When a bench-clearing melee erupted in the final quarter of Memphis State's 37-7 victory over Arkansas State, officials broke it up swiftly, ejected three players from each team and informed Arkansas State coach Ray Perkins that the fight had begun when one of his players kicked a Tiger player who was on the ground. "It was embarrassing to me, and I told my players it should he embarrassing to them," Perkins said. "I'm going to review the films, and if what one of the officials told me is true, then one of my players will be in trouble."
Sadly, however, the officials at the Syracuse-West Virginia game didn't handle a fight with nearly as much competence or fairness. The fracas in Morgantown began with 3:39 remaining and the Orangemen trailing 17-13. After being run out of bounds by Mountaineer defensive back Tommy Orr, Syracuse quarterback Marvin Graves bounced up and threw the ball at the back of Orr's head. A few minutes later, after order had been restored, the Orangemen were penalized five yards, and the teams were assessed off-setting penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The officials also tossed out three West Virginia defenders—cornerback Leroy Axem, end Tom Briggs and safety Mike Collins—but let Graves, who had started the fight, remain in the game. The only Syracuse player banished was Ken Warren, a freshman offensive tackle. The Mountaineers' outrage was exacerbated when, with 51 seconds to play, Graves found tight end Chris Gedney with the game-winning pass. On the play Gedney beat safety John Harper, who was subbing for Collins.
"I don't think I've ever had one taken from me like that," said West Virginia coach Don Nehlen after the 20-17 loss. "It's a shame to see the guys in the striped shirts determine the outcome of the game. Our coaching staff" is in rebellion."
Although Nehlen is notorious for whining about officials, he's right this time. Let's hope that Big East football doesn't get the same reputation for brawling that Big East basketball has.
THE SILENCING HERD
As befits a military school, a couple of Civil War-era cannons are fired every time The Citadel scores on its home field, in Charleston, S.C. While the corps of cadets finds the display of firepower highly entertaining, opponents deem it mostly annoying, especially when the Bulldogs are putting up 30 points a game, as they did in their first three home games en route to a 6-0 start. Before last Saturday's game between The Citadel, which was ranked No. 4 in Division I-AA, and fifth-ranked Marshall, Thunderin' Herd defensive tackle Keenan Rhodes said, "I've been thinking about how to take out that cannon. I might stuff a ball down it."
Instead Rhodes and his teammates did other things with the ball to silence their hosts' cannon. Marshall held the Bulldogs' wishbone attack to only three salvos that found their mark (a TD and two field goals) in a 34-13 victory. One disadvantage of the wishbone—indeed, the reason that teams like Oklahoma have abandoned it—is that it's tough to come from behind using it. In its first six games, which included wins over Division I-A Arkansas and Army, The Citadel never trailed by more than eight points. Against Marshall, however, the Bulldogs were behind 17-3 late in the first half and 24-10 in the third quarter. They could not overcome such deficits, especially on an afternoon when their defense had no answer for a Herd offense that thundered for 280 yards on the ground and 227 in the air.
Senior quarterback Michael Payton, who directed Marshall to the I-AA title game last year, connected on 17 of 21 pass attempts and increased his career passing yardage to 7,123—a Southern Conference record. "If there's a better offensive team in I-AA, I haven't seen it," said Charlie Taaffe, The Citadel's shell-shocked coach.
Taaffe might want to take a look at top-ranked Northern Iowa, which beat Southern Illinois 30-25 to run its record to 6-0 and set up a showdown this week with No. 2 Idaho, which went to 6-0 by defeating Eastern Washington 38-21. No matter who wins that one, though, the road to the national championship leads to Marshall. The Herd's 28,000-seat stadium in Huntington, W.Va., is the site of this year's I-AA title game, on Dec. 19.