On this date in 1978 Russell Erxleben wished he had a chance.
The #8 Houston Cougars traveled to #6 Texas with a Cotton Bowl birth brewing. At the time, the largest crowd ever to watch a SWC game, 83,053, filled into Texas’ Memorial Stadium to watch the Cougars and Horns. Houston entered the game 7-1, with an inexplicable loss to Memphis State while Texas came in at 6-1. Their one blemish came against top-ranked Oklahoma in Dallas.
Since joining the league in 1976, the Coogs split with Texas, winning 30-0 in Austin in ‘76, dropping the 1977 game 35-21.
Danny Davis ran 29 yards in the third then hit his tight end Garrett Jurgajtis for 25 yards, setting up running back Emmett King for a two-yard score to break a 0-0 deadlock early in the third quarter. Houston extended its lead to 10-0 on a Kenny Hatfield kick to end the third.
A little improvisation set up the Hatfield kick. Houston quarterback Danny Davis rolled out and pitched the ball to fullback Randy Love, everyone on the Houston sideline expected Love to run the ball, everyone except Love who floated a pass to Jurgajtis for 21 yards.
Fred Akers’ Texas had a pretty good kicker at his disposal, Russell Erxleben. Erxleben drilled a 67-yard field goal in practice two days before the game. Yet, somehow, on a fourth and four from the 27 in the first quarter, Akers left his kicker on the bench choosing to go for it instead of attempt a field goal into the win. The Longhorns didn’t convert on fourth down. Akers might’ve thought differently after Texas scored to cut Houston’s lead to 10-7 in the fourth with an eleven play, 82-yard touchdown drive.
Those three points might’ve been handy. Instead, those three points were the difference.
Neither coach wanted to deal with a stiff breeze, and when Texas pinned Houston deep inside their territory and then forced the Coogs into a third and eleven moving into the wind, the Horns expected to get a stop and great field position for a winning drive. Danny Davis had other ideas. On third and, eleven Davis found Willie Adams for fourteen yards and first down to get the Cougars out of their end zone and prolong what became a six-minute drive that sapped time away from Texas.
Even though the Longhorns got the ball two more times, Texas couldn’t create a miracle, and the Cougars held on to their 10-7 win, their second straight victory in Austin.
Texas finished the 1978 season 9-3 and beat the breaks off Maryland in the Sun Bowl. Houston went on to make their third Cotton Bowl in four tries where they lost to #10 Notre Dame 35-34.