Monday, September 28, 2009

Hurricanes Top Spartans, 9/28/74

Heading into a September 28, 1974, showdown against the Miami Hurricanes, University of Tampa quarterback Freddie Solomon had every reason to exude confidence.

In a 28-25 loss to San Diego State the previous weekend, the senior rushed for 185 yards on 22 carries, including an 81-yard touchdown run. Veteran San Diego sports scribe Jack Murphy called him “an outstanding back,” while Aztecs head coach Claude Gilbert said
Solomon had earned his vote for the Heisman Trophy.

Meanwhile, Pete Elliott, head coach of the Hurricanes, chimed in with praise for Solomon even as his team prepared to stop the dynamic quarterback.

“Fred Solomon,” Elliott said, “is one of the finest football players I’ve seen. Certainly he’s the most dangerous. His running is something out of this world.”

Miami would need to contain Solomon if they would have any chance of snapping a two-game losing streak to the Spartans. As a sophomore, Solomon led the way for Tampa in a 7-0 triumph over favored Miami in 1972.

In the Hurricanes' favor this time, however, was a human hurricane by the name of Rubin Carter. The nose guard -- who was no relation to boxer Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter and never sat like Buddah in a 10-foot cell -- had just earned the Southeastern Lineman of the Week award for his efforts against the Houston Cougars despite being triple-teamed for most of the day.

“He is a notch above the normal,” Elliott said. “He’s got to be one of the best in the country. You talk about him in a special breath.”

Cut from stone and blessed with above-average speed for a big man at 6 foot 3 and 260 pounds, Carter had the potential to disrupt Tampa’s offense all on his own. The Ft. Lauderdale native earned high praise too from George Gallet, Miami’s sports information director for 38 years, who rated Carter the third-best Hurricane of all-time.

Spartans head coach Dennis Fryzel knew his team would face a daunting challenge against Miami as well. He called the 12th-ranked Hurricanes the best team to come into Tampa since the 1967 Tennessee Volunteers, who christened the new Tampa Stadium with a 38-0 whipping of the Spartans. The Hurricanes would be the first top-20 squad and the highest-ranked team ever to play the Spartans since their showdown against the Vols seven years earlier.

“You want to talk about a complete football team,” Fryzel said, “you talk about the University of Miami.”

The anticipation of seeing stars Solomon and Carter go at it helped push attendance to 41,672 – the second-largest crowd ever for a UT game -- on a warm and humid night at Tampa Stadium. The showdown more than lived up to the hype.

Solomon, as usual, put on a performance that left both sides in awe. The Hurricanes failed to contain Solomon, and he nearly matched his output from the previous week by rushing for 182 yards on 19 carries with three touchdowns -- two by land and one by air.

“Two words, just two words,” Rubin Carter said following the game. “Freddie Solomon.”

A relieved Pete Elliott remarked: “One thing I won’t have to worry about again in my life is how to stop Fred Solomon.”

For all of his efforts, however, the contest is remembered today for two special teams plays that changed the game’s outcome. In the fourth quarter, Miami’s Paul Horschel blocked two Kinny Jordan field goal attempts from 18 and 21 yards.

The last block, coming at the Hurricanes 1-yard line, caused the most distress amongst Spartan fans. Trailing 21-19 with 8:57 left in the game, the Spartans elected to kick a field goal rather than go for a touchdown.

Miami recovered the blocked kick at the 35-yard line, and proceeded to salt away the game on a time-consuming, 65-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by Don Martin. The Hurricanes took a 28-19 lead, and a too-little, too-late touchdown by the Spartans in the last minute made the final score 28-26.

After the game, Fryzel defended his decision to kick a field goal despite having had an attempt blocked just a few minutes earlier.

“We felt the way that the defense was playing, Miami would not score,” he said. “We would have been ahead 22-21 and that would have been final.”

The Hurricanes may have escaped as victors, but left with more than a little respect for the Spartans.

“That’s one of the fightingest bunch of football players I’ve ever seen,” said Miami quarterback Kary Baker. “They fought us all the way.”

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