Sunday, December 9, 2007

ET ... The Extra Terrain quarterback

OK, so this really isn't an Auburn blog, but it's a tale of one of the most amazing individual performances I've witnessed in college football.
It comes to mind in the wake of Appy State quarterback Armanti Edwards' record-breaking performance Friday in an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision semifinal game (this from the people who feed us terms like "student-athlete"; can't we just call it Division I-AA?)
Edwards rushed for 313 yards, the most ever by a quarterback in Division I-AA. I haven't been able to confirm the previous record-holder, but I know someone who was awfully close.
And yes, I'm bragging on my alma mater here.
In the early 1990s, Western Kentucky had a 5-foot-8 fireplug of an option quarterback named Eddie Thompson. The Fort Knox product wore number 8, the same number worn by Jeff Cesarone, one of the school's great passers who finished his career just five years previous.
Thompson made the option offense just as exciting as the pro-style game Cesarone ran under a different coach. ET had flare.
In fact, Eddie would sacrifice his body to make a pitch. If necessary, he would jump into the arms of a tackler and make a two-handed pitch over the defender's helmet. I can't ever remember one of his jump pitches resulting in a fumble.
Little Eddie also had quick feet. I saw many an occasion where his fake pitch froze an end or linebacker on the corner, and Eddie would scoot into the secondary. It was Eddie's play action.
Which makes it so hard to explain Southern Illinois' strategy ... and stubbornness about it ... when the Salukis came to L.T. Smith Stadium for a Thursday game on Oct. 29, 1992. They were determined to deny Western the pitch. They had one, sometimes more players meeting the tailback on the corner, but usually no one challenged Eddie Thompson.
Eddie would dutifully execute his fake pitch as the Salukis ignored him, then take off. He would go 20, 30 yards before anyone got close enough to make contact.
It was the craziest thing I ever saw, and I wasn't alone. I bounced this off of then-Western SID Paul Just today, and he relayed the following insight from Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer sports writer Mark Mathis, my first boss in the biz and one of the press corps that night.
Said Just, "I remember Mark Mathis getting up from his seat, turning around and asking me -- with a amused smirk on his face: 'Does SIU have any coaches in the press box who can see what we see?'"
Apparently not.
Eddie ran and ran and ran. Western ran for 554 yards that night, a school record that stood until 1997. That's when Western had a taller, rangier option quarterback named Willie Taggart, known at Florida's Manatee High School as Tommy Frazier's successor.
Even with Eddie's steady running that night in 1992, Western had to block a close-range field goal in the game's final minute to preserve a 41-39 victory.
And the kick of it all?
As I recall, the game came just hours after Western's Board of Regents ended a tense, months-long examination of the school's football program by voting 6-4 to keep it ... albeit, with half the university subsidy.
Had the vote been 5-5, then an original resolution to kill the program ... which passed in the spring of 1992 and was tabled to consider a counter proposal ... would have stood. The sixth "yea" vote was the very last vote cast.
Now, Western stands five years removed from a I-AA national title. The Hilltoppers just completed a transition year in the move up to college football's top division.
L.T. Smith Stadium is no longer the one-sided, two-decker that Jacksonville State fans might remember from a playoff game a few years back. It's a two-sider with amenities.
In 1992, Eddie Thompson had the ball at the program's crossroads. He and Western's program carried the ball quite a ways after that.

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