In October 1958, 3rd ranked and undefeated Texas came to Rice Stadium to take on a two-loss Owl team. The Owls bludgeoned the Longhorns 34-7 in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 72,000. The win put the defending conference champs in the driver’s seat for the 1958 SWC title. The Owls had their signature win and flew up the AP Poll, from unranked to 14th.
After a week off, Rice welcomed another national power to Rice Stadium, the Black Knights of the Hudson, 4th ranked Army.
Yes, Army was a national power in the 1940s and 50s. Red Blaik’s squads won back to back national titles in ‘44 and ‘45 and finished ranked in the final AP poll in thirteen out of sixteen seasons from 1943 to 1958. Army ended the season ranked number 2 twice and in the final top 10 eight times. The Black Knights went unbeaten in 31 straight games at one point.
Army made their first trip ever to the state of Texas, and they came with a 5-0-1 record.
Rice had its own titan head coach in Jesse Claiborne Neely, or Jess for short. During his 27-year run at West University, he won three conference titles and finished in the top 10 three times.
Sixty-nine thousand packed into Rice Stadium on Saturday afternoon, and they saw the man who claimed the 1958 Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins.
Dawkins was the only cadet in the history of West Point to hold the titles of Brigade Commander, President of his class, Captain of the Black Knight football team, and a “Star Man” - or cadet in the top 5 of his class academically. Dawkins was a Rhodes Scholar, a White House Fellow, completed Ranger school, earned a Bronze Star in the Vietnam War, helped turn the Army into an all-volunteer force, and attained the rank of Brigadier General.
Dawkins could ball as well, more on that later.
Rice quarterback Alvin Hartman led the Owls down the field for the first score early in the second quarter. The payoff came on a 27-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Dial. A few minutes later, Army ran a halfback pass from Bob Anderson “lonely end” Bill Carpenter to knot the score.
From that point, the game turned into a defensive struggle. Rice broke into Army territory three times, but a fumble, an interception, and a blocked field goal held the Owls out of the endzone. The blocked field goal became pivotal as the Owls attempted to salt the game away with the three points. The Owl defense didn’t allow Army past the Rice 30 other than the Carpenter touchdown through nearly four quarters.
Then Pete Dawkins became Pete Dawkins. In a play that Blaik described as a “once in 30-years” play. Joe Caldwell hit Dawkins to get the Black Knights out of the shadow of its endzone. A completion to Anderson gave Army the ball at their own 36.
The Lonely End
Today we’re accustomed to spread football, receivers lining up all over the field. In 1958, the game was much different. Blaik, in his last season at the helm of Army’s squad, took the idea of splitting out an “end” or receiver, 20 or 30 yards wide from the rest of the formation. The “lonely end” as he became known, never entered the huddle, and for Blaik, his presence caused an unbalanced line and generally confused defenses. If the defense rotated a safety to cover the end, they left the middle of the field exposed.
The other tactical advantage the formation gave the Cadets was that by leaving Carpenter out of the huddle, they could run more plays rather than have him run from the huddle on each play. The formation quickly became a national curiosity as coaches, journalists, and fans wondered how the Carpenter received play instructions without the use of the huddle.
Rice contained the Lonely End almost all afternoon; the Owl defensive line dominated the day. As Army huddled with under a minute to play, Dawkins asked quarterback Caldwell to throw a flat and up patter to take advantage of an Owl defender who continually overplayed the flat route.
Caldwell drilled his pass to Dawkins, down the west sideline of Rice Stadium. Dawkins caught the pass in stride, broke to the middle of the field and streaked for paydirt. Rice defender Billy Bucek made a desperate attempt to bring Dawkins down, and though he stumbled, Dawkins ran into the endzone, breaking Owl hearts. Sixty-four yards to the house and with the point after, a 14-7 Army win.
From his front-row seat, Neely knew the game was one that got away. “We relaxed, Army pulled it off, and bang, there went the game.” For Rice, the season went as well. After the loss, the wheels fell off the Owl season. Still in the driver’s seat for the SWC title, Rice dropped its next two games Texas A&M, and 7th ranked and eventual conference champion TCU.
Army kept rolling, winning its final two games, including a decisive win over rival Navy to finish the year 8-0-1 and 3rd in the final AP Poll.
Rice and Army face each other on August 30th in the season opener for both institutions.