Reliving the 1962 National Championship Season
Oct. 4, 2012
1962 National Championship Team
This is a story of the 1962 Southern Miss UPI college division national championship team, as excerpted out of the book "Rock Solid: Southern Miss Football" written by John Cox. This is the 50th anniversary of one of the best-ever Southern Miss football teams and the squad will be honored Saturday during the Golden Eagles' game against Boise State.
Building on the efforts of the 1961 team and the change in the institution's focus, The University of Southern Mississippi had arguably its best season ever. The school played its first game under its new moniker on September 15 on the road against Arlington State, winning by a score of 28-7. The game's opening minutes saw end Billy Lyons recover a Rebel fumble on the Arlington 20-yard line, setting up a touchdown pass from quarterback Billy Coleman to end Don Hultz to make it 6-0.
Coleman's 9-yard touchdown pass to Lyons in the second quarter made it 12-0, and then the Southerners converted another fumble into a touchdown by John Sklopan to take a 20-0 halftime advantage. Jimmy Havard's 2-yard run closed out the scoring.
The following week Southern hosted the Richmond Spiders at Faulkner Field and rolled to an easy 29-8 victory. Sklopan, Havard, and halfback Jack White ran wild, setting up most of the Southern Miss scoring. The Southerners outgained the Spiders 428 yards to 239 and kept them out of the end zone until the final minute of play.
Southern Miss coasted to its third straight win with a 29-0 beating of Southwestern Louisiana at Faulkner Field on September 29. Coleman completed all six of his passes for 169 yards and three touchdowns, with Lyons on the receiving end of four of those balls, including two touchdowns.
USM's reserves played most of the second half and held the Bulldogs scoreless. When UPI released its first college-division poll of the season, the Southerners were ranked No.2, trailing only Florida A & M, while the AP ranked them No.4.
USM's October 6 road game at Chattanooga promised to be tough and lived up to its promise.
The Southerners scored first to go on top 6-0, but Chattanooga came back and took a 7-6 advantage at the end of the first quarter. Jerrel Wilson's 38-yard field goal gave Southern a 9-7 halftime lead. With the seniors rallying the team in the second half, the Southerners scored three times to secure a 31-13 win, Coach Thad (Pie) Vann's one hundredth victory as the school's head coach.
Despite the happy outcome, Vann was not pleased about his team's pass defense against the Mocs: "We never did get to their passer before he threw the ball. We must get better or we will be in trouble the rest of the way." The 4-0 Southerners were now ranked No.2 in both the UPI and AP polls.
Southern Miss's next game was on October 13 at Crump Stadium against Memphis State. A Homecoming crowd of 11,500 watched as rain caused a great deal of poor ball handling on both sides. The game was midway through the first quarter when Memphis State guard John Bramlett crashed through the Southern line and blocked a Wilson punt that bounced back through the end zone for a safety. Early in the second quarter, a poor Southern punt gave Memphis the ball at the USM 28-yard line, and the Tigers scored their only touchdown of the game a few plays later for the 8-0 lead. The score stayed that way until early in the fourth quarter, when the Tigers could not handle Wilson's punt and Southern Miss center Larry Ecuyer pounced on the ball at the 1-yard line. After three unsuccessful running plays, fullback George Sekul dove over the top for the touchdown to make the score 8-6. But three defenders stopped Havard on the 2-point conversion, and the Tigers held on for the win. Now 4-1 on the year, the Southerners retained the No.2 UPI ranking but fell to fifth in the AP poll.
Numerous USM supporters traveled to Mobile, Alabama, on October 20 to watch Southern play North Carolina State, no longer quarterbacked by Roman Gabriel, at Ladd Stadium. A few plays after Ecuyer recovered a Wolfpack fumble at their 44-yard line, Wilson, playing fullback, scored on a 1-yard run, adding the extra-point kick to give Southern a 7-0 lead with 2:22 remaining in the first quarter. The score remained the same until the final quarter, when Wilson scored again, Coleman hit end Billy Lyons and halfback Tommy Walters with touchdown passes, and Wilson kicked a field goal to give the Southerners a 30-0 win. They remained second in the UPI poll and climbed to fourth in the AP rankings.
Another 30-0 shutout occurred the next week, this time against Abilene Christian at Faulkner Field. Like the N.C. State game, the Abilene contest was closer than the final score indicated, with the Southerners leading just 6-0 heading into the fourth quarter but adding several late scores to secure the win. Also as in the previous week, the Southerners, now 6-1, remained in second place in the UPI poll and climbed a spot in the AP poll, reaching third.
As the calendar turned to November, the Southerners traveled to Jonesboro for a matchup against Arkansas State. After trailing 7-6 at halftime, the USM squad completely dominated the Indians during the second half, cashing in on mistakes as halfback Ben McLeod and Sekul scored touchdowns to give the Southerners a 20-7 win. USM's national rankings in both the UPI and AP polls remained unchanged.
Back home on November 10 to meet Trinity, Southern continued its drive for another national championship, rolling over the Tigers 33-6. Sklopan intercepted a pass and ran the ball back 48 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to start the scoring, Coleman and White scored on 1-yard runs in the second and third quarters, and Sekul and fullback Kenny Martin scored on short fourth-quarter runs. Boasting a four-game winning streak and an 8-1 overall record, the Southerners climbed into the No.1 slot in the UPI poll while remaining third in the AP poll.
The Southerners closed out the 1962 season at Faulkner Field on November 17, hosting Louisiana Tech for Homecoming. The spectators on hand included Governor Barnett and lieutenant Governor Paul B. Johnson as well as several members of the state legislature. An inspired Bulldog team caused trouble early, but with a chance at another national championship, the Southerners rose to the occasion. James Berry scored the Southerners' first touchdown with a 45-yard interception return, and Sklopan scored on a 37-yard run to give Southern a 15-6 edge at halftime.
During the break, President William D. McCain presented Vann with a new 1963 Chrysler for his accomplishments, dedication, and contributions to Southern Miss football, and then play resumed. The Bulldogs closed to within 15-12 early in the third quarter. Southern then drove to Tech 1-yard line but fumbled the ball away, but the defense stopped the Bulldogs, forcing a punt. Tackle Danny Salmon blocked the kick, and the ball bounced back into the end zone, where Ben McLeod recovered for a touchdown and a 23-12 USM lead. Tech scored early in the fourth quarter to close to within 23-18, but a 1-yard run by Sklopan stretched the lead back to 29-18, where it remained when the final gun sounded. When UPI released its final poll of the year, the 9-1 Southerners were crowned the college division national champions for the second time.
They had climbed as high as No.2 in the AP poll during the season but wound up ranked fourth.