utah as the only team unbeaten in conference play with four wins. Utah can lose to Utah State and still share the conference title. If Colorado A and M beats BYU, as expected next week, and the Utes beat Utah State as expected Thanksgiving, Colo. A and M will wind up second in the Skyline Six race, the highest point a Fort Collins team has finished since the Harry Hughes team of the 30s.

Morris Ficklin, starting left halfback, suffered knee injury and had to be carried from the field. Bob Summerhays reinjured his shoulder again. Coach Hughes, by the way, said Parkinson and the Utah ends were the difference in the ball game.

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