Monday, November 29, 2010

Seminoles Fall to Houston at Stadium, 11/26/70

Leading up to their November 26, 1970, showdown against the Houston Cougars at Tampa Stadium, the Florida State Seminoles found themselves in the running for a berth in the Peach Bowl.

In the days before 70 teams went to bowl games, the 7-3 Seminoles were on the outside looking in for a berth in either the Liberty Bowl or Peach Bowl, the only two bowls that remained unfilled.
To get to Atlanta, however, the Seminoles had to beat a very good, very dangerous Houston Cougar squad.

The Cougars entered the game at 6-3 -- a slight step down from the 1969 season which featured a 9-2 record and a Bluebonnet Bowl victory -- but had lost two close games at Oklahoma State and Ole Miss. They were certainly not a team Florida State could take for granted.

The game would serve as somewhat of a "Thanksgiving Night" bowl game for both teams and be televised by ABC in prime time for a national audience. With the Detroit Lion and Dallas Cowboy games already wrapped up, the Seminoles and Cougars would have the undivided attention of stuffed and sleepy football fans around the country.
Unfortunately, organizers of the game were less optimistic about selling the game to the local audience for many reasons.

In 1970, the Seminoles did not have the broad following of the Florida Gators, particularly in the Tampa Bay area. The Seminoles had only been playing football since 1947, while the Gators had a football tradition dating back to 1904. The "Big Three" as we know them today -- Florida, Florida State and Miami -- did not exist. The Florida Gators simply dominated the college football landscape.

The fact that the game was televised seemed to deter local fans from attending, as well as fans from Tallahassee who would otherwise have needed to drive down to see the game.
Also, the game had been moved from its originally scheduled October date, sandwiching it right between University of Tampa home games against Vanderbilt and Florida A&M. The Spartans were enjoying a tremendous season at 9-1, and local football fans might not have wanted to pay for three games in seven days.

Only 18,053 fans -- some 17,000 less than the desired attendance mark -- came out to Tampa Stadium, while an estimated 30 million watched the game at home. Not a single person could rightly claim to not be entertained by what they saw.

The Cougars struck first, marching 65 yards on seven plays to open the game. Houston quarterback Gary "Moon" Mullins connected with Elmo Wright on a 12-yard pass to give Houston the lead, but Florida State blocked the extra point attempt to make the score 6-0.

The Seminoles matched Houston with a 12-yard touchdown pass of their own, this one coming from Tommy Warren to Rhett Dawson with 0:54 seconds left in the first quarter to give Florida State a 7-6 lead.

After forcing a Houston punt, James Jarrett capped a 66-yard, 14-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to make the score 14-6 in favor of the Seminoles.
A Tom Mozisek 2-yard touchdown run for Houston narrowed the score to 14-12, but Florida State immediately answered with a 65-yard touchdown strike from Warren to Barry Smith, extending the Seminole lead to 21-12.

An unsuspecting Florida State took the lead into the break, completely unaware of what awaited them in the second half.

Midway through the third quarter, a heads up play by the Cougars changed the momentum of the game. After intercepting a Florida State pass at the Houston 30, Charles Ford ran another 50 yards to the Seminole 20-yard-line. Before being brought down, however, he pitched the ball to teammate Frank Ditta, who took it the rest of the way for a touchdown. Houston again failed on the point-after-attempt and trailed Florida State by three, 21-18.

It would not matter, however, as the Cougars were only getting started. Houston would go ahead for good on their next possession, scoring on a 2-yard run by Mozisek to take a 25-21 lead as the third quarter came to a close.

The entire fourth quarter belong to Houston. After Mullins hit Mike Parrott on a 25-yard strike to extend their lead to 32-21, the Cougars were literally off and running. Mozisek got into the end zone again, this time on a 70-yard run, and in one of the most memorable moments of the game, Cougar Nick Holm intercepted a Tommy Warren pass and appeared end zone bound.
Seminole Dan Whitehurst, however, had other ideas.

From his spot near midfield on the Florida State sideline, Whitehurst decided he had seen enough. As Holm approached, Whitehurst extended his foot onto the playing field to trip the Houston cornerback. His attempt succeeded, and a certain Houston touchdown turned into a 15-yard penalty on Florida State and the ball placed on the 35-yard-line.

"What's 15 yards when you're 30 points behind," Whitehurst said after the game, although the Seminole were only trailing by 18 at the time. "I just knew I had to stop him, and figured if I tripped him the ref might not see it."

Florida State head coach Bill Peterson said after the game that he couldn't be too mad at Whitehurst because he felt like doing it himself. Houston would punch it in on another Elmo Wright receiving touchdown to take a 46-21 lead, and they would add one more on a Joe Depain run from one-yard out to provide the final points in a 53-21 rout.

Along with suffering the indignity of a 32-point defeat, the Seminoles played their way right out of bowl consideration. Peterson summed it up best in the end, saying, "They just gave us a good country beating."

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