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The color of hell has been variously described, but to the West Virginia football team last Saturday it appeared to be orange—the Orange of Syracuse. With a shocking display of speed and power and finesse, the unbeaten Orangemen razed the Mountaineers 44-0—and it could have gone higher. When the game was over, people were saying that this was one of the great teams of eastern football history, and—in 1959—it might even be the best in the land. Whether it is either or both of these things, Syracuse incontestably is a superlative piece of machinery—a hand-crafted engine that took 12 years to fashion.
At the beginning of the 1948 season Syracuse University won a football game from Niagara University, an event which left seismographs intact as far away as Ohio and Texas and California but created quite a stir at the two schools involved. Niagara eventually threw up its hands and abandoned intercollegiate football altogether, reasoning that if you can't even beat Syracuse why bother? Syracuse, on the other hand, clutched the Niagara victory to its breast like a drowning man, primarily because Syracuse had nothing else to clutch. The Orange didn't win another game all year.
The realization that only Niagara had saved Syracuse from its first victoryless season since 1892 sent officials of the school scurrying off in all directions. A new coaching staff was brought in, headed by a gravel-voiced little ex-paratroop major from the coal fields of West Virginia named Floyd Burdette Schwartzwalder. The recruiting program was accelerated, which means that the new coaching staff went out and dug up some halfbacks. Teams like Michigan State and Army and Maryland began to pop up on the schedule in place of Lafayette and Temple and John Carroll. And before long, there were those among the Syracuse opponents who were wishing that Syracuse had quit football, too.
Last Saturday, going into its game with West Virginia, Syracuse was unbeaten, untied and unable to work up a sweat. The team from Piety Hill (Syracuse was founded by the Methodists in 1870, and occasionally someone—maybe Schwartzwalder—still prays up there) had flattened Kansas, Maryland, Navy and Holy Cross, scoring 138 points to 33. It was leading the nation's major colleges statistically in scoring, in both rushing defense and total defense, and was third in yardage gained.
It is a big team, tall and quick and lean and mean, like something Bud Wilkinson might have brought to town, and it has unusual depth. In fact, it doesn't look like an eastern football team at all. The line, led by a deceptively gentle-faced tiger of 230 pounds named Roger Davis, simply eats up opposing lines. In the backfield there is both speed and agility. One halfback, Gerhard Schwedes, looks and acts like a younger brother of Jack Armstrong, the All-American boy, only Gerhard was born in Germany and didn't see a football until he was 11 years old. Still, he seems to have caught on to this foreign game very well. The fullback, Art Baker, is intercollegiate wrestling champion, with muscles on his muscles, and doesn't mind bumping into people a bit. The left halfback, a 205-pound sophomore of some promise named Ernie Davis, has been called another Jimmy Brown. He isn't, but he'll do.
On Saturday, Syracuse demonstrated how it had earned its rating as one of the best in the U.S. West Virginia did not figure to be too tough a test, but the Mountaineers had upset Pitt just a week before and Pappy Lewis' teams are always primed for Syracuse. At the best, Syracuse was expected to win by three touchdowns. Syracuse won by six.
The big Orange line kept relentless pressure on West Virginia's passing game and smothered Mountaineer ball carriers like a swarm of praying mantises. On offense their charge almost drove the West Virginia line off the field. And how those Syracuse backs did go.
They slashed 73 yards in 10 plays the first time they had the ball, Baker setting up the touchdown with a 24-yard run and Schwedes scoring from the two. In the second quarter they went 78 yards in five plays, a pass from Quarterback Dave Sarette to End Gerry Skonieczki covering 60 yards, and again Schwedes banged over, this time from three yards out. Then it became a rout.
Sometimes the rain came down in sheets, sometimes the sun popped out, but even the elements had no chance of slowing down Syracuse. Ernie Davis bolted 57 yards for the game's third touchdown; he slipped through the right side on Schwartzwalder's pet scissors play and went past the West Virginia safety man so fast that the defender appeared to be nailed to the ground. At this point the second-and third-stringers took over, without noticeable loss of efficiency, and made the score 30-0 at the half. Tackle Bob Yates, who kicks left-footed and had already made good on two extra points, booted a 35-yard field goal. And Mark Weber, who came into the game and ran like he was after Ernie Davis' job, completely confused the already befuddled Mountaineer defense by connecting with End Ken Ericson on a 19-yard touchdown pass.
After that, Syracuse eased up. Davis, a beautiful runner with great poise and unusual speed for his size, personally accounted for 61 yards in an 81-yard Syracuse drive. He scored from 29 yards out on the same play as before, only this time he threw such a fake at the West Virginia safety man that this long-suffering soul fell fiat on his face. Weber got the last touchdown in the fourth quarter from in close.