Another Wing and a Prayer
Only a week after its epic victory over Florida State, Miami almost blew its chance to win the national championship, narrowly avoiding a loss to Boston College on another Doug Flutie-type miracle. We're talking, of course, about the immortal madness that happened on Nov. 23, 1984, when Flutie, BC's wondrous quarterback, let fly with a 48-yard Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game, which was somehow hauled down by Gerard Phelan in the end zone, giving the Eagles a 47-45 victory over Miami.
Well, last Saturday's game in Boston was held on the seventh anniversary of that classic, and Flutie, who had recently completed an outstanding season with the British Columbia Lions of the CFL, was in attendance. The Eagles responded with an inspired performance aided and abetted by the sloppy Hurricanes, who were penalized 18 times for 138 yards.
Just as they were seven years ago, the Eagles were in position last Saturday to win at the end, trailing 19-14 with a first down at the Miami 26 and 43 seconds remaining. "I thought Flutie was out there," said Miami coach Dennis Erickson. But sophomore quarterback Glenn Foley was sacked on third down and had to throw his own Hail Mary on the game's last play. This time, the ball landed untouched in the end zone.
"We could have beaten 99 percent of the teams in the country the way we played tonight," said Foley, whose team finished the season 4-7. Asked if the Hurricanes had been guilty of their usual trash-talking, he said, "How much could they talk? We stuck it to them."
The Eagles did, indeed, and that undoubtedly cost the Hurricanes some No. 1 votes in the polls and gave No. 2 Washington, which closed an 11-0 season by drilling Washington State 56-21, the hope that it will be able to pull off a different kind of miracle on New Year's Day and wind up with the national championship.
A Late-Season Homecoming
Until last Saturday, Dartmouth hadn't played its final game at home since 1927. That was because school officials had feared that late-November weather in Hanover, N.H., would be better suited for snowballs than footballs. The tradeoff was that for the last 27 years Dartmouth got to open Ivy League play at home.
However, some malcontent evidently complained that Dartmouth got too much of an advantage by always opening at home—never mind that the Big Green had lost seven consecutive league openers before this season. So Dartmouth began Ivy play on the road this season and closed it last weekend by meeting Princeton for the league title in Hanover. There was no snow, but the day was cold and gray and the field mushy.
Each team came into the game with five league wins; Princeton had lost once, to Harvard, and the Big Green had tied a game, also with Harvard. The visiting Tigers, who hadn't won the Ivy title outright in 26 years, were so confident of victory that they brought along two cases of champagne and stored them in the locker room for the postgame celebration. At least, that was what the Dartmouth coaches told their players. "That got us fired up," said Big Green tailback Al Rosier. Of course, the story may have been nothing more than a motivational ploy by Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, because Tiger coach Steve Tosches later denied having anything stronger than soda pop in his dressing room.
Despite treacherous footing, Rosier was splendid in Dartmouth's 31-13 victory, accounting for 190 of his team's 304 rushing yards while Princeton was running for a paltry 69 yards. Rosier finished with 1,432 yards for the season, making him the alltime leading rusher in 110 seasons of Dartmouth football.
The victory gave Dartmouth its first outright Ivy title since 1978. The Green's quarterback that year was Teevens, who now has lost only one Ivy game in the last two seasons at his alma mater.
Capping a Comeback
When Tulsa quarterback T.J. Rubley riddled the Ohio University defense for 167 yards and four touchdowns in the Golden Hurricane's 45-13 romp last Saturday in Tulsa, the most stirring play of the day was a modest three-yard scoring pass in the fourth quarter. That catch capped a remarkable comeback by Tulsa senior wide receiver Dan Bitson, who was injured so severely in an auto accident on Dec. 4, 1989, that it seemed doubtful he would ever play football again.
Before the accident Bitson was one of the finest receivers in Tulsa's pass-happy history. A second-team All-America as a junior in 1989 and seemingly a cinch to be drafted by the pros, Bitson was only 173 yards away from breaking Howard Twilley's school record of 3,343 yards in receptions. But then came the accident, which occurred in Tulsa after an unlicensed driver suffered a seizure and swerved into Bitson's lane.
Bitson, who was pinned in his car for 45 minutes, underwent 12 hours of surgery that day. His injuries included fractures of both thigh bones, a broken right kneecap, a fractured right wrist, extensive cartilage and ligament damage in both knees, and muscle and nerve damage in his right leg.
Bitson's arduous rehabilitation began in January 1990 and continued until last February, when he was deemed fit enough to begin working out with the team. He participated in spring practice but didn't get contact work until this fall, when he proved to coach Dave Rader that he could take a hit. Although Bitson came to feel that he was back to about 90% of his former self, that wasn't enough to win back his starting job.
As the season wore on, Bitson began to feel more frustrated and anxious for playing time on a team that was headed for an 8-2 record and a berth in the Freedom Bowl. Going into the Ohio game, he still was getting in for only a few plays a game and had made only seven catches—none for a touchdown—for 89 yards, leaving him 84 shy of breaking Twilley's record.
"Just sitting there, watching, it takes a lot of the interest out of it for me," Bitson said earlier in the season. "I feel like I can get open, but I have a little problem doing something once I get the ball. I wait for somebody to hit me instead of making a move or putting on a show. I'd like to go in and do great things and excite the crowd like I used to do."
It didn't happen quite the way he wanted. When Bitson finally got a touchdown, his first since 1989, it was a simple catch on a short pattern, not the sort of acrobatic catch on a deep route he had envisioned. Even so, it was the most touching moment of the game for everybody who knew what Bitson had been through.
Besides the records set by SI Player of the Week Tony Sands (box), here are some other noteworthy marks established on the last full Saturday of the season:
•Weber State junior quarterback Jamie Martin threw for 624 yards, a Division I-AA record, in a 60-42 win over Idaho State that earned the Wildcats a spot in the playoffs. In the same game Weber State running back Geoff Mitchell scored three touchdowns, giving him 170 points for the season to break the I-AA scoring record of 162 points, set by Jerry Rice of Mississippi Valley State in 1984.
•In Virginia's 38-0 win over Virginia Tech, quarterback Matt Blundin, a 6'7" senior who also used to play on the Cavaliers' basketball team, ran his string of consecutive passes without an interception to 231, including 224 this year. The previous interception-free record of 215 passes was set by Illinois's Jack Trudeau over a seven-game span in 1985.
•Pacific's Ryan Benjamin rushed 25 times for 118 yards in a 44-23 victory over UNLV, making him the first player in NCAA history to gain at least 100 yards on the ground in all 12 of his games. He also caught five passes to become the first player ever to catch at least 50 passes in a season while also rushing for at least 1,500 yards.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Tony Sands, a senior tailback at Kansas, broke by 10 yards the single-game mark set on Sept. 14 by San Diego State's Marshall Faulk, rushing for 396 yards on a record 58 carries in a 53-29 defeat of Missouri.
Virginia's Chris Slade, a junior defensive end, had 10 tackles, five of them sacks resulting in 37 yards in losses, caused a fumble, recovered a fumble and broke up two passes in a 38-0 defeat of Virginia Tech.
Jay Zunic, a sophomore cornerback for Ithaca, intercepted two passes in the end zone, returning one 100 yards for a TD, as the Bombers beat Glassboro State 31-10 in the first round of the Division III playoffs.