Monday, September 15, 2008

Spartans vs Toledo Rockets, 9/15/73

Since the debut of their football program in 1997, the University of South Florida Bulls have moved onto the local and national radar because of their rapid rise among the college football elite. The non-initiated might even suspect the Bulls are the first college team of note to come from this area. Prior to the Bulls, however, the University of Tampa Spartans owned the college football scene in Tampa.

This week thirty five years ago, the Spartans prepared for their season opener against the University of Toledo Rockets. Fittingly, the Marvin Gaye hit "Let's Get It On" was atop of the Billboard charts as the teams prepared to clash at Tampa Stadium.

The Spartans featured a new head coach in Dennis Fryzel. The 31-year-old first-time head coach took over the program after the defection of coach Earl Bruce to Iowa State University following the 1972 season. The Rockets entered the game with revenge in mind, hoping to even the score with the Spartans following a 21-0 loss at Tampa Stadium the previous year. That loss snapped a 35-game winning streak by Toledo, then the second-longest in college football history. The win, along with a Tangerine Bowl triumph over Kent State, highlighted a 10-2 season for the Spartans.

UT hoped to build on its successful season of 1972 with a breakout performance by its new starting quarterback, Freddie Solomon. In his third season, Solomon finally became the starter at quarterback after sharing duties for two seasons with Buddy Carter. Solomon did not disappoint.

On September 15, 1973, in front of 17,412 fans at Tampa Stadium, the Spartans opened the season in grand style. Solomon started the scoring on UT's first possession, a 17-yard run to take a 7-0 lead. Toledo answered on a 28-yard field goal by George Keim to cut the lead to 4 before the Spartans went on a run that nearly put the game out of reach.

Put simply, Solomon dominated the second quarter. Solomon added his second touchdown of the game by out-racing Toledo defenders on a 63-yard dash to give his team a 14-3 lead. He added a touchdown run of 10 yards and a 34 yard TD pass to increase UT's lead to 29-3 at the break.

As good as the Spartans played in the first half, a sloppy second nearly doomed the team to a humiliating comeback win by Toledo. In their last game, the Spartans nearly blew a 21-0 halftime lead over Kent State, ultimately holding on for a 21-18 win. Fryzel reminded his team of this during the intermission.

"All I could talk about in the dressing room (at the half) was Tangerine Bowl, 21-0," he said.

Toledo quarterback Gene Swick did his best to answer Solomon's outstanding performance with one of his own. The Rocket ran for a Tampa Stadium-record 71-yard gain in the first half, and in the second half, tossed three touchdown passes to get his team back in the game.

Toledo got the scoring started in the third quarter on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Swick to Randy Whatley. The Rockets dominated the Spartans during a 19-play, 80-yard drive lasting nearly 10 minutes. Following a failed two-point conversion, the Spartans led the Rockets, 29-9.

UT answered with long drive of its own. The Spartans put together a 76-yard drive that culminated in a four-yard touchdown run by Alan Pittman to seemingly put the game away, 35-9 with 9:32 remaining.

Trailing by 26, however, Swick rallied his team on a quick touchdown strike to Whatley about 3 minutes later to cap another 80-yard drive. Hoping to control the clock on the ensuing possession, UT ran into trouble when freshman running back Mark Deeb fumbled at his own 27-yard line. Toledo recovered the ball and added another touchdown, a 16-yard pass from Swick to tight end Don Seymour. With 4:15 left in the game, the Spartans' seemingly insurmountable 26-point lead had shrunk to just 10 points.

Toledo inflicted no more damage, however, as the Spartans were able to hang onto the ball for all but 24 seconds the rest of the way en route to a 35-25 win.

Solomon led the way for UT, rushing for three touchdowns and throwing for another, while adding 112 yards on the ground and 84 in the air for nearly 200 all-purpose yards. After the game, Fryzell gushed about his starting quarterback.

"I told you about Fred," Fryzell said. "I wouldn't trade Fred Solomon for any other quarterback in the country."

As Fryzel would find out -- and anyone who followed Solomon's career at the University of Tampa already knows -- his best days were still to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment