Extra Points: A Century Of Gamecocks
by Lee Pace, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL - Here's how college football has changed in nearly a century: It took Carolina and Georgia Tech three and a half hours one Saturday last November to score more points than Carolina and South Carolina combined scored in nearly an entire decade of games back in the Roaring Twenties. The Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets hit the offensive jackpot for 118 points on Nov 10, 2012, and on four other Saturdays last fall, the Tar Heels and their opponent combined for 73 points or more in a single game.
Contrast that with the fact that from 1920-28--when automobiles, motion pictures and the radio were being invented and perfected--the football teams from Chapel Hill and the University of South Carolina were in the Dark Ages of excitement and eeked and scratched out 102 points combined in nine games against one another. The Tar Heels won three of those games by 7-0 scores and one of them was a 0-0 tie, that coming in 1928 before a rain-soaked crowd of 6,000 in Kenan Stadium.
But it wasn't as if some coaches weren't trying to do some fun stuff. Take Billy Laval, the Gamecocks' head coach from 1928-34. South Carolina was 4-1-1 entering the Nov. 10 game in Chapel Hill in Laval's first year in Columbia after having coached previously at Furman, and the Tar Heels of second-year coach Chuck Collins were 2-3-1. The News & Observer previewed the game by noting the new offense the Gamecocks were running--some concoction called the "crazy quilt."
"It is said that a psychology professor thought it out, and that teams coming up against it for the first time find it quite a puzzle," the newspaper noted.
Laval first employed the "crazy quilt"--named for its layering and stitching of odd patterns together, like in a quilt--in the early 1920s at Furman. Rules limiting pre-snap motion and shifting had yet to be established, and Laval's offense would send as many as five players in motion, ends shifting to the backfield and backs shifting to the line. Reverses, laterals, backward passes, double- and triple-handoffs were staples of the offense. Also in Laval's bag of tricks was the "Crap Shooters Shift," a forebear to the modern no-huddle offense in which the quarterback would begin sounding off a cadence without the offense huddling. Sometimes the offense would snap the ball, at others it would huddle up and call a play.
It just goes to show you that in football, what goes around, comes around.
Apparently the weather in 1928 was hardly conducive to running an offense heavy on ball exchanges, as the N&O report said the scoreless tie was marred by frequent punts and fumbles. And no amount of Gamecock scheming could overcome the Tar Heels' deeply talented roster of 1929. Ray Farris was captain of the team that went 9-1 and clobbered the Gamecocks 40-0 in Columbia.
By the time the ACC had formed in 1953 with the state universities of the two Carolinas as charter members, the Tar Heels held a commanding 20-4-4 lead over the Gamecocks. Jim Tatum won two of three over the Gamecocks during his tenure from 1956-58, and Jim Hickey won five of six through the mid-1960s.
"Some people felt South Carolina was our biggest rival behind Duke at that time," says Moyer Smith, a Tar Heel back from the late-1950s and later an assistant coach on Bill Dooley's staff. "We had some hard-fought games against them. Columbia was a tough place to play, even before they added on the upper decks in the Seventies. I remember the bleachers starting so low to the ground that, to help people behind the team benches to see, they literally dug trenches along the sideline and they put the benches down in the trench. You stepped down from the field into the trench to sit down. It was that way on the home and visitors' sides."
South Carolina made up ground when first Dooley and then Mack Brown were rebuilding during their respective tenures and the Tar Heels dropped a combined seven of eight to the Gamecocks. Dooley lost four in a row to the Gamecocks and head coach Paul Dietzel from 1967-70, with the 1968 game in Chapel Hill marking one of the most devastating collapses in Tar Heel history.
Carolina was 2-8 in Dooley's first year in 1967 and opened the 1968 season by getting pounded by N.C. State, 38-6. But the next week Carolina led the Gamecocks 27-3 early in the fourth quarter, despite losing four first-half fumbles on its own side of midfield. South Carolina scored on an 18-yard pass by sophomore QB Tommy Suggs to open the final quarter, then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kick-off at the Tar Heel 24, punched it in quickly and all of a sudden it's 27-17. The momentum turned on a dime and the Gamecocks scored twice more to stun the Tar Heels.
"It's all mental," Dooley said afterward. "You can't execute like we did for three quarters, then have a complete lapse. And it's my job as head football coach here to change the defeatist attitude on this football team. And we're going to get the job done some way. There's some way to overcome it."
"It was the most bizarre thing I've ever seen," the Tar Heels' starting quarterback, Gayle Bomar, remembers today. "We could not stop them. We had enough points to win that game. It was a brutal Monday at practice, I can tell you that.
"We had to learn how to win. We knew how to play football, we just did not know how to win. There's a difference. We had to master the mental part of the game. By the time we finished, we'd learned how to win."
Indeed, Dooley had his program in the nation's top 20 on a regular basis as the 1970s evolved and his 1977 squad won the ACC title, including a 17-0 win in Kenan Stadium over a Gamecock team that was now a football independent after the institution left the ACC in 1971. That Carolina team sported one of the finest defenses in school history; the Gamecocks had only 10 first downs, 166 yards total offense and never got inside the Tar Heel 20 yard-line.
Dick Crum hiccupped with a 5-6 record his first year taking over for Dooley in 1978, but the Tar Heels were sharp and primed for their 1979 opener in Kenan Stadium against South Carolina. Strong defense led by linebacker Buddy Curry, great kicking from Steve Streater and opportunistic running by Amos Lawrence set the stage for an opener that was eclipsed in precision two weeks later by a win over Jackie Sherrill's No. 13-ranked Pitt Panthers.
Carolina's 10-2 season in 1981 is often remembered most for that classic 10-8 slugfest defeat to Clemson with the ACC title on the line. Forgotten in the shuffle was a stunning loss at home two weeks earlier to Jim Carlen's Gamecocks. The Tar Heels were unbeaten in six games and ranked third in the country in late-October, but injuries to a handful of key players and some crucial turnovers put Carolina in a hole it couldn't dig out of. The loss aside, the game was noteworthy because of one the finest slight-of-hand plays ever in Kenan Stadium: Jeff Hayes faked a punt and ran 70 yards for a touchdown.
Mack Brown followed Crum in 1988 and his tenure was christened in Columbia on Labor Day weekend, the Gamecocks having little trouble dispatching the Tar Heels 31-10. That was the first of a new four-year, home-and-home contract between the two Carolinas, with the Gamecocks adding wins in Chapel Hill in 1989 and in Columbia in 1990. The 1989 game was marked by the fact that the Tar Heels, 1-8 so far in Brown's second year, led the game into the fourth quarter. But cornerback Torin Dorn was flagged for pass interference inside the five yard-line, eliciting a protest from Brown that prompted a penalty, a barrage of debris coming from the stands and a plea from the P.A. announcer to mind your manners. The Gamecocks scored, seized the psychological edge and rallied to a 27-20 win.
Brown's teams had to learn to win, just as Dooley's did two decades earlier, and when South Carolina returned to Chapel Hill in 1991, the Tar Heels were building a solid program that would peak in 1996-97 with back-to-back Top 10 finishes. The Tar Heels were 5-4 in mid-November, and freshman QB Jason Stanicek had taken off his red-shirt to spark the Carolina offense the last month of the season. The Tar Heels were up 21-14 midway through the second half when Scott McAlister hammered a 63-yard punt that was fumbled at the goal. The original call was that Robert Brooks fumbled the ball as he was hit by Ray Jacobs, then fell on it in the end zone for a safety. But the ruling was overturned and deemed a touchback. A key officials' call was the Tar Heels' death knell two years earlier; on this day, the Carolina defense girded and forced two three-and-outs and Brown beat his good friend, Gamecock coach Sparky Woods, by a 21-17 margin.
"You've got to be able to overcome that adversity," receiver Joey Jauch said. "In the past we probably wouldn't have been able to do that. Look at what happened two years ago. But today the defense rose up, and that shows leadership and experience."
With Mike McGee coming in as new athletic director at South Carolina in 1993 and he and Carolina AD John Swofford having a cordial relationship, the two schools planned to continue their periodic cross-border rivalry. But those plans were scuttled when South Carolina moved to the SEC and Florida State entered the ACC in 1992, complicating each school's non-conference scheduling priorities. Thus 16 years passed before the Tar Heels and Gamecocks scrummed it up again on the football field, and the 34-17-4 series advantage Carolina carries into Columbia Thursday night is certainly front-loaded toward the first half of the 20th century.
And one final footnote to that epic 0-0 tie in 1928: News & Observer correspondent Charles Parker reported a uniform snippet in his game story that is sure to have Tar Heel purists reaching for the cyanide: "UNC coach Chuck Collins gave the spectators an eye-full right at the start when he sent the Tar Heels, ordinarily attired in navy blue, on the field in blazing orange jerseys."
Blazing orange? The Tar Heels? Wonder what the Twitter stream would have said about that?
Chapel Hill writer Lee Pace (email@example.com) is now in his 24th year writing "Extra Points" and 10th reporting from the sidelines for the Tar Heel Sports Network. His unique look at Tar Heel football will appear weekly throughout the fall.