We're dredging up the kind of history no one wants to remember. We owe it you, our valued readers, to give a thorough and complete accounting of such history, the good, the bad, and most certainly the ugly. Welcome to our new series, Bad Beats, the epic beatdowns in the history of Texas College football. Relax, everyone gets a turn.
My oh my how things change. Back in 1996 Texas State was known as Southwest Texas State, the Bobcats were still playing in the Southland, in Division 1-AA, against the like of Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Nichols, and Northwestern State. Northwestern State. O, boy.
On November 2nd of 1996, the Demons came to San Marcos and took down the Bobcats in a game that can only be described as horrific for the 4,125 in attendance. Like the Red Wedding but with worse food. That's a Game of Thrones reference kids, #topical.
You'll want to get the children out of the room; we're going to tell the tale. Every bloody detail, starting with the failed reign of Jim Bob Helduser.
Life After Wacker
For three glorious years, Southwest Texas sat atop the Division II universe. The Bobcats won the National Championship in 1981 and 1982 and the Lone Star Conference from '80 to '82. Then TCU came calling for Wacker, a decision that would prove a disappointment for both parties.
SWT turned to John O'Hara, who led the 'Cats to a conference title in 1983, but sadly, Central St. bounced them in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. The Bobcats joined the Gulf Star Conference in '84 and the Southland in 1987 and didn't win another league title until 1995. Welcome to the desert.
O'Hara was let go in 1989, giving way to Dennis Franchione who spend two years hovering around mediocrity before cashing his ticket to New Mexico. A Fran assistant, Jim Bob Helduser stepped into to take over in San Marcos. A decade before, San Marcos was the center of the Division II universe, with talent to compete with most of Division I. Now the years of mediocrity had stripped the once proud school down to its bones. Helduser wouldn't help.
After four years and never mustering more than two wins in any Southland season, Helduser entered 1996 with a directive, win or go home. Helduser, one of the confirmed good guys in the business was facing an uphill trudge.
In their second game SWT upset 8th ranked Hofstra at Bobcat Stadium. Just a year before the Bobcats upset 12th ranked Northwestern State on the road. The 1996 Bobcats were not void of talent, in fact on of the great 'Cats of all time, Claude Mathis played for the squad.
An All-American punt returner in 1995, Mathis was back and electrifying in maroon and gold. Mathis rushed for 136 yards in a loss to Eastern Washington and eclipsed the 2,000 career rushing yard mark a week later. By seasons end he'd set a Southland Conference record for rushing yards, a school record for touchdowns in a season, and tie the school record for career touchdowns. He was named the Southland's offensive player of the year.
Bobcats were off to their best start since 1984 at 3-1 including their first ever win over Division 1-A team, even if it was Idaho. From there SWT floundered, losing three in a row heading into Northwestern State.
"We were able to do pretty much whatever we wanted"
SWT entered the November 2nd game, having just lost a five-overtime heartbreaker to Nichols State a week before. Nichols might take credit for two wins over the Bobcats because Helduser's squad had nothing at kick off. A few hours later they had less than that, and they'd taken an ass-kicking.
Northwestern used a 51-yard touchdown run by the oddly named Robert Robertson and a 58-yard touchdown run by Anthony Williams to stake themselves to a 21-0 half-time lead. The 21 points didn't tell the full story. The Demons outgained SWT 354 to 67 and fifteen first downs to three. How Southwest Texas held Northwestern State to 21 points is a miracle. The miracle wouldn't last.
Three scores are a palatable deficit. A score and a field goal and you're almost back in it, two touchdowns and by golly, it's a hop skip and a jump to a tie. The Bobcats didn't take that route, they chose to lay down, roll over, and think happy thoughts.
In the third quarter, SWT mustered zero yards. A neck injury suffered against Nichols the week before limited Mathis to his lowest production of the season.
The Demons rushed for 345 yards on the day. Williams ran for 162. SWT had 113 yards. Total. The Bobcats did accumulate 334 yards of punt yardage to Northwestern State's 97. It's the small victims.
By the beginning of the fourth quarter, the score was 42-0 and Northwestern State coach Sam Goodwin called off the dogs. Or at least he tried. The Demons reached the SWT seven and Goodwin instructed his quarterback to take a knee, four consecutive times. The Bobcats were grateful. So much so in fact that Bobcat quarterback Chad Johnson dropped back two plays later and threw an interception to Northwestern State linebacker Roman Gage (now that's a name) who promptly returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.
That was one of five Bobcat turnovers, but it hurt the most. SWT was better served to take a knee themselves; they'd prevent points that way.
Administrators called Helduser into the office the following Monday and relieved him of his coaching duties for the 1997 season, he would coach the final three games. To their credit SWT didn't fold after the shellacking by Northwestern State, they won two of their last three games, but of course, for Helduser it was too little too late.
Another decade of mediocrity followed, including the Manny Matsakis "era" which is probably worthy of its own novel - working title: "So, Why Am I Breaking Boards?," before David Bailiff would get the 'Cats their first conference title since '83.
And you thought the current stretch was bad.