Arizona took the field against Occidental in 1914 as a nondescript program with the nicknames of “Varsity” and “Red and Blue”.
The Tigers were two-time California champions with one of the best operations in all of college football.
Los Angeles Times correspondent Bill Henry started his game story by writing “Arizona’s cactus-fed athletes …” J.F. “Pop” McKale’s team was nothing more than a symbol of the desert territorial region that formed into a state only two years prior.
Arizona played with passion from the opening kickoff as if to say, “Allow us to introduce ourselves …”
“Confident of rolling up a big score, the Tigers took the field with grins on their faces,” Henry writes, “but before the game was 10 seconds old, they knew they had a battle on their hands.”
Arizona’s historic game, one in which Henry tabbed the Varsity as having “the fight of wild cats”, could have been a rout for Occidental from the start. That would have changed the course of history. What would Arizona’s nickname be today?
Occidental, without their head coach Joe Pipal, who was away scouting the Pomona-Whittier game, blew plenty of early scoring opportunities. They lacked discipline from the start. The first half at Baer Field on Occidental’s Los Angeles campus featured a few long runs by Occidental, all of which were called back because of penalties.
Sid Foster, who took over for Pipal as the player-coach, had a 70-yard touchdown run and 50-yard punt return for a touchdown nullified because of holding penalties.
A 60-yard touchdown reception by Pete Lenz of Occidental was called back because of holding.
Henry reports that Arizona countered significantly with its running attack of halfbacks Franklin Luis and Asa Porter — “A couple of little shrimps in the backfield who defied all attempts of the Tigers to stop them.”
“These men, except on one or two occasions, made all the way from three to ten yards at a shot,” Henry writes. “Porter made sensational runs of twenty-five to thirty yards in the early part of the game, but an injured ankle slowed him up towards the end.”
Henry reported the physical play of the right side of Arizona’s line — end Lawrence Jackson and tackles Charles Beach and William Hendry — was the force behind Porter and Luis gaining chunks of yards.
The sides went back and forth in the first half with quick punts to establish field position. Back then, teams did not use their full set of downs. A punt was considered an attack and a way to alleviate pressure while applying it to the opponent. On many occasions, fake punts were executed to keep the defense off balance.
On one such play, “Porter made a sensational dash across the field running about seventy-five yards for a gain of thirty,” Henry writes. Arizona was forced to punt three plays later.
The first quarter came to an end as the teams struggled to a scoreless tie. Arizona started to believe it had a chance, like a challenger lasting the first three rounds against the heavyweight champ.
An excerpt from the 1914-15 Arizona Desert Yearbook:
“The Tigers found our line like a stonewall and even their old Battleship (Arthur Shipke) anchored at R.T. was shelled by our little demon (Ray) “Pinky” Miller, who, before the game ended, had vanquished Oxy’s pride. They even found our ends on the job and our secondary defense at all times blocking holes and returning punts like a Sid Foster and when our boys had the ball, a hole big enough to drive a wagon through opened up for (Asa) Porter’s twenty and thirty yard gains. (Franklin) Luis and Harry Turvey were also good for many yards. The game had not been under steam long when the fans realized the “cactus fed athletes” had an even break, the only outclassed department being the forward pass.”
The first play of the second quarter at Baer Field between Occidental and Arizona was an ominous sign for the error-prone Tigers against the hungry Varsity.
Foster connected with fullback Glenn Coffeen for an 18-yard gain, giving the Tigers what appeared to be a first down on the Arizona 12. But Coffeen fumbled and Arizona recovered, keeping the game close with a scoreless tie.
Later in the quarter, Porter punted to Foster, who ran 70 yards for what seemed to be a touchdown but the play was called back because of a holding penalty.
In an other serious scoring threat in the quarter, Occidental drove the ball to the Arizona 5 but lost the ball on an intercepted pass. Again, the Tigers threatened with the ball at the Arizona 18, but Lenz, who alternated between quarterback and end, fumbled the ball while trying to “buck the line” or run up the middle, according to Henry.
Occidental resorted to trickery seconds before the quarter expired to finally score. Lenz called a double pass with Sam McClung taking the second pitch around end for the touchdown. Coffeen kicked the extra point and Occidental went into halftime with a 7-0 lead.
In those days, the team that scored received the ensuing kickoff. Lenz completed what appeared to be a 60-yard pass to Foster but the play was called back because of illegal use of the hands by Coffeen in the backfield. The half ended.
Arizona, although escaping many disastrous situations, remained confident, trailing only 7-0. The Varsity lost 28-0 to Occidental the previous season. They believed they had an opportunity.
Arizona’s Desert Yearbook explained the second quarter this way:
“With such a team as Foster and Lenz working overtime for a touchdown through this art our boys were fighting for the half to end with a clear slate, but the Oxy backfield star passer slipped a couple of passes and McClung circled the Arizona right end for a tally and Coffeen kicked goal. A few minutes of the half remained, with our Varsity forcing Oxy to defensive.”
The Varsity’s travel party of only 18 players put a strain on McKale to keep the game close as the game went on. One of his most productive players, Porter, struggled with a sore ankle in the second half.
Occidental had more options playing at home. Foster called upon the fresh legs of Carl “Brandy” Brandstetner, a transfer from Kentucky, at the start of the second half when it appeared Arizona was building momentum.
Henry reported that Arizona’s defense limited Occidental to the forward pass after stuffing the line early in the third quarter. The Varsity, on the other hand, threatened the Tigers with the run.
“Arizona gained at will through the Tiger line for about twenty-five yards but invariably the Tigers braced in time to hold them before they got within scoring distance,” Henry writes.
Occidental finally broke a big play from its passing game, a strike to Brandstetner that resulted in a 25-yard gain. The run was highlighted by Brandstetner’s “good use of the straight arm”, Henry writes. Arizona’s defense held firm again, however, forcing Occidental to turn the ball over on downs near the Varsity’s goal.
After a bad punt that gave possession to Occidental on the Arizona 30-yard line, the Tigers ended the quarter by taking the ball to the 1. Runs for short gains by Foster and Lenz got Occidental there.
Occidental was close to another scoring opportunity with third-and-goal inches away from the end zone. Would Arizona’s opportunistic defense rise to the occasion again?
Arizona’s Desert Yearbook account of the third quarter of the historic 1914 game between the Varsity and Occidental:
“The second half opened up with the Wild Cats intact and confident of opening up for a score, Oxy putting in a few new men. Again Oxy found our line too much and Foster had to put up his game of forward passing, with an occasional gain around end. The ball sea-sawed back and forth until through a bad punt Oxy had the ball worked to Arizona’s one-yard line and the quarter ended.”
Outmanned Arizona braced to being down only 7-0 entering the fourth quarter against Occidental with the Tigers having two downs to score from the Varsity 1-yard line.
Once again, Foster went to his bench for fresh legs for a better chance to punch it through to the end zone against Arizona’s feisty defensive front that included an array of experience, ranging from senior Lawrence Jackson to freshman Bill Hendry, on the line.
Foster replaced Brandstetner with Charley Johnson and Johnson ran over the line for a touchdown to open the fourth quarter. Coffeen kicked the extra point for Occidental, which took a 14-0 lead.
Occidental then went into stall mode, trying to stave off any threat by Arizona.
“The last quarter was a stalling exhibition by the Tigers,” Henry writes. “McClung invariably punted as quickly as possible.”
One golden opportunity for Arizona to score and cut into Occidental’s lead resulted in a disappointing turnover.
“Arizona put up a great fight and once had a touchdown almost clinched when Luis, with practically a clear field, fumbled a forward pass and the Tigers were saved,” Henry writes.
Henry’s last paragraph in that fabled Times story that includes his passage that the “Arizona men showed the fight of wild cats” refers to an obscure “red-headed party who was injected into the game at right end for the Prohibitionists” during the last quarter. Thank goodness Arizona did not cling to “Prohibitionists” as its nickname.
“(The redhead) played great … being on the receiving end of a couple of forward passes, intercepting a couple more and downing Foster in his tracks on every punt,” Henry writes.
The redhead Henry referred to was later identified as freshman end George Seeley in Arizona’s Desert Yearbook that school year.
“‘The red haired individual’ made his name in the Oxy game and his Sophomore year should land him a regular berth,” the yearbook states.
The yearbook describes the final quarter against Occidental this way:
“The final quarter commenced with Oxy putting in their special line plunger Johnson and carrying the ball over on the first buck, Coffeen kicking goal. The balance of the game was a ‘stalling exhibition’ on the part of the Tigers, with Arizona fighting gamely. Once we had a touchdown all but earned, when a fumble on a forward pass put the expectation to the winds. Thus ended a great game, and Oxy had the surprise of her life. Of course we all wished a victory, but surely had no cause to feel ashamed of the results for everybody had fulfilled a duty and every man on the team played for all that was in him. That evening the squad said ‘adios’ to one another and scattered around the city among their friends and to take in the entertainments. No one was the worse for the day, except a few bruises. Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock the bunch gathered at the station and said farewell to the City of the Angels.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.