By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BOONE, N.C. — It has stood as one of the landmark games in Football Championship Subdivision history.
The Citadel 10, Arkansas 3.
The opening weekend of the 1992 college football season was shaken by a victory on Sept. 5 that was mentioned as the greatest upset by a FCS over a big-time football factory until Appalachian State ventured into Michigan Stadium 15 years later and stunned the Michigan Wolverines, 34-32.
Sometime during the second quarter, as Armanti Edwards and company were slicing up the Wolverine defense on the way to a 24-14 lead, award-winning writer and columnist Mitch Albom sat next to me in the Michigan Stadium press box.
“What is the greatest upset in FCS history?” Albom asked me.
We quickly began talking about The Citadel-Arkansas game, both acutely aware that we were watching history unfold in front of our eyes.
The day following the wishbone-touting Bulldogs’ victory over the Razorbacks, headlines screamed that Razorback coach Jack Crowe had “resigned.” That would have been like Marie Antoinette dropping the guillotine on her own neck.
In reality, Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles — the former coach who had directed the Razorbacks to national-championship heights — had been Crowe’s executioner. Complete with a 65-word resignation statement from Crowe and 52 more articulations from Broyles.
Crowe finally had his revenge in 2010, when his Jacksonville State Gamecocks crafted an exciting 49-48 double-overtime win over Mississippi and one of his assistant coaches from that day in Arkansas, Houston Nutt.
You had to think that somewhere in actual retirement now from a long and successful coaching career that the one person who understood what embattled North Texas coach Dan McCarney was going through was Crowe.
McCarney didn’t even make it to Sunday when Portland State walloped his Mean Green 66-7 last Saturday on a homecoming-dampening afternoon in Denton, Texas — he was fired about an hour after the game.
It was the most points that an FCS team had ever scored on a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent and the most lopsided victory ever for an FCS school over the 85-scholarship subdivision.
Only a touchdown scored with a minute to play kept the Vikings from scoring a shutout.
“Don’t cry because it’s over,” McCarney wrote in a letter published by the Denton Record-Chronicle, “smile because it happened.”
Ironically, McCarney’s counterpart, PSU coach Bruce Barnum had the interim tag taken off his job title this week as he was rewarded with a five-year contract extension.
It wasn’t that surprising that Portland State beat North Texas. The Vikings had already stung Washington State in the first weekend of the season, beating a higher-profile coach named Mike Leach, 24-17.
Portland State was a confident 4-1 and had already won three road games before facing the Mean Green, struggling with four previous losses and dealing with 10 losses in their past 12 games over two seasons.
After going 9-4 and playing in the 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl in McCarney’s first season, thing had gone terribly south for a program that had College Football Hall of Fame coaches like Hayden Fry and Jerry Moore in its past and whose very nickname had been changed from the Eagles to the Mean Green because of the play of its most prominent alum, Mean Joe Green.
Portland State cornerback Xavier Coleman has been penning a football diary this season for the website OregonLive.com. Some of his comments about the game were revealing.
“We knew that we could play with North Texas,” Coleman said. “Many people are quick to assume an FBS team automatically reigns over an FCS team. But just like Washington State, it did not matter what North Texas did. Because as long as every player executed their assignment on both sides of the ball, the outcome would take care of itself.”
Even more eye-opening was Coleman’s thoughts after the Vikings jumped to an early lead.
“After we got up by 21 points, it was clear to see that North Texas did not carry the same energy they had at the start of the game. Their intensity seemed to be depleted. Any competitor knows that when you have an opponent down, you do not let up. Momentum has the ability of shifting at any time during a game, and teams use this to make a run when down. Our job was to make sure they felt as if there was nothing they could do. And with a 66-7 win, I think we did a decent job.”
It’s a good thing that Coleman and his teammates only did a decent job. Imagine what the score might have been if Portland State had played really well?
Coleman was part of a defensive effort that limited North Texas to 198 yards of offense and forced one fumble to set up one PSU touchdown.
The Viking attack, led by three TD passes and 269 yards of passing from quarterback Alex Kuresa, broke out to a quick 14-0 lead and then humiliated the Mean Green with 31 second-quarter points to extend it to 45-0 at halftime.
David Jones lent balance to the offense with 134 yards rushing on just nine carries, including a 70-yard scamper for one of his two touchdowns. Jones scored a third TD when he hauled in Kuresa’s 60-yard pass only two plays into the second half to increase the advantage to 52-0.
It will be interesting to see where Barnum leads the Vikings the rest of the season. They still have a brutal march through the Big Sky Conference to complete, beginning this Saturday at home against Montana State.
Coleman, for one, knows that tougher days lie ahead.
“We enjoyed the win on Sunday, but now it’s back to the drawing board. We are facing an extremely tough opponent and that is our focus now.”
But Portland State will always have last Saturday and FCS observers will be talking about this game for years, just like The Citadel over Arkansas.