Wide receiver Bobby Leach turned a pass that bounced off a defender's shoulder pad into a 79-yard touchdown play, broke a tie and started a scoring burst that gave No. 4-ranked Southern Methodist a 30-17 Southwest Conference victory today over 19th-ranked Texas.
Texas came from 10 points down to a 10-10 tie with 8:35 to go, but the Mustangs regrouped to extend the longest current winning streak in NCAA Division I football to 11 games, equaling the school record.
Quarterback Lance McIlhenny, pursued by Longhorn defenders on third and nine at the SMU 21, threw upfield in the general direction of Leach. Texas defensive back Jitter Fields stepped inside Leach to intercept, but the ball caromed off Fields to the surprised receiver at the Texas 35. Leach ran untouched to the end zone.
"I should have never thrown that ball," said McIlhenny. "At least, I should never have thrown it to him."
SMU was lucky again on the next series. Texas' Herkie Walls dropped a pass wide open at the SMU 15. Next play, Russell Carter intercepted a pass by Robert Brewer and returned 20 yards to the Texas 33. From there McIlhenny sent a touchdown pass to Jackie Wilson over the hapless Fields.
Texas scored with 1:50 to play on a six-yard pass, Brewer to Walls. McIlhenny came right back at 0:49 with a 46-yard touchdown pass to halfback Craig James.
James' tailback partner, Eric Dickerson, the nation's No. 2 rusher, ran for 118 yards on 19 carries--60 yards on one play that set up his two-yard touchdown carry in the second quarter--as SMU built its record to 7-0, 4-0 in the SWC standing. Texas is 3-2, 1-1.
Observers were calling the key play Southern Methodist's version of the famous "immaculate reception" by the Pittsburgh Steelers' Franco Harris in an NFL playoff game against Oakland several years ago. Texas Coach Fred Akers called it "that freak play," as in "that freak play was the ball game."
"We had an interception and it bounced off for a touchdown," said Akers. "That hurt. It really hurt."
Leach agreed it was a bizarre play.
"I never saw the ball (after it hit Fields). I just felt it in my hands," said Leach. "I was getting ready to tackle Fields and then there I go scoring a touchdown. It was strange."
It was hard for Fields to be consoled.
"That's one of the biggest breaks I've seen. I just felt horrible. It was the most terrible feeling ever," he said. "I guess I should have had it, but that was an amazing break."
Brewer completed a 51-yard scoring pass to tight end Bobby Micho off a fake reverse and Raul Allegre kicked a 41-yard field goal to tie the game after a crowd of 80,157, second largest in Memorial Stadium history, watched a rugged defensive struggle through three quarters.
But the denouement had Akers remarking that the "freak play" might send SMU to the Cotton Bowl the way Harris' catch propelled the Steelers to the Super Bowl.