Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Spartans vs Appalachian St. Mountaineers, 11/22/58

On November 22, 1958, things must have felt just a little bit unusual here in the Tampa Bay area. For starters, the Tampa Snow Show spectacle continued to unfold in downtown Tampa. The winter carnival, which featured a five-story ski jump, toboggan run, and an 8½ ton, 8-foot high ice cube, turned Franklin Street into a semi-winter wonderland because of unseasonably warm weather.

On the sporting front, the University of Tampa Spartans geared up for a home contest against Appalachian State, only the game would not be played in their backyard of Phillips Field. Instead, the Spartans and Mountaineers would play the game some 35 miles to the east in Lakeland.

A packed house of 4,500 filled Bryant Stadium for a contest that was a homecoming of sorts for several Spartans who played high school football in Polk County, most notably quarterback Billy Turner. The pride of Auburndale High School, Turner would not disappoint those who came to see him play. Those who did were treated to an exciting game with a wild finish.

Appalachian State took the opening kickoff and marched 72 yards on a 14-play drive. The Mountaineers struck on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Tommy Wilson to running back John Walker to grab an early 7-0 lead. The Spartans answered later in the first quarter as Lakeland-native Dick Leis recovered a fumble at the Appalachian State 15-yard line. Turner then found wide receiver Ken Belliveau in the end zone for a touchdown to even the game at 7-7.

A blocked punt by Appalachian State resulted in a safety, and the Mountaineers quickly added to their 9-7 advantage. A short 44-yard drive culminated in an eight-yard touchdown scamper by Tommy Wilson to give Appalachian State a 16-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Turner helped electrify the home crowd on the ensuing kickoff. After fielding the ball at the 11, Turner ran 7 yards up field and pitched the ball back to teammate Buddy Williams. From the 15, Williams then followed a convoy of blockers all the way to the Mountaineer 12-yard line. Halfback Charlie McCullers ran the ball in from the 10 two plays later to pull Tampa within three points of the Mountaineers, 16-13.

The Spartans capped the first half scoring with a 72-yard touchdown drive. Turner reconnected with Belliveau from 9 yards out for his second touchdown pass of the game to make the score 20-16 at the intermission. Turner picked up right where he left off in the third quarter, once again hooking up with his favorite targets. From his own 30, Turner found Williams for a 28-yard gain to the Appalachian State 42.

Then on a broken play that could have ended in a loss of yards, the elusive Turner found Belliveau at the 25, from where he broke two tackles en route to a touchdown. A failed two-point conversion left the Spartans with a seemingly comfortable 26-16 lead with just over five minutes to play in the third quarter.

Appalachian State began its comeback on the next possession with a successful 66-yard drive that ended in a nine-yard touchdown run by Jim Edwards. The third quarter came to a close with the Mountaineers trailing by just four points, 26-22. In a fourth quarter dominated by both teams' defenses, the Spartans had a chance to close out the game as the Mountaineers took possession at their own 3-yard line. Instead, Tampa couldn’t get off the field as Appalachian State marched the ball 97 yards on 17 plays. The drive culminated with an 11-yard pass from Wilson to Bob Morrison that gave Appalachian State a 28-26 lead before a stunned Bryant Stadium crowd.

Still, the Spartans had just under three minutes left to work with for staging a comeback of their own. The drive never took off, however, and Turner was stopped for a loss on fourth down at his own 24. Things then got interesting as the Mountaineers wrapped up the game.

While Appalachian State tried to take time off the clock, two penalties, including a personal foul by Spartan Dick Walter, moved the ball to the 1-yard line. With just 45 seconds left to play, Winters snuck the ball in for the touchdown to make the score 34-26. Walter, who had been tossed out of the game following his personal foul, rushed onto the field after the score and struck field judge Doug Belden in the back. Then for good measure, he ran into the chest of another referee, Fletcher Groves. Seeing enough, the referees halted the game before the Mountaineers could attempt an extra point. To prevent further violence, game umpire Bobby Grutzmacher called the game.

“We felt it was necessary to end the game right then,” said Grutzmacher.

The loss dropped the Spartans to 6-3 on the season, and disappointed head coach Marcelino Huerta lamented afterwards that his team didn’t seem prepared for Appalachian State.

“Our boys weren’t ready,” he said, wondering how his Spartans fell to a team that had lost 42-0 the previous week.

On a positive note for the Spartans, Billy Turner excelled in his return to Polk County with three touchdown passes and 206 yards through the air. Today, of course, Turner is known as the winningest football coach in the history of Hillsborough County. In 38 years, he has racked up over 250 career wins, including over 200 in his 30 years with Chamberlain High School.

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