[Editor's note: While new purple jerseys played an important role in Clemson's victory over N.C. State (page 28), purple garb was worn by three other teams we find ourselves writing about this week—East Carolina, Holy Cross and Northwestern. We did not plan this. Promise.]
Nobody Is Finer in Carolina
The week before No. 23 Pittsburgh visited No. 20 East Carolina for the first game between nationally ranked teams ever played in Greenville, N.C, the Pirates worked extensively on a two-point conversion play. The reason: Offensive coordinator Steve Logan had a funny feeling—"One of those dèjà vu deals," he called it—that it would be needed. Even at halftime, when East Carolina led 13-6, Logan's final words to quarterback Jeff Blake were, "Son, it's going to come down to that two-point conversion."
Sure enough, with 46 seconds left and a school-record crowd (estimated at 36,000) having a collective nervous breakdown, Blake finished a gritty 80-yard drive by diving over left tackle for the TD that pulled East Carolina to within one point, 23-22, of the Panthers, who had rallied to take the lead on the passing of quarterback Alex Van Pelt. On the Pirates' two-point conversion try, Blake ran the option, cutting back over right tackle for the deuce that provided the winning margin in a 24-23 victory. "This team has it in its heart that it can't be beat," said Blake, who had completed a crucial 22-yard pass on third-and-17 deep in his own territory to spark the drive.
The Panthers weren't done yet, however. Van Pelt quickly moved them to the East Carolina 30 with seven seconds left. But instead of having kicker Don Silvestri try a 47-yard field goal, Van Pelt then passed to Chad Askew at the Pirate 11, where he was tackled as time expired. Should Pitt have gone for the field goal? "I thought we needed five more yards or so," said coach Paul Hackett, aware that Silvestri's longest field goal of the season was 37 yards.
The win, which moved East Carolina to 7-1, was witnessed by scouts from the Blockbuster, Peach, Independence and John Hancock bowls. The Pirates will probably go to one of those rather than to a major bowl, even if they wind up 10-1. The reason, of course, is that East Carolina is a tradition-poor independent, one of those programs that fall through the bowl system's cracks. No matter how good the Pirates are—and wins over Pitt and Syracuse suggest they might be Top 10 material—they're destined to be regarded as a curiosity by the polls and the bowls.
Oh, well. For a program that has been to only six bowls, none of them major, in its 55-year history, any postseason game is important. Besides, East Carolina can now also claim to be the best team in its state, which is rather nice considering that only Duke has agreed to play the Pirates—next year in Durham. Talks to set up a series with N.C. State recently broke off, and Wake Forest and North Carolina won't even discuss the matter.
A Cross to Bear
In his six years at Holy Cross, coach Mark Duffner has built what may be the nation's best Division I-AA program. His record after Saturday's thrilling 43-42 Patriot League win over Lehigh is 56-5-1, and four of the losses were to Division I-A teams. What's intriguing is that he has achieved this success without the most important motivational tool that any I-AA coach has—a berth in the division's national championship playoffs.
The Patriot League doesn't allow its champion to participate in the postseason, ostensibly because the extra games—four for the two finalists—would require players to spend too much time away from class. "It's something that's been around here as long as I have," says Duffner philosophically. "So we don't even think about it."
That's not quite true. Quarterback Tom Ciaccio, who has guided the Crusaders to 16 consecutive wins, a 7-0 record this season and the No. 3 ranking in Division I-AA (behind Nevada and Eastern Kentucky), admits to plenty of frustration. "It's my senior year, and I don't want it to end," said Ciaccio. "We'd like to have a shot at proving we're not only the best team in the East, but in the country."
Ciaccio needed to be at his best against Lehigh, which came into the game with a 6-0 record and a playbook full of tricks. After a surprisingly cautious first half that ended in a 7-7 tie, both teams came out firing after intermission. Before you knew it, Holy Cross had zoomed to a 35-21 lead. Then Lehigh fought back to go ahead 36-35 in the fourth quarter on a two-point conversion scored on the old "fumblerooksi" play. After Lehigh quarterback Glenn Kempa faked a handoff and rolled right, guard Ken Joseph snatched up the ball and sauntered untouched into the left side of the end zone. Duffner later admitted that he was "faked out just like everyone else."
But Ciaccio wasn't done. After hooking up with end Joey Riley for a 49-yard TD pass, he connected with tight end Ron Hooey for a two-point conversion that gave the Crusaders a 43-36 lead with 3:21 remaining. Naturally, Lehigh scored again, Kempa and receiver Horace Hamm combining on a 45-yard TD play, but Kempa's two-point pass attempt to wide receiver Rich Clark was low, enabling Holy Cross to escape with the win.
When Lehigh coach Hank Small was asked about the Patriot League's no-playoff policy in football, he minced no words. "It's a damn shame," he said, "especially when every other sport in our league is allowed to go [to playoffs]. I think it's a crime, to tell you the truth."
Northwestern's decision to wear all-purple uniforms ("We looked like a grape," said quarterback Len Williams) may or may not have had anything to do with its 17-11 upset of Illinois in Evanston. Nonetheless, there's no doubt that last Saturday was a red-letter day—or purple-letter day—for the program that can always be counted upon to lead the Big Ten in academics and finish last in football.
Going into the game the Illini were still entertaining hopes of winning the conference and going to the Rose Bowl. But that was before the Wildcat defense put the clamps on quarterback Jason Verduzco, who passed for only 153 yards (about half his season's average) and threw two interceptions. "They played up to a level that was great," said Verduzco.
So did Williams, whose passing led to a first-quarter touchdown and a 7-0 lead that Northwestern never surrendered. He also scored on a four-yard keeper in the third quarter.
Who knows? Maybe one of these days Northwestern can match what Vanderbilt, another Egghead U., has done in the SEC. The Commodores, in their first year under coach Gerry DiNardo, stunned Mississippi 30-27 in Oxford on Jeff Owen's 42-yard field goal with 22 seconds to go. The win was the first in the conference for Vandy on the road since 1984 (after 19 straight losses) and, with a 27-25 upset of Georgia last week in Nashville, gave the Commodores their first back-to-back SEC wins since 1982.
And that's not all. The Commodores now are a gaudy—for them—2-3 in league play, but they easily could be 4-1. They were on the verge of beating LSU on Sept. 21, but a costly fumble in the final moments allowed the Tigers to escape with a 16-14 victory. On Oct. 12, Auburn needed a late field goal to squeeze out a 24-22 win.
Clearly Vandy is no longer a mat on which SEC teams can wipe their feet, just as the grapes at Northwestern don't always get stomped.
With Mansfield leading Millersville 31-24 in the fourth quarter of a Division II game in Millersville, Pa., the field became so enshrouded by fog that the crowd had to take the public-address announcer's word for what was happening. The P.A. man, in turn, got his information from Millersville sports information director Greg Wright, who was walking the sidelines with a walkie-talkie. Mansfield won 31-30, but don't ask for details. We haven't the foggiest....
The "Hi, Mom!" award of the week goes to Georgia Tech cornerback Willie (Big Play) Clay, who, after his second interception in a 35-7 win over North Carolina, dashed into the stands to hand the ball to his mother, Marsha. Clay leads the nation with eight interceptions....
Dustin Dewald of Iowa Wesleyan threw for 507 yards and seven TDs in a 56-32 win, and Nelson Edmonds of Northern Michigan ran 62 times for 291 yards in a 20-13 victory. Both superlative performances came on the same day against Wayne State—Dewald's against the Wayne, Neb., school and Edmonds's against the one in Detroit. Obviously the fortunes of both Waynes must be on the wane....
In Michigan's 52-6 blowout of Minnesota, quarterback Elvis Grbac and wide receiver Desmond Howard set school records on the same play, a 41-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. It was Grbac's 49th career scoring pass, breaking the mark Rick Leach set from 1975 to '78, and Howard's 15th TD catch of the season, breaking Anthony Carter's 11-year-old single-season mark.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Pacific junior wideout Aaron Turner had 16 catches for 228 yards—one for the winning TD with :05 left—for an NCAA-record 10th straight 100-yard game, in a 27-20 defeat of New Mexico State.
Ron Geater, a senior tackle at Iowa, had four sacks for minus 53 yards, made seven other tackles, caused a fumble that he recovered and deflected two passes in a 31-21 victory over Purdue.
Quarterback John Guglielmo, a junior at Division III Johns Hopkins, completed 28 of 39 passes for 477 yards, including TD throws of 12, 76, 12, 23, 60 and 17 yards, in a 40-14 defeat of Georgetown.