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ETSU win over Tech, Bradshaw remains iconic moment

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Sep 13, 2019 at 1:38 PM

Half a century later, it remains the most famous game in East Tennessee State football history.

The Bucs defeated Louisiana Tech 34-14 to win the 1969 Grantland Rice Bowl. It capped off a 10-0-1 season for ETSU and it came against a Tech team led by future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw. It also gave the Bucs the title of NCAA Mideast Region champions for the small-college division.

The 1969 game was moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, from the Rice’s hometown of Murfreesboro for the first time. It was Louisiana Tech’s second straight appearance in the bowl game after Bradshaw led the Bulldogs to a 33-13 win over Akron the previous year.

Bradshaw was the MVP of that Tech victory, throwing for 261 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 35 yards and two more touchdowns.

In his senior season and just months before he was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 draft pick, the All-American Bradshaw was expected to carve up the ETSU defense.

Instead, the Ohio Valley Conference champion Bucs sacked Bradshaw 12 times for 140 yards and came up with three interceptions. Doug Linebarger, the Bucs all-conference linebacker, who along with Bubba Tims and Al Guy had interceptions, remembers the game plans of defensive coordinator Franklin Brooks and secondary coach Buddy Bennett.

“Coach Bennett noticed that Bradshaw took an extra step or two deeper drop than other quarterbacks on his pass pattern,” Linebarger said. “It forced the halfback to block one of the ends or he blocked up the middle.

“We had a five-man defensive front and we usually rushed another linebacker. That forced the running back to make a choice to block inside or go out and get the defensive end. Because Bradshaw took the deep drop, it allowed our ends to rush a little wider. I think the first offensive play they had, Ronnie Mendheim sacked him. We rushed at least six players most passing downs.”

ETSU DOMINATE FIRST HALF

Louisiana Tech rolled to a 21-0 lead over Akron in the first quarter of their 1968 bowl game. ETSU, a 14-point underdog according to the Dunkel Power Index, was determined not to let it happen again.

Pat Hauser, the team’s leading receiver, recalled Coach John Robert Bell didn’t need a big rah-rah speech. Instead, there was a simple pre-game instruction to “get on them like a duck on a june bug.”

The Bucs got on the scoreboard first with Jerry Daughtry’s 1-yard touchdown run capping off a short 19-yard drive after Bradshaw fumbled. Daughtry and fellow running back Mike Young had big games of 104 and 95 yards respectively, as the Bucs controlled the game on the ground.

The normally conservative Bell opened the playbook in the second quarter with a halfback pass from Young to the flanker Hauser for a 37-yard touchdown and a 13-0 halftime lead.

“We were really conservative and didn’t throw the ball much,” Hauser recalled. “On that play, the cornerback was coming up on the run. It was an option where Mike could run the ball. When the back came up, he flipped it over to me and I was wide open.”

BULLDOGS COME BACK

Despite the constant harassment, Bradshaw posted big numbers, completing 20 of 39 passes for 299 yards. He threw two touchdown passes in the third quarter to bring Tech within six points and a chance to take the lead.

Trailing 20-14 and with the ball 2nd-and-7 at the Bucs’ 34, Bradshaw went back to throw when Tims came through the line and sacked him for an 18-yard loss. An incompletion on the next play ended the scoring threat.

As a wide receiver, Hauser appreciated the talents of Bradshaw, who had been a high school state champion in Louisiana for throwing the javelin.

“We knew if he had time to pass, he could kill you,” Hauser said. “He could drop back 15 yards, run guys on 15-18 yard patterns and put a string on a 40-yard pass that people couldn’t knock down. They had three guys with Bradshaw, a receiver named Tommy Spinks and a tight end Larry Brewer who were drafted in the NFL.”

Linebarger has gone on to a long career as an official. He has seen thousands of players over the years. Few made an impact like Bradshaw.

“Bradshaw threw bullets. I remember the ball just zipped by me,” Linebarger said. “In my memory, he threw the ball harder than anyone I know. I officiated games for both the Manning brothers when they were in college and I remember Bradshaw throwing harder than either of them.”

BUCS SHUT THE DOOR

It was ETSU’s quarterback Larry Graham who enjoyed the spoils of victory. Graham threw touchdowns of 39 yards to John Gibson and 10 yards to Rick Anderson for the game’s final scores. Graham finished 10-for-16 passing for 136 yards.

An ETSU defense which had 37 interceptions on the season and held opponents to seven points or less in seven games took care of the rest.

Mendheim ended with five sacks, while the secondary led by Bubba Casey and Guy and nicknamed “Bennett’s Bandits” wasn’t about to allow anyone in the end zone. Linebarger said ETSU’s defense had both depth and confidence.

“One of the things Franklin Brooks did real well was he rotated people in and out,” he said. “We had 3-4 defensive ends. We were deep at the tackles, linebacker and we rotated people in every series. We had a lot of good players, who weren’t very big — but they were quick and had played together for a while. We always had that confidence we could get that stop when we needed to.”

BRADSHAW STILL WANTS NO PART OF BUCS

Hauser has the unique distinction of playing against Bradshaw in his last college game and in his first professional game. Hauser was a rookie with the Miami Dolphins against the Steelers in a 1970 exhibition game in Jacksonville.

He missed an opportunity to talk to Bradshaw afterward as a downpour came and the players hustled to get off the field.

Through a mutual acquaintance, Hauser tried to get in touch with the longtime FOX Sports analyst to say some words for the ETSU team’s 50th reunion. He was able to contact Bradshaw’s publicist and his wife, but after multiple requests was told the Hall of Fame quarterback wasn’t interested.

It’s little wonder, probably a day Bradshaw would like to forget. Bill McIntyre, the sports writer for the Shreveport (La.) Times who covered the game, gave this descriptive account of No. 12’s rough day.

“Bradshaw, the finest passer ever produced in Louisiana, was the boy caught on the burning deck as the Pirates climbed aboard. He was the kid with his finger in the dike and the water swirling around his shoulders,” McIntyre wrote.

Actually, it was the Bucs’ defense often swirling around Bradshaw’s shoulders.

The 1969 team will be honored during ETSU’s home game against VMI on Saturday night. According to Linebarger, as many as 40 of his former teammates are expected to be there.

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