Nov. 4, 2011
*Written by the 'Voice of the Golden Eagles' John CoxSaturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C., the Golden Eagles and East Carolina will meet on the football field for the 37th time. The first time occurred back in 1951 and today marks the 29th-straight year that the two teams have met. The Golden Eagles have won 26 of the previous 36 meetings between the two teams and have won 15 of the 18 games played in Greenville. There have been many memorable battles over the years between the Golden Eagles and the Pirates, but one game sticks out as perhaps the strangest game ever played between the two squads and one of the strangest in the history of Golden Eagle football.
That game was played on Nov. 1, 1986, in Greenville when the Golden Eagles notched an improbable last-second victory. After the Pirates had scored on a 21-yard pass from quarterback Charley Libretto to wide receiver Walter Wilson and then passed for a two-point conversion, they led 21-20.
The ensuing kick-off gave Southern Miss the ball at their own 18-yard-line with eight seconds left. The Eagles in fact had made a fair catch of the kick-off to conserve time. The Golden Eagles knew that they needed a miracle and they got one.
Quarterback Andrew Anderson dropped back and threw a pass as far as he could downfield and wide receiver Lyneal Alston went up in a crowd of Pirate defenders near the Pirates 40-yard line and somehow caught the ball. Alston had timed it perfectly. The defenders had jumped up to soon and were on their way down as Alston leaped up to make the catch.
As Alston touched the ground he took off and breaking tackle after tackle fought his way down to the Pirate 10-yard-line, where he was tackled. But as he was going down, he lateraled to fullback Randolph Brown, who raced into the end zone. But the officials ruled that it was a forward lateral, and according to the rules at the time, the defense (ECU) had to take either the result of the play (touchdown) or the penalty, which would give the Golden Eagles the ball deep in East Carolina territory.
After arguing that Alston had been down before the lateral - as the replay showed probably was the case - the Pirates took the penalty. Time had run out, but the rules also stated that the game could not end on a penalty, so the Eagles had the opportunity to run one more play. Head coach Jim Carmody called on kicker Rex Banks who then kicked a 31-yard field goal to give Southern Miss a 23-21 win.
Anderson completed just 14 of 30 passes for 240 yards, while Alston had seven catches for 135 yards. Carmody focused on Alston's big catch at the game's end rather than on the subsequent confusion: "I thought they had intercepted the ball Alston caught. I don't know how Lyneal caught it. They had two or three people up there with us. And all of a sudden Lyneal comes running out of there with it. I don't know how you could make a more spectacular comeback than that."
Two days later, Jim Campbell, head of the Southern Independent Officials Association, announced that the officiating crew had erred by not ruling Alston down, but there was no provision for reversing the result of the game. I have looked back at the video of that play many times over the years and it is difficult to tell whether or not his knee was down before the lateral. I suspect that if instant replay had been in effect back then, there probably wouldn't have been enough evidence to overturn the call on the field.
As the game ended that day the field was a mix of emotions. I remember a Pirate fan jumping over the chain link fence behind the end zone and hitting one of the officials signaling the field goal good and the official laying prone in the end zone as the Golden Eagles were celebrating the unlikely victory and the Pirates and their fans charging out onto the field upset at the fact that what appeared to be a victory a few moments before was now a loss. I will never forget that day in Greenville.
One other fact, did you know that East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill, played against the Golden Eagles twice during his career as a Pirate. As a safety for Coach Pat Dye, he played in his first-ever game against the Eagles on Sept. 11, 1976, in Greenville and logged one tackle in a 48-0 ECU win over the Golden Eagles.
Two years later on Oct. 14, 1978, at Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg, he started at strong safety and had five tackles in a 17-16 win by the Golden Eagles. The Golden Eagles jumped to a 14-0 lead in that game but fell behind 16-14 at halftime. The only points in the second half came on a 35-yard field goal by Randy Boyette midway through the third quarter, but that was enough for the Eagles to win. McNeill has also faced Coach Larry Fedora six times in their coaching careers. McNeill was the defensive coordinator at UNLV in 1997 and 1998 when Fedora was the wide receivers coach at Air Force and the Falcons won both times, 25-24 in 1997, and 52-10 in 1998. The two coached against each other in 2005, 2006 and 2007, when McNeill was the defensive tackle coach at Texas Tech under Mike Leach and Fedora was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Fedora's Cowboys won 24-17 in 2005 and 49-45 in 2007, while McNeill's Red Raiders won 30-24 in 2006. The two faced each other as head coaches last year at The Rock, with McNeill's Pirates hanging on to beat Fedora's Golden Eagles 44-43 at the Rock.
The Golden Eagles and the Pirates game is being televised this week by CSS and you can also listen to all the action on the Southern Miss IMG Sports Network. Our broadcast time is 1:30 PM CT and starts with our Golden Eagle Tailgate Show. On our pre-game show this week we will talk with senior offensive tackle Jason Weaver on our Golden Eagle Close-up and Bruce Thompson, the outstanding punter from 1979 to 1982, will be our guest as we "Meet and Eagle of the Past". Our great moment in Southern Miss football features the 1984 Southern Miss game at East Carolina and on the Inside Scoop, we will visit with defensive coordinator Dan Disch. This week's Inside Southern Miss takes a look at the Student Government association and of course we will have our exclusive pre-game chat with Coach Fedora.
Hope to see you at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina this Saturday. Southern Miss to the Top!!