Reliving The Upset At Tennessee
Hayden Fry Led North Texas To Perhaps The Best Win In Program History
DENTON – October 25, 1975, maybe better known as Sears Woods day in Knoxville. The senior NT running back who spent just one season in Denton, forever etched his name into the history books on that afternoon.
In its first year out of the Missouri Valley Conference as an independent school since 1956, the Mean Green marched into Knoxville, Tenn., looking for one of the biggest upsets in program history.
In his first two years as head coach, trying to get North Texas back on the winning track, Hayden Fry had yet to record a winning season, going 5-5-1 in 1973 and 2-7-2 in 1974.
But 1975 was a new year as North Texas jumped out of the gate with wins over Texas-Arlington and former MVC foe Drake before going on a three-game losing streak heading into a game with Houston.
That battle took place in Irving's Texas Stadium, then-home to the Dallas Cowboys, where NT would blow out the Cougars, 28-0.
Now the Mean Green had back-to-back road contests against SEC opponents Mississippi State and Tennessee.
North Texas hung in with Mississippi State but eventually fell 15-12, dropping to 3-4 on the year heading into the big game against Tennessee. The Volunteers had been ranked as high as No. 10 in 1975 and had just fallen out of the AP rankings with a loss to No. 6 Alabama the week before the Mean Green invaded Neyland Stadium.
After a scoreless first quarter, Tennessee got on the board when running back Stanley Morgan dove over the Mean Green defense across the goal line to put the Vols up 7-0.
After the Mean Green was unable to capitalize on a Burks Washington interception later in the second, Tennessee got the ball back deep in their own territory with 8:30 left to play in the half. On second down, Tennessee quarterback Gary Roach pitched right on the read option, but the ball was snagged out of the air by defensive end Jimmy Burkholder to put North Texas in the red zone.
Woods would punch the ball in from three yards out to tie the game, 7-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, Burkholder would again make his presence felt by putting a hard hit on returner Terry Moore, jarring the ball loose, again giving the Mean Green possession with great field position.
Three plays later it was Woods once again, this time scoring from six-yards out and giving the Mean Green a 14-7 lead going into the half.
Like the first quarter, both teams were held scoreless in the third quarter, and North Texas was 15 minutes away from a remarkable upset. With 4:39 left in the game, Volunteers quarterback Randy Wallace completed a two-yard pass to tight end John Murphy to tie the game at 14.
But the lead was short lived as Woods returned the kickoff 98 yards for his third touchdown of the game to give the Mean Green the lead for good. The 98-yard kickoff return was at the time, the second longest in school history and remains the seventh longest.
Tennessee had one final chance down seven with 36 seconds left and the ball at their own 35-yard line, but a sack on the first play would derail any hopes of a Volunteer miracle, and the 72,670 fans left Neyland Stadium stunned, by a Mean Green 21-14 win.
Woods finished with 121 yards rushing and two touchdowns to go along with his 98-yard kickoff return. It was his only 100-yard rushing game of his career with North Texas.
The Volunteers had 198 more passing yards, 41 more rushing yards and had 11 more first downs than the Mean Green, but the hard-hitting North Texas defensive made the difference in the game.
NT had two interceptions and forced seven fumbles, three of which were recovered by the Mean Green.
Mean Green Hall of Famers and All-Century Team members Walter Chapman, J.T. Smith and Burks Washington played a part in the Tennessee upset. Chapman had six solo tackles while Washington and Smith both had five.
The game catapulted the Fry era towards greatness. North Texas finished the season on a four-game winning streak to go 7-4. The next three years would be perhaps the best in school history as North Texas went on to win 26 games and lost only seven.