Lou Holtz took great satisfaction in beating Bobby Bowden in the 1972 Peach Bowl. As far as he was concerned, the more points his N.C. State team could put on Bowden’s Mountaineers the better. Fresh on Holtz’s mind was his first head coaching experience at William & Mary in 1970 when he thought Bowden had run up the score in a game West Virginia won handily, 43-7.
“For cryin’ out loud, they still had (Jim) Braxton in the game in the fourth quarter!” Holtz complained afterward.
Comfortably ahead in the 1972 Peach Bowl, Holtz chose to pour it on and score even more points. He tried several passes late in the game when the outcome was already decided and when the clock mercifully ticked down to zero, the Wolfpack had a 49-13 beating to celebrate. Now Bowden had a little score to settle in 1975.
When West Virginia prepared for the ‘72 Peach Bowl, the Mountaineers had encountered bad weather on 20 of the 25 days the team worked out in Morgantown before heading down to Atlanta.
Had Bowden remained at West Virginia after the ‘75 season instead of going to Florida State, an indoor practice facility would have been high on his list of demands.
“With the weather there were a lot of times when you just can’t get out,” Bowden recalled in 2009. “We would have to go into the gymnasium down in the old gym that they had there by the river, or the brand new one they built maybe my last two or three years there. But there really wasn’t enough room in there to do what you wanted to do.
“I think they were talking about that before I left. If I had stayed that would have been in the deal.”
Because practicing indoors was not an option, Bowden decided to take his team down to Clemson after Christmas to work out for three days in a warmer climate. Clemson Athletic Director Frank Howard welcomed the Mountaineers with open arms and some of West Virginia’s players got the impression that Howard wasn’t a big fan of Holtz and was willing to help in any manner or form.
“After one practice, Coach Bowden called us in and he introduced us to Coach Howard and he made this impassioned speech to us about beating Lou Holtz and how he embarrassed West Virginia in the Peach Bowl in 1972. He said, ‘You guys owe it to Coach Bowden to beat Lou Holtz and pay him back for what he did to you.’ He really fired us up, and from what I understand, he gave our coaching staff some good clues on how to beat North Carolina State.”
West Virginia defensive coordinator Chuck Klausing doesn’t recall Howard giving them any extra assistance.
“He came to one of our dinners and talked for 20-30 minutes,” said Klausing. “He was very humorous type of speaker and we enjoyed him in that respect. That was the only association I knew we had with Howard.”
After the way his team performed the first time against State in ‘72, Bowden decided to clamp down on his players a little more than usual.
“He had taken some flak for some of the things that happened down there the time before and this was pretty much treated as a business trip,” recalled safety Tom Pridemore. “We were down there and we weren’t going to have a lot of fun with parties and those kinds of things. The general theme coming from Coach Bowden was that the fun was going to be winning this ballgame.”
“We came back from that Peach Bowl and he wouldn’t let us wear Army fatigues and he wouldn’t let us do a lot of things,” remembered offensive tackle Dave Van Halanger. “He really increased a lot of the off-season rules and made it a lot tougher. We fell apart in that fourth quarter so bad and people said we were out on the town, and he really cracked down.”
The players recall their three days spent in South Carolina being an extreme culture shock.
“I just remember that being the first time I’d ever eaten grits,” said Van Halanger, from Turtle Creek, Pa. “I didn’t know what those things were.”
“Going to Clemson is as far away from the big city as you can get,” added linebacker Ray Marshall. “It’s a university right in the middle of a corn field. That’s probably why we were down there.”
Clemson may have been in the middle of nowhere, but the players and coaches got a real education in what big-time college football was all about. The locker room and practice facilities at Clemson were beyond anything the players had ever seen before.
“I remember marveling over their facilities compared to West Virginia,” said tight end Scott MacDonald.
Bowden, too, took notice of what Clemson was doing with its football program.
“When we looked at all the facilities Clemson had compared to what we had at West Virginia, it made us wonder how we won at all,” Bowden recalled in 1994. “Clemson had acres and acres of nothing but practice fields. At West Virginia, we had to share an old field with the band, the soccer team, and our intramural teams.”
Bowden altered his practice approach after talking to some other coaches he knew from around the country. The first time the Mountaineers did their bowl prep Bowden practiced his team a full month before the game. For the ‘75 Peach Bowl he reduced the time on the field in half in order for his players to remain fresh.
“The last time we went to the Peach Bowl I made the statement that it should be a reward for the boys. When we lost, a lot of folks came back at me with that statement and implied that we had just gone down there for a good time,” Bowden said in ‘75. “Rumors of partying, dissension and everything were started.
“Well, the truth was that it was just the opposite. We didn’t take it easy. We worked them too hard,” he said.
Bowden had a great deal of respect for North Carolina State, which owned close victories over Penn State and Florida. The Buckey twins (Dave and Don) that had burned West Virginia the first time in ‘72 were now seniors.
“Dave Buckey is the most productive quarterback in the United States,” said Bowden a few days before the game. “He has the finest touch on the ball of any quarterback I’ve seen.
“I’m not saying he throws it as hard as some, or as far, but he has a great knack of standing back there under pressure, finding the open receiver, and getting the ball to him.”
Making the Buckey twins even more potent was the discovery of freshman running back Ted Brown, whose 913 yards on the ground kept defenses honest.
“From what I understand, their turning point was when they put him in the backfield,” said Bowden.
Lou Holtz then took his turn raining praise on West Virginia.
“You pay dearly for any real estate you get from West Virginia,” he said. “They’re big, very strong and offensively, they’re a great third down football team. I don’t think anybody in the country does a better job on third down than West Virginia.”
Holtz also mentioned that the ‘75 West Virginia team was completely different than the one he faced three years prior.
“I don’t think the 1972 team was very patient,” Holtz said. “They were always going for the bomb. This team is patient.”
When West Virginia finally arrived in Atlanta the weather there wasn’t much better than it was in Morgantown – 43 degrees and raining. Bowden and Holtz took turns having fun with each other when they spoke at the banquet the day before the game.
“These guys would jaw,” remembered quarterback Dan Kendra. “They’d try to outdo the other. You could sit there and listen to them because they were entertaining. Little did you know then that you’d be listening to two of the greatest football coaches in college football history.”
As usual Holtz got on a roll. “The only good thing to come out of West Virginia is an empty bus,” he said. Then he told another one. “The people in West Virginia will forget Pearl Harbor before they’ll forget that 1972 Peach Bowl game,” Holtz cracked.
The West Virginia folks laughed politely.
The rain stopped on game day, but the unseasonably cold temperatures kept some fans away. Despite the poor weather conditions the Peach Bowl was ecstatic with advance ticket sales. Nearly 54,000 tickets were sold with more than 15,000 of those coming from West Virginians located throughout the Southeast. The big gate meant each school would take home more than $180,000 each (roughly $700,000 in today’s dollars). Mizlou had the television rights to the game with a network of 155 stations throughout the country, including five in West Virginia markets.
Linebacker Steve Dunlap and defensive tackle Rich Lukowski both suffered slight injuries during practice at Clemson but were cleared to play. Ken Culbertson was out with a broken fibula suffered at Richmond, meaning Joe Jelich would get another start at nose guard. N.C. State had Brown listed as questionable with a calcium deposit on his hip; the Wolfpack were the slight favorites.
The first time N.C. State got the football it scored. The Buckey brothers quickly hooked up for 17 yards to the 45. Another Buckey pass to fullback Rickey Adams for 12 yards moved the ball to the West Virginia 32. Two West Virginia penalties (an unsportsmanlike conduct and offsides) moved the ball to the 12. Four cracks on the ground preceded Adams’ 1-yard touchdown run on a sweep to the left.
State managed to tack on three more points with 50 seconds left in the half when Jay Sherrill booted a 21-yard field goal. The Wolfpack were in great shape for a touchdown if not for a clock malfunction. For most of the second quarter, the time was being kept on the field while the Fulton County Stadium scoreboard was being worked on. Faced with a third and short at the West Virginia 6, Holtz, thinking the half was about to end, tried a pass to Don Buckey that fell incomplete. There was, however, still plenty of time left on the clock.
“Had we known we’d had that much time, we might have tried to run for the first down,” Holtz complained.
By Holtz choosing to throw the ball that stopped the clock and it gave West Virginia enough time to move the ball down the field to get into position for a score.
After Paul Lumley returned Sherrill’s kick to the 25, a personal foul penalty on State moved the ball to the 40. Two plays later, Kendra and MacDonald hooked up for 18 yards over the middle to the Wolfpack 39. Two unsuccessful passes left West Virginia with a third and 10 at the 39 and only four seconds remaining in the half – too far for Bill McKenzie to try a field goal.
So offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti called a play they had been working on all week to take advantage of speed mismatch between WVU running back Artie Owens and NC State’s linebackers. What Cignetti came up with was a wheel route to Owens coming out of the backfield.
“Coach Cignetti put it in and we tried it in the game,” Owens recalled. “I was coming out of the backfield in motion and all of the sudden I take off down the field. I was one-on-one with the linebacker.”
Kendra said that play was actually set up by his two previous passes to MacDonald.
“We ran a couple of series that were similar to that where we had hit Scott MacDonald coming back from the same formation. We caught them a couple of times over the middle and they got real conscious of that.”
Cignetti explained his thinking on the play call.
“Normally we would use that back in the flat and use a backside dig or curl route back there. On this particular play, we went to the back on what we would call a ‘slam route’ up the sideline. He takes a quick peak like he’s going to get the ball out in the flat and then turns it up field,” Cignetti said.
It was up to Kendra to make the proper read. If the safety jumps on the X receiver running the post (which is what happened) then Owens is left with only a linebacker covering him.
“In that situation I believe we ran the X on the post and it’s one of those where you take your pick,” said Cignetti. “The quarterback has to make the good decision.”
Kendra put the ball perfectly over the right shoulder of Owens, who jumped up and pulled it in the back corner of the end zone.
“The one good thing about the play was that there was a touch of pressure and I just moved up a bit and Artie just out-ran the guy,” said Kendra. “You throw the ball up and it just worked out for the best.”
Even though McKenzie missed the PAT, Kendra’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Owens changed the entire outlook of the game.
“I remember my statement at halftime when I was talking to the offense. I told them that play is going to win the game for us – the whole momentum and so forth,” said Cignetti.
The third quarter was one of missed opportunities for both teams. Three straight passes – two to Don Buckey – had the Wolfpack at the West Virginia 30. After a Brown one-yard gain on third and short gave State a first down at the West Virginia 19, freshman fullback Scott Wade fumbled and Jack Eastwood recovered the ball at the 21.
The Mountaineers drove all the way to the Wolfpack 6. A pair of Kendra scrambles netted 13 and 19 yards, a pass to Tommy Bowden got 10 more, and then runs by Owens and Lee had West Virginia in great position to score the go-ahead touchdown. But Lumley coughed up the ball at the 2 and State’s Mike Miller came up with it.
The two teams exchanged possessions to begin the fourth quarter before West Virginia took over at its own 23. Runs by Owens and Lee gained 14 yards, and then Kendra hit Steve Lewis for 13 yards to the 50.
Kendra’s second pass of the drive went to MacDonald over the middle. It ricocheted off the fingertips of two N.C. State defenders right into MacDonald’s arms, the receiver juggling the football once before tightly securing it. When he hauled it in there was nobody in front of him.
“Once the ball was tipped and I tipped it again and brought it in I knew there was a guy and he had an angle on me and I didn’t have any envisions of making it to the end zone,” said MacDonald. “I was thinking, ‘Just run as fast as you can and go as far as you can.’”
The tight end lumbered all the way to the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown. The play put West Virginia up 13-10 with McKenzie’s PAT.
But there was still nearly eight minutes remaining on the clock. West Virginia’s defense forced a punt and the Mountaineers took over at the State 40 following Mark Burke’s 21-yard punt return.
On second and seven, Lee got loose for 15 to the Wolfpack 22. Four more runs got the ball to the 6, where Kendra’s keeper to the right went for a touchdown. However, West Virginia was flagged for illegal motion. With a field goal not enough to prevent a touchdown from beating them, Bowden chose to take two more cracks at the end zone. Both were unsuccessful and State had the ball back at its own 11 with 3:49 left in the game.
Two Ted Brown runs and a pair of Buckey passes got the Wolfpack to midfield. With a minute remaining and the ball at the Mountaineer 33, Klausing called for pressure and Marshall got to Buckey for a nine-yard loss. It turned out to be the key defensive play of the game. Linebacker Steve Dunlap was the guy on the field responsible for making the correct call.
“I remember we had this blitz called ‘51 Go Strong’ and toward the end of the game we needed a stop,” Dunlap said. “They were a pro team – they had a flanker on one side and a split end on the other – and I was supposed to call a blitz to the strength of the formation, but this time they came out in twins.
“They had never done that before and I had to make a split decision on which way to call it,” Dunlap explained. “I think I went against the rule and Ray Marshall wound up sacking the quarterback.”
Dunlap remembered one of the coaches coming up to him on the sideline afterward asking him why he changed the blitz to the weak side. He said he wasn’t sure.
“It was probably more dumb luck than anything,” Dunlap laughed. “It was a key play in the game.”
On the very next play, Buckey hit flanker Elijah Marshall along the sideline for a 37-yard gain to the Mountaineer 5, but an illegal motion penalty called on the Wolfpack wiped out the play.
“On a spur of the moment, Elijah and I lined up on different sides of the field than we normally do,” explained Don Buckey after the game. “And both of us lined up too far back, giving us too many men in the backfield.”
A Lukowski sack forced the Wolfpack to try a desperation pass on fourth and 29 that Pridemore intercepted at the 22 and returned to midfield.
Kendra took a knee twice to end the game.
“I’m really impressed with our football team, the way the players held their poise in the first two quarters,” Bowden said afterward. “At halftime, I told them that we could have easily been down 28-0. But they kept fighting back until the breaks came our way.”
West Virginia’s defense was fabulous, especially on its side of the field. Brown finished with a game-high 159 yards rushing, but only 55 of that came in the second half. The Mountaineers also forced two key second half turnovers.
Marshall was the game’s defensive MVP, which was somewhat surprising to linebacker coach Donnie Young, who had a tough time all week getting Marshall in position to cover a screen play N.C. State liked to run. Young thought a big early play for the defense came at the start of the second quarter when Marshall nailed Wade for a nine-yard loss on the very play Marshall kept screwing up in practice.
“He made a big hit on a screen that we had practiced and practiced,” Young said. “It seemed like in practice he never quite got it, but when it was game time he just unloaded on the guy.”
“Ray liked the games,” laughed Dunlap.
MacDonald caught five passes for 110 yards, but Kendra was named offensive MVP. He completed 12 of 28 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Kendra also ran four times for 30 yards.
“Danny Kendra as a young quarterback really developed that year,” said Cignetti. “The fact that we had those running backs and we had that offensive line meant we could run the football and take the pressure off of him.”
MacDonald was also an unlikely hero. He came to West Virginia wanting to be the next Jerry West – not the next Sam Huff. All four years he played on the Mountaineer basketball team things got progressively worse for him and when his basketball career ended he needed another year of school to finish his degree. His father had died during his freshman year of college and MacDonald didn’t have enough money to complete his credits to graduate.
“It was Frank Cignetti that came up to me and asked me to come out for spring football,” MacDonald recalled. “I met with Coach Bowden and I said that I would come out for spring ball if he gave me a scholarship.
“He said, ‘If you come out and make the team I’ll give you a scholarship,’” MacDonald said. “I had a pretty good spring game down in Charleston and so I ended up getting a scholarship for the season.”
“I used to watch him play basketball all the time and I think I may have checked to see if he had football in his background,” Cignetti said. “You watched him play basketball and you saw that body and the type of athlete that he was and so forth ? and you knew if football was important to him, he could make that transition.
“Coach Bowden had a great eye for personnel,” Cignetti continued. “If he saw a guy that was going to help would be all for it.”
The 13-10 victory locked up a nine-win season for the Mountaineers – their most victories under Bowden, and the most since the 1969 team won 10 games. West Virginia also finished nationally ranked (17th in the UPI poll and 20th in the AP poll) for the first time in six years. It was an impressive turnaround from Bowden’s disappointing ‘74 season that nearly cost him his job.
“That was a great group to coach,” admitted Cignetti. “Number one, it had great chemistry and great senior leadership. I think coming off the adversity of the ‘74 season motivated that group. The whole bonding of that team and its togetherness and leadership ? Dave Van Halanger sticks out to me. What a great leader and what a great person he is. That was a characteristic of that whole team.”
Afterward, Bowden was excited for his players. He was happy with the way they had bounced back after such a difficult year the team endured in ‘74. He was also pleased to gain a measure of revenge against his old buddy Holtz.
In his 2006 autobiography Wins, Losses and Lessons , Holtz mentioned his first meeting against Bowden in 1970 and he also took delight in describing his second encounter with Bowden in the ‘72 Peach Bowl.
Holtz made no mention of the third game.
By John Antonik
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