Dust rose listlessly Sunday into the hot, hazy, milk-white Mississippi afternoon. On the field at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson, time passed with inexorable relentlessness for Mississippi Valley State. So did Willie (Satellite) Totten. The only difference was that time didn't get intercepted.
A crowd of 63,808, the largest in the stadium's history, had come to see the 7-0 Delta Devils, ranked fifth in Division I-AA, play 6-0 Alcorn State, which was No. 4. Valley was the division's No. 1 offensive team, averaging 666 yards and 64 points a game. The Satellite had completed 254 of 388 passes for 3,530 yards and 43 touchdowns. Twenty-one of those scoring throws had been beamed to wide receiver Jerry (World) Rice, who had 86 catches all told.
The earth-bound Braves were second in defense. Their coach is the conservative, methodical Marino Casern, called the Godfather because he's as unflappable as Don Corleone. The Braves were made in his image.
Valley coach Archie Cooley, an entirely different kind of guy, had been Casem's defensive coordinator in 1973. He's impulsive, even reckless, and not averse to going for a first down on fourth-and-30. His quick-draw, run-and-gun offense has earned him the nickname Gunslinger. "No other coach goes without a huddle an entire game," says Cooley. "It's got to be Cooley."
Cooley shuffles his 200 or so formations as fluently as a gambler handles cards on a Mississippi riverboat. The most disorienting is the four stack right, split left. On one side of the ball, four receivers queue up in single file and take off like jets from an aircraft carrier. A lone fifth receiver is on the other flank.
How did Alcorn State plan to contain a team that runs a two-minute drill for 60 minutes? "You don't stop it," said Braves linebacker coach Theo Danzy. "You plug up the holes." And if you can't? "Then," said Danzy, "you take a three-point stance and say, 'Our Father, who art in heaven....' "
In the first half, the Braves repeatedly pressured Totten out of the pocket. Tons of Fun, Valley's 1,400-pound offensive line, came to look like five upended pianos. Using simple curls, traps and pitchouts, the Braves built a 28-7 halftime lead. But in the third quarter they experimented with a three-man line, giving Totten more breathing room. Valley nick-el-and-dimed its way to three TDs, and, with 14:56 left, tied the game at 28.
With 9:26 to go, Totten's pass for Cleo Armstrong was picked off at the Alcorn 20. The Braves consumed the next 6½ minutes on a 17-play TD drive, tailback Perry Quails carrying the ball the last five plays. On the next series, Totten underthrew Rice, and corner-back Issiac Holt returned the pass 29 yards for a TD to make the final score 42-28.
As World turned, so did Holt. "Issiac shared Rice's jockstrap all day," said Danzy. Rice was held to eight receptions and 134 yards. "Held is right!" said Cooley. "Alcorn broke our rhythm by holding and pushing. I guess the way to beat us is to beat us up."
Which only shows that Cooley still has a thing or two to learn. "In front of 63,000 people, Casern beat Cooley," said Cooley, slowly shaking his head. The Gunslinger had been cut off at the pass.