Perhaps the player who epitomized the Iron Men was Dutch Strauss, a 200-pound fullback who subsequently played pro football with Kansas City. Strauss was an excellent passer, a powerful runner and a punishing linebacker. Against Oklahoma in 1917, he scored a touchdown and drop-kicked a 55-yard field goal despite two broken ribs.
Given the kind of talent that was on hand for the 1919 season, Maulbetsch's biggest headache was arranging a competitive schedule. Only half Phillips' playing dates were filled by mid-September, and Maulbetsch found it difficult to schedule many of the logical Oklahoma and Kansas opponents because of his previous successes against them. It originally had appeared that the Iron Men would open the season against Texas on Oct. 11, but he was able to arrange games with two nearby Oklahoma schools before the trip to Austin.
The first outing resulted in a 90-0 rout of Kingfisher College, in which Strauss scored five touchdowns and Phillips' defense allowed only one first down—on a penalty. Less impressive was Phillips' sluggish 27-0 win over Northwestern Normal the next week. Though sloppily played and full of fumbles, the game allowed Maulbetsch to solidify his starting lineup, with one costly exception—Roby was sidelined with a shoulder separation that would put him out of the Texas game.
Earlier that day, Phillips passed an enrollment milestone with the matriculation of its 1,001st student that year, a Cheyenne-Arapahoe Indian named John Levi. The 6'2", 205-pound Levi, an outstanding athlete, had lettered in football and basketball at Phillips the year before, and his late enrollment in 1919 was fortuitous, to say the least. He reported to practice five days before the Texas game and was immediately installed in the starting backfield, in Roby's place.
Although it later became apparent that Texas, then as now a Southwest football powerhouse, had underestimated Phillips, the outcome of the game was no fluke. In his book, My Kind of Football, Owen recalled the unorthodox strategy Phillips used that day. According to Owen, the Iron Men jumped to a 10-point lead and had visions of rolling up the score. But Texas was using 35 men to Phillips' 12—Maulbetsch dared not use what little bench he had—and he feared an aggressive offense would wear out his team. He told the Iron Men to forget about attacking, to punt on first downs and to concentrate on defense.
"John Levi could kick a ball a mile," wrote Owen, "and we played in Texas territory all the game." Owen was a storyteller, not a historian, and his report probably captures the spirit of the game better than its details.
Phillips did use only 12 men and Levi had a fine day punting, but newspaper reports focused on Strauss's performance. "Big 200-pound Strauss of the Phillips squad was the sensation of the game," wrote the Austin American, "taking part in all the major plays of the game, bucking Texas' lighter line at will and wielding a powerful toe that often proved marvelous." Strauss scored the game's only touchdown in the second quarter on a pass from Quarterback Harry Schwimmer and drop-kicked a 25-yard field goal with 40 seconds remaining in the half.
The upset stunned Texas and led to stories that Phillips had used ringers, but Texas Athletic Director Theo Bellmont quickly squelched the rumors and later said. "Undoubtedly Phillips has the best team on the gridiron in this section."
By the end of the season, few would dispute Bellmont's statement. In 10 games Phillips rolled up 424 points and allowed opponents 14. The only blemish on its record came on Nov. 15 at Stillwater when Oklahoma A&M recovered a blocked punt in Phillips' end zone to gain a 7-7 tie. Oddly enough, one week thereafter the Aggies tied the state's other football power that year, Henry Kendall College (later the University of Tulsa), by the same score.
Kendall had beaten Oklahoma 27-0—the Sooners didn't play Phillips that season—and was also undefeated. Comparative scores with common opponents indicated that the Iron Men and Kendall were well matched, so after Kendall failed to beat Oklahoma A&M, Maulbetsch suggested a postseason playoff game that would determine the state and Southwest champion.