Raiders remember facing Staubach

MT faced Heisman Trophy winner twice

December 20, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO - When Middle Tennessee and the U.S. Naval Academy were paired up to play in the Armed Forces Bowl in Ft. Worth Texas on December 30th, it immediately sparked memories of a previous series with another Navy unit, one that also played football.

The Blue Raiders played six games against teams of former college players that were serving their enlistments during the 1960s. Little did anyone know at the time that MTSU would wind up playing two of the games against 1963 Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach.

Staubach, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1964, wound up as the star quarterback of the Pensacola team in both 1967 and 1968 as he served his military obligation following graduation.

The Blue Raiders had lost the two initial games of the series, dropping a 12-7 decision in Murfreesboro in 1961, and losing again to the Goshawks, 14-0, in Pensacola the following year.

Head Coach and Athletic Director Charles "Bubber" Murphy renewed the contract for another four-year series, starting in 1966. Middle Tennessee eked out a 14-12 win in Murfreesboro in the season opener that year, and was scheduled to play the return match in Florida to kick off the 1967 campaign.

What transpired was one of the biggest wins in MT history up until that point. Over the summer, Staubach was transferred from his supply unit in Vietnam to Pensacola NAS. There was no doubt that he would be the starting quarterback for the Goshawks.

But Middle Tennessee would be taking a very good team to Pensacola, one that had been picked to win the Ohio Valley Conference that year.

The Blue Raiders, behind the passing of Billy Walker, the running of true freshman sensation Taylor Edwards, and a tough, aggressive defense, stunned Pensacola Navy 28-7.

Middle Tennessee scored on the game's opening drive, going 70 yards in nine plays, with Edwards getting the first touchdown of the season on a 26-yard scamper. Pensacola's defense held the Raiders at Bay the rest of the half, but Staubach could not rally his team, and MT exploded in the third quarter to take control of the game, both offensively and defensively.

After a short Navy punt, MT drove 48 yards with fullback Larry Matthews scoring from one yard out. Next, Staubach was dropped for back-to-back 12-yard sacks to bring up fourth down on the six-yard line. Nose guard Rodney Hayes blocked the ensuing punt, and it was recovered in the end zone by Mike Cowan.

The final Blue Raider score came on a seven-yard run by Mathews after Charlie Daniel recovered a Staubach fumble on the Navy 17, and Walker hit flanker Jamie Jamison for 10 yards. The Raider defense dominated the rest of the way to preserve the win. It held Staubach to 16 completions in 45 attempts for 137 yards. He was intercepted three times by Mike Matheny, a mark that ranks second all-time in a single-game.

Three members of that team, Rodney Hayes, wide receiver/safety Jamie Jamison and defensive end George Claxton, recall the game very well. Here are some of their memories and impressions of that memorable Blue Raider win.

HAYES: "In Staubach's defense, their offensive line didn't block very well that night. They didn't seem to be very motivated. They had some big guys, former college players, but they weren't in very good shape. We stayed in one of the Navy barracks while we were there, and that was, and still is, the only time I have ever seen a beverage machine that had nothing but beer in it. That may have had something to do with it."

JAMISON: "I was a freshman and it was my first college game, and I was already nervous, then just before the game, I was told that I would play both offense and defense. I would be playing safety for the first time, against the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner. All I could think of was "Here we go", but our defensive front kept Staubach on the run all night.

"It was a very physical game, and we got a bunch of guys hurt. We paid a high price because we lost the next four games, and lost Taylor Edwards for the year. We did win four of our last five games to finish at .500, and that gave us some momentum for the next season."

CLAXTON: "For me, the flight down there was my first time ever on an airplane, and I thought that was fun. One of the things that I noticed was that a lot of the NAS personnel at the game were cheering for us. It turns out that they didn't like the football team because all they had to do was play football. They didn't have any jobs, or guard duty, or anything like that.

"As far as Staubach was concerned, I know that he was not the same player that he was at Navy, or the NFL after that, but we came locked and loaded that night."

Staubach and his teammates got their revenge the following season (1968) beating MT 12-7 on Jones Field in Coach Murphy's final year as head coach. Then, without Staubach, Pensacola defeated the Raiders 26-20 in the season opener in 1969 to knot the all-time series at 4-4. The two teams have not played each other since.

Middle Tennessee will face another record-setting Navy quarterback in the Armed Forces Bowl. Keenan Reynolds, a sophomore from Nashville, who prepped at Goodpasture, will be at the controls of Navy's read-option offense. Reynolds scored a record 29 touchdowns this season, and will present a major challenge for the Blue Raider defense, which is fifth in the nation in take-aways this season.

The Armed Forces Bowl will be played on Monday, December 30th, and will be aired live on ESPN. Tickets remain on sale for the game that will start at 10:45 AM in TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Blue Raider ticket office at 1-888-YES-MTSU.

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