Monday, September 13, 2010

Gators Tackle Golden Bears, 9/13/80

For “Gator Nation,” the last two decades have been like something out of a dream. The homecoming of Steve Spurrier in 1990, eight Southeastern Conference Titles, three National Championships, and iconic players such as Heisman Trophy winners Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow.

None of the current players who will suit up this weekend against the University of South Florida Bulls, however, are old enough to remember a time when the Gators spent a season as the dregs of college football. In 1979, the Gators finished with a dreadful 0-10-1 record under first-year head coach Charley Pell. That season is still the university’s standard for futility, rivaled only by a 0-9 mark in 1946.

The opening of the 1980 season offered new hope, however, and a showdown at Tampa Stadium against the University of California Golden Bears on September 13 presented the first opportunity for the Gators to wash the taste of the 1979 season from their mouths.

Sophomore Bob Hewko – in his first-ever start – got the nod at starting quarterback from Pell over incumbent Larry Ochab.

“Ochab will be our backup and we’ll use him as the situation warrants,” Pell said. “We’re starting Hewko and we’re prepared to go with him the entire game. We have all the confidence in the world in Bob.”

On the other side of the ball, the Gators had to contend with Cal’s senior quarterback Rich Campbell, one of the most prolific passers in all of college football. Pell admitted that it would be almost impossible to stop Campbell, but that the Gators simply hoped to keep the ball away from Cal’s offense.

“If we can do that,” he said, “not give up the big play and have a sound kicking game, we’ll do alright.”

In front of 41, 388 at Tampa Stadium, the Gators did more than just alright: they managed to steal the show from Campbell and the Golden Bears.

Living up to the hype that accompanied his appearance in Tampa, Campbell set a then-NCAA single-game pass completion record by connecting on 43 of 53 attempts for 421 yards. Still for all Campbell’s passing heroics, the Gators were the better team on this day.

Florida jumped out to a fast start in the first quarter. On Florida’s first possession of the game, tailback Doug Kellon capped a seven-play, 52-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give his team the early lead. The defense forced California to punt and recovered a fumble, setting up two Brian Clark field goals, and at the end of the first quarter, the Gators held a 13-0 lead.
Just as Florida dominated the first quarter, Cal took the game over in the second on the strength of Campbell’s arm. On one of his record-tying 19 second quarter pass completions, Campbell connected on a 24-yard touchdown strike to Dave Lewis, and Mike Luckhurst added field goals of 42 and 30 yards to even up the score 13-13 at the half.

Despite having squandered the early advantage, Pell commented after the game that the Gators were in a pretty favorable position.

“I had told them we might even be behind at the half,” Pell said, “but when it was tied, heck, that we like being ahead.”

The Gators came out in the second half playing like a team determined to win, while the Golden Bears played like a team determined to give the game away.

Florida capitalized on three Cal turnovers in the quarter – converting all three into touchdowns – and turned the game into a rout. Hewko connected with tight end Chris Faulkner for a nine-yard touchdown pass with 5:49 left in the third to give the Gators a 20-13 lead. In the next five minutes, the Gators added two more touchdowns, a 3-yard run by James Jones and a 20-yard pass from Hewko to Curt Garrett to widen their lead to 34-13.

Fullback Terry Williams added the game’s final insult to Cal on a 2-yard touchdown run just two minutes into the fourth quarter for the deciding 41-13 margin.

After 13-consecutive losses, the Gators not only snapped the streak but did so in decisive fashion. Although Campbell moved down the field with easy, the Florida defense forced four fumbles, intercepted one pass, and generated 17 points off Cal mistakes.

As for the offense, the Gators managed to generate more points in one afternoon (41) than they did through the first six weeks of the 1979 season (40). While Hewko did not dazzle when compared to Campbell, he turned in an efficient start, completing 10 of 16 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

Pell called the game the “greatest single victory” he’d ever been associated with.

There were many more victories to come for Pell in his time at the University of Florida, particularly in 1980. The Gators would win six of their first seven games en route to an 8-4 finish, capped by a Tangerine Bowl victory in Orlando over the University of Maryland. This marked the first time in college football history that a team followed a winless season with a bowl appearance the next season.

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