August 3, 2009

November 8, 1969 - Utah vs. Wyoming

HOW IS IT GREAT? This was the first Utah football game featuring two ranked teams. Utah entered the game 6-1 and ranked #18 in the Coaches Poll; Wyoming was also 6-1, but was ranked #16 in that same poll. And as far as I can tell, this is the Utes' biggest win ever against Wyoming.

The Cowboys had been WAC Champions for each of the three previous seasons, during which time they amassed a 27-5 record -- including a victory over Florida State in the 1966 Sun Bowl and a loss to LSU in the 1968 Sugar Bowl. And they were the pre-season favorite to win the WAC title again in 1969.

However, Wyoming's 1969 squad is best remembered for the famous "Black 14" incident:

Basically, three weeks before this Utah-Wyoming game, BYU was to play the Pokes in Laramie. Fourteen black Wyoming players voiced their intent to wear black armbands during that game in protest of the LDS Church's policies regarding blacks and the priesthood. But just days before that game, Wyoming coach Lloyd Eaton summarily dismissed these players from the team. Controversy erupted, protesters took to the street, and the national media descended upon Laramie. The expelled players, who were among some of the best Cowboy players that season, became known as the "Black 14." But despite the dismissals, Wyoming handily beat the Cougars anyway, and eventually rose to as high as #15 AP/#13 Coaches.

Admittedly, Wyoming was short-handed and probably still had a lot on their minds when they arrived in Salt Lake to play the Utes. Still, Utah's victory that day impressed the pollsters enough to raise the Utes to #16. However Utah would lose on the road at Arizona a week later, 17-16. They ultimately finished the year 8-2 and in second place in the WAC standings.

Meanwhile, Wyoming dropped out of the rankings following their loss to Utah. They then lost their last three games of the 1969 season, and won only one game during the 1970 season.

Patrick Sheltra was kind enough to contribute a very good article he wrote about how the Utes got screwed out of the WAC Title in 1969: The 1969 Season: Utah’s Claim On A Championship That Was Never Awarded.

John Sayle Watterson, College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy 322-324 (JHU Press, 2002). Discusses the "Black 14" episode in the wider context of the wave of black protests surrounding college football across the nation during the 1969 season.

Putnam, Pat. "No Defeats, Loads of Trouble." Sports Illustrated 3 Nov. 1969 (Accessed 9 April 2009).

Norm Thompson's 97 yard interception return for a TD against the Pokes is tied for the 3rd longest in Utah history. He set an NCAA record that year in interception return average (50.6 yards/return -- 5 for 253 yards, 3 TDs) that stands to this day.

• The official attendance at this game was 29,416, which, at the time, was the second largest crowd to ever witness a game at old Ute Stadium. It remained one of the top-5 crowds until the stadium was expanded in 1981.


Alert Utes Use Wyoming Errors to Turn Tables
By John Mooney
Salt Lake Tribune
November 9, 1969

Logic says you don't play the other fellow's game and win, but Utah's tenderfoot football team did just that and outcarded Wyoming's defending WAC champions, 34-10, in the Ute stadium Saturday afternoon.

With a standing-room only crowd of 29,419 fans huddled under overcast skies, the Redskins led from wire to wire in winning their fourth WAC game and their seventh victory in a row.

And they did it by going against the percentages, which generally favored the Cowboys in the past.

They beat the percentage which had given Wyoming 10 victories in the last 11 meetings, and they beat the Cowboys by forcing the Pokes into mistakes.

Forced Mistakes

Utah smothered a punt attempt, recovered four Wyoming fumbles and intercepted two Poke passes, and that's forcing the mistakes on a team that rarely errs and frequently capitalizes on opponent mistakes.

Wyoming, the No. 1 team in the nation against the rush, was great, and limited the Utes to 78 net yards from rushing and a total of 303 yards.

But Utah's defense, which is ranked nationally only in preventing scoring, lived up to its mark by holding Cowboys to a touchdown bomb and a field goal.

Gambling Game

Wyoming huffed and puffed, but accounted for only 10 points. Utah played its gambling game to the hilt and managed to break for the big play and four touchdowns, plus a pair of Marv Bateman field goals.

It was a ball game up for grabs until the Utes broke it open with 17 points in the third quarter. And the Ute defense held the Cowboys scoreless in the final 30 minutes of the action.

This was Utah's first victory over Wyoming since the 42-3 outbreak in 1965. And it was just the second victory over the Cowboys since [1957].

Pokes' Second Loss

All this left the Utes 4-0 in the WAC and 7-1 for the season, and marked only the third time since 1950 that Utah won seven games in a season.

Wyoming, three times champion of the WAC, suffered its second loss and is out of the picture. This leaves the Cowboys 6-2 for the season and 4-2 in the WAC.

The game was won in the first quarter, when Utah smothered a punt to set up its first touchdown, and Wyoming had to settle for a field goal after recovering a Utah punt.

Bob Jacobs, who tied an NCAA record by booting his 17th field goal, later, caught a low pass from center and was swarmed by the Utes. Gary Barker got the clincher to give Utah the ball on the Cowboy 12.

7-0 Ute Lead

Dave Smith hit the line twice for three and Wyoming was offside. Ray Groth scooted over from the four and Marv Bateman kicked Utah into a 7-0 lead in the first 2 1/2 minutes.

Utah blew a chance on a fumble recovery by Scott Robbins when Groth and Billy Hunter returned the fumble, on the Utah 17.

On fourth down, Jacobs kicked a field goal, but Utah was offside, giving the Cowboys a first down. That also gave Wyoming six shots at the Utah line, but on fourth down, the Cowboys settled again for Jacobs' field goal.

Thwart Serious Threat

Barker recovered a fumble on the Ute 16 to thwart a serious Wyoming threat, but this time the Utes didn't fool around. Groth faked and pitched to Smith on the fullback fly pattern down the middle and the speedy fullback galloped 50 yards and the score. Bateman's kick made it 14-3.

Bateman added a 44-yard field goal to boost the edge to 17-3 and the Ute fans began to believe all this was for real.

But Gary Fox spotted Mike Leake whizzing down the sidelines for an 84-yard scoring pass, that established a Wyoming school record. The Jacobs kick cut the edge to 17-10 and when George Kellerman deflected a Groth pass and Brent Engleright intercepted on the Ute 38, it was still a game.

Kicked, Missed

Jacobs settled for a 45-yard field goal try, but the kick hit the goal post and Utah led 17-10 at the half.

But the third quarter is one the Ute fans will cherish for years.

Utah made its bid by driving 72 yards for the score, with Fred Graves picking up 28, Groth running for 23 and Smith punching over the final four yards. Bateman made it 24-10.

Bateman came back with a 30-yard field goal to give Utah the 27-10 margin.

Wyoming, now forced to gamble to score quickly or surrender, passed in the flat and Norm Thompson, timing it perfectly, raced before the receiver and blitzed 97 yards for the score.

This put the fine defensive halfback in the Ute record books with 263 yards in interception returns for the season.

Bateman's kick closed out the scoring, and with the bench cleared of subs, Utah still shut out the Pokes and mounted a couple of threats in the fourth quarter.

This was the most points scored on Wyoming this season.

Defensively, the Utes were led by Scott Robbins at safety, Randy Hansen and Lassy Stone at the linebackers, Mack Powell at middle guard, Ron Wolcott and Warren Tetley at the defensive tackles.

Led Ute Rushers

Groth, Graves and Hunter led the Ute rushers with 34, 28 and 29 net yards respectively, against a Poke defense that has given up only an average of 28.1 yards a game to rushers.

Frosty Franklin carries 24 times for 96 yards and Jeff Howe 66 yards. Groth completed seven of 18 passes for 122 yards and Fox seven of 17 for 143 and Ed Synakowski 10 of 22.

Utah has Arizona and BYU left on its schedule, both on the road, to bar the way to the first undisputed WAC championship for Coach Bill Meek.

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