Mountaineers Stun Cal
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
BERKELY, Calif. (September 20, 1975) – With the football resting at the West Virginia seven-yard line and trailing by four points, 14-10, California was poised to take its first lead of the game at the start of the fourth quarter.
Golden Bears coach Mike White had plenty of tricks up his sleeve and West Virginia coach Bobby Bowden had to make sure his team was prepared for just about anything.
Sandy-haired, blue-eyed and slender, Mike White possessed the California good looks that could have easily made him a movie star. But the Cal business school product decided to embark upon a career in college football, making assistant coaching stops at his alma mater under Marv Levy and then at Stanford before returning to Berkeley in 1972 to become the school’s head football coach.
In 1974, White led California to an eye-opening 15-15 tie against NCAA champion USC and his 1975 team registered a 7-3-1 record – the school’s best since 1952.
Known as an innovative offensive coach with a preference for the passing game, White also carried a talented assistant coaching staff that included quarterback coach Paul Hackett and a young linebacker coach named Walt Harris.
White’s growing reputation reached as far East as Columbus, Ohio. Earlier that summer White was a guest speaker at the Ohio Coaches Clinic where Ohio State coach Woody Hayes introduced him to the 1,200 coaches in attendance this way: “It is now my pleasure to introduce what could be our next opponent in the Rose Bowl.”
Although White had to replace record-setting quarterback Steve Bartkowski, he did have a dangerous collection of offensive weapons returning. Chief among those were running back Chuck Muncie (a Uniontown, Pa., native), All-American wide receiver Steve Rivera and 9.5 sprinter Wesley Walker.
Redshirt junior Fred Besana won the starting quarterback job during fall camp and had a decent game in Cal’s season-opening loss to Colorado, but his rope was tightening. White also had junior college All-American quarterback Joe Roth in the fold and was anxious to see what he could do on the field.
Meanwhile, Bobby Bowden endured a miserable 1974 season at West Virginia that saw his Mountaineers slip to 4-7. Key injuries, player dissension and unrealistic expectations led to a near revolt. Misguided fans began hanging a caricature of Bowden in effigy around campus and “For Sale” signs frequently popped up in his yard.
A feature story on Bowden in the first football program in 1975 touched on a few of the issues Mountaineer fans complained the most about with him: his nice-guy image, his Christian beliefs and his perceived casual approach to disciplining players.
“Some say a nice guy can’t win,” said Bowden. “We’ll, I’ve seen them all. I’ve seen mean coaches win. I’ve seen nice coaches win; I’ve seen loud coaches win. I’ve seen quiet coaches win. I’ve seen profane coaches win. I’ve seen Christian coaches win.”
According to former WVU sports information director Ron Steiner, Bowden conducted practice with businesslike efficiency. His arms folded across his chest, his mind cooking up the next trick play or formation. Bowden lets his assistants coach. He takes their input, adds his own suggestions, and then comes up with what he believes is the right formula.
Bobby’s successful teams of the early 1970s relied on long bombs, flanker reverses and exceptional running. The objective of the defense during those years was simply to keep the opposing team from scoring more than West Virginia.
In 1975, Bowden finally had a formidable defense to go along with a powerful running game and a capable offensive line. In its opener against Temple, the West Virginia defense picked off two Owl passes and returned them for touchdowns and limited Temple to just 215 total yards. The Owls were no slouch then, either, having almost upset Penn State a week earlier.
Bowden began the year preparing to build his offense around senior tailback Artie Owens, a 9.5 sprinter whose high school background included inclusion on one prep All-America team along with Ohio State’s Archie Griffin, Indiana’s Quinn Buckner (yes, that Quinn Buckner) and Oklahoma’s Tinker Owens.
Artie scored a phenomenal 42 touchdowns his senior year at Stroudsburg High School and turned down offers from Pitt and Penn State to come to West Virginia. His first two years produced modest results and he began the 1974 season as the team’s No. 3 tailback. By the end of the year he was the top-ranked rusher in the East ahead of guys like Dorsett, Walker, Barnett and Griffin.
The coach still wasn’t settled on a starting quarterback – alternating Danny Williams and sophomore Dan Kendra in the 50-7 win over Temple – but he was beginning to lean toward Kendra.
Kendra played well in the first half against Cal, completing 4 of 8 passes for 45 yards. Williams got in for one series and attempted one pass (an interception) and it was Kendra who was beginning to move the team and gain confidence.
West Virginia’s first score came with 11:15 expired in the first quarter when fullback Haywood Smith plowed in from a yard out.
Cal tied the game with 10:18 left in the second quarter when Tom Newton also scored on a one-yard run. The two teams took a 7-all tie into the locker room.
West Virginia regained its advantage with 4:32 remaining in the third quarter when Ron Lee got in from the one, needing an extra push to finally get in.
Cal responded with a Jim Breech 28-yard field goal to close the margin to 14-10 as played moved toward the fourth quarter.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Golden Bears took over the football at its own 18 yard line. A short pass from Besana to Muncie moved the ball six yards; Cal got five more yards on a procedure penalty by West Virginia.
Sensing West Virginia was ripe for a surprise play, White dug deep into his bag of tricks and called for Muncie to throw a halfback pass to the speedy Walker, who took the pass at the 30 and raced to the West Virginia 15 before a hustling Tom Pridemore tracked him down to make the tackle of the game.
With a fresh set of downs, California was poised to score the go-ahead touchdown. Muncie’s first crack on the left side went for no gain. On second down, Besana’s pass attempt for Walker in the end zone fell incomplete. On third and 10, Besana found Muncie out of the backfield for eight yards to the Mountaineer seven. A Cal illegal procedure penalty moved the ball back to the 12 on fourth down.
Instead of going for it, White brought on his field goal team to attempt a short field goal that would have cut West Virginia’s lead to one. Just about all of the 23,875 at the game that afternoon sensed that White had no intentions of kicking another field goal.
Among the doubters was West Virginia defensive back Chuck Braswell.
Braswell kept his eyes trained on holder Besana, who pulled the football off the tee and looked downfield toward Muncie. Braswell made a break for the football and batted the ball down, nearly intercepting it.
“My fingers were all busted up or I think I would have got it,” said Braswell.
Bowden was more succinct: “It was over when they missed that one.”
With a little more than 12 minutes remaining, West Virginia took over deep in its own territory. Smith immediately ripped off a run of 10 yards. Three more running plays by Lee and Owens netted 29 yards to move the ball to midfield.
A 17-yard pass from Kendra to tight end Scott MacDonald on third and five gave West Virginia a first down at the Cal 27. The Mountaineers converted two more third-down plays before Smith reached the end zone to give West Virginia some breathing room. Bill McKenzie’s extra point moved WVU’s lead to 20-10.
Cal made one last desperate attempt to get back into the game but on fourth and five at the West Virginia 20, Besana’s pass intended for Rivera fell incomplete.
West Virginia took over the football with 3:17 left on the clock. Owens put the game on ice when he broke through the middle, made a sharp cut to the right and raced 52 yards to the Golden Bears 25 yard-line on third and seven. Five plays later, Owens finished off the drive taking a Kendra pitchout four yards to the end zone.
West Virginia held a 22-20 advantage in first downs; 16 West Virginia first downs came on the ground. Kendra completed an efficient 7 of 12 passes for 90 yards.
WVU’s real push came on the ground where Heywood Smith had the best day of his career. The Dunbar native carried 24 times for a career-high 146 yards with two touchdowns. West Virginia’s other fullback, Ron Lee, finished the game with 58 yards on 13 carries.
“We thought they would overplay Owens and that’s the reason we ran our fullbacks so much,” said Bowden.
“I’m in a daze,” said Smith. “It was just unbelievable. It was my best game ever.”
Owens, who opened the season with 127 yards a week earlier against Temple, finished the game with 123 yards on 16 carries.
“I thought the grass was kind of high and I had a lot of trouble cutting,” said Owens. “I was wearing my grass cleats but it took a while to get used to the different turf.”
Bowden said the key to West Virginia’s success was keeping Muncie off the field.
“Against a team like California, you have to keep the ball away from their offense and guys like Chuck Muncie. We won the game on the offensive line,” the coach remarked.
Despite being bottled up, Muncie still managed to rush for 107 yards on 24 carries including a long run of 31 yards.
“He’s one of the best I’ve ever played against,” said West Virginia linebacker Steve Dunlap.
Besana completed 13 of 26 passes for 95 yards with one interception. His backup Roth completed 2 of 4 passes for 34 yards and took over the starting job a week later against Washington State.
With Roth at the controls, Cal won seven of its last eight games including a 28-14 upset of No. 4-rated USC to finish tied with the Trojans and UCLA for the Pac-8 regular season title. UCLA, a 28-14 winner over Cal, got the Rose Bowl bid that year and defeated Ohio State, 23-10.
Both Muncie and Rivera earned consensus All-America honors for the Golden Bears, which finished the season with an 8-3 record, ranked 14th by AP.
Cal had the nation’s top-ranked offense averaging 458.5 yards per contest. Muncie ranked fourth in rushing with an average of 132.7 yards per game. Rivera caught 57 passes for 790 yards and ranked tied for second in the country with an average of 5.7 receptions per game.
Roth finished eighth in the nation in passing, completing 126 of 225 passes for 1,880 yards and 14 touchdowns. Roth (ninth) and Muncie (22nd) were also ranked among the nation’s top 25 in total offense.
The California win boosted West Virginia’s record to 2-0 on the way to a 9-3 season that included a victory over North Caroline State in the Peach Bowl. West Virginia’s three losses that year came to Penn State, Syracuse and Tulane. The Mountaineers also claimed an impressive triumph at SMU in the Cotton Bowl and tough victories against Boston College, Virginia Tech, and of course, the memorable win over Pitt.
And while the 17-14 victory over Pitt was one of 11 selected by the WVU All-Time Committee for the time period of 1970-89, West Virginia’s 28-10 upset at Cal was surprisingly omitted.
It was West Virginia’s first victory over a Pac 8 team after six previously unsuccessful tries. The last time West Virginia traveled to the West Coast in 1972, the Mountaineers dropped a 41-35 decision at Stanford.
WV – Smith 1 run (McKenzie kick)
Rushing: WV – Smith 24-146, Owens 16-123, Lee 13-58, Woods 3-8, Williams 1-5, Kendra 4-2, Total 61-348; C – Muncie 24-107, Newton 8-38, Jones 3-15, Smith 3-11, Walker 1-5, Besana 4- minus 5, Roth 1- minus 11, Total 44-188.
Passing: WV – Kendra 7-12-0-90-0, Williams 0-1-0-0-1, Total 7-13-0-90-1; C – Besana 13-26-0-95-1, Roth 2-4-0-34-0, Muncie 1-1-0-50-0, Total 16-31-0-179-1.
Receiving: WV – MacDonald 2-32, Swinson 3-31, Bowden 1-18, Lewis 1-9, Total 7-90; C – Muncie 6-52, Walker 1-50, Rivera 4-46, Freitas 3-37, Fiebiger 1-4, Jones 1- minus 10, Total 16-179.