Nelson Stokley’s injury derailed the 1966 LSU football season, and the team scuttled to a 5-4-1 mark, the worst of Cholly Mac’s young tenure. The injury forced McClendon to put the lightly recruited Freddie Haynes, “The Littlest Tiger,” into the starting lineup early and the team suffered accordingly.
However, the 1967 team promised to build on the hard luck of the prior year by granting the coach with a bevy of talented and experienced players. Freddie Haynes, the team’s leading passer and rusher, would return to a backup role, as McClendon got his senior quarterback back. He also returned the team’s top running backs, Tommy Allen and Jim Dousay, as well as his leading receiver, Tommy Morel.
Freddie Haynes would hold the school record for career rushing yards by a quarterback for over four decades, as his 890 yards has only been topped by one player, Jordan Jefferson. Second on the career list when Haynes graduated? Stokley, the QB he replaced and then backed up, with 821. Cholly Mac often played with two quarterbacks, but this was arguably the best rotation he ever had.
The team would go 7-3-1 which doesn’t seem like a great year, but the Tigers would back into the Sugar Bowl (more on that in a second) and would lose those three games by a COMBINED 6 points. There’s bad luck, and then there’s having Roy Hurd as your kicker.
Before you ever complain about an LSU kicker, remind yourself of 1967, and how things can almost always get worse. Hurd would go 5/15 on field goals on the season and 26/30 on PAT’s. He would miss five of the season’s first six attempts, and things would honestly get worse from there. Because check out this house of horrors for LSU’s kicking game:
10/14/67 v Miami: Down 17-3, LSU would score a touchdown to narrow it to a one score game. Hurd missed the extra point. LSU scored another TD in the fourth and was forced to go for two, which failed. LSU lost 17-15.
10/21/67 v Kentucky: Hurd would hit three field goals on three attempts. It received mention in the New York Times, never a good sign for a kicker.
10/28/67 at Tennessee: Hurd would miss two field goals, including a potential game-tying kick in the final minute of the game. LSU lost 17-14.
11/4/67 at Ole Miss: Hurd was suspended for the game. LSU fell behind 13-7, fumbling the ball on the Ole Miss one to squander one chance, before finally tying the game in the fourth quarter. Replacement kicker Steve Daniel sailed the PAT wide. LSU tied 13-13.
11/11/67 v Alabama: A defensive struggle yielded no points going into the fourth. Bama would miss three field goals in the game, but finally found the end zone to go up 7-0. LSU answered with a touchdown of their own late in the fourth. Hurd missed the PAT. LSU would line up for a game-winning field goal on the final play, but you know how this ends. LSU lost 7-6.
LSU went 3/6 on point after conversions in this stretch, excluding Kentucky. Hurd would go one for four on field goal attempts in those games. Now, its not entirely his fault. LSU did fumble on the one against Ole Miss, Daniel missed one of those PAT’s, and there are reports that the hold or snap was bad on a couple of those attempts.
Still. McClendon remarked, “We have to be the unluckiest team in the country.” Usually, losing so many close game is bad luck, but this wasn’t luck, this was spectacularly awful kicking. Cholly Mac had so much returning talent, only to be undone by his failure to find even a mediocre kicker.
So how in the hell did this team end up in the Sugar Bowl? Glad you asked, imaginary person that I invented.
Tennessee won the SEC and with one loss, was still angling for a national title. #1 USC was locked into the Rose Bowl, so the Vols did the next best thing, they travelled to Miami to play #3 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl (they lost). Alabama accepted a Cotton Bowl bid to play SWC champ Texas A&M (they lost).
This left the Sugar Bowl scrambling. They made it known their order of priority going into the penultimate week of the season was Ole Miss, then Auburn, then NC State. All they had to do was win that week. The scores?
Tennessee 20, Ole Miss 7
Georgia 17, Auburn 0
Clemson 14, NC State 6
LSU blew out Mississippi St 55-0 to impress the Sugar Bowl committee, who didn’t want to commit just yet to the hometown team. They sent out feelers to Penn St, who played hard to get, so the Sugar Bowl signed #7 Wyoming, the WAC champion, and riding an undefeated season. Penn St would go to the Gator Bowl to play Florida St. (they tied).
Now the Sugar Bowl was stuck with the Unluckiest Team in the Country against a Wyoming team that hadn’t lost, but also hadn’t beaten anyone. They did boast the nation’s top rushing defense and overall defense. The Cowboys had also been on a nice run of four bowl wins, but they had never played on such a large stage. According to the Sugar Bowl site, the invite was bigger than statehood.
LSU couldn’t do anything against Wyoming’s defense on their first possession, and punted the ball away to Wyoming. Wyoming immediately put together a decent drive, primarily behind the throwing arm of Paul Toscano. The drive would stall at the LSU 21, and DePoyster came on to kick. Sammy Grezaffi, LSU’s defensive MVP on the year, blocked the kick to keep the Cowboys off the board.
LSU couldn’t convert a first down, and pinned Wyoming deep with a punt. Wyoming couldn’t do anything with the ball, and punted right back, but Grezaffi’s return got the ball inside the Wyoming 30. However, the Wyoming defense stiffened again and LSU could not convert a first down, failing on fourth and 2 from the 21. LSU got another break to further keep the pressure on, when a pass bounced off of WR Gene Huey’s hands and into the arms of LSU’s Benny Griffin.
LSU took over at the Wyoming 32, but again, could not convert a single first down. On fourth down from the 29, McClendon sent in the field goal unit. If you read any of the introduction, you already know what happened. Hurd missed the kick.
After spending most of the first quarter deep in their own territory, Wyoming’s offense finally dound the spark it was looking for when Toscano found his TE George Anderson for a 31-yard gain. The quarter would close with a 15-yard scamper by Toscano down to the one yard, and on the first play of the second quarter, Jim Kick put Wyoming up, 7-0.
LSU would finally get its first first down of the game on its next drive, but had to punt as they near midfield. Wyoming got the ball near midfield on their next drive, but Toscano threw his second interception of the game, this one by Gerry Kent. Again, LSU had the ball in Wyoming territory. Again, LSU failed to get a first down, this time eschewing the field goal attempt from the 33. Tommy Allen would lose three yards on fourth down.
Wyoming changed tactics on offense, driving down the field primarily on the strength of Joe Kiick’s legs. He made a few big gains and had a critical conversion on third and 2. However, on third and goal, Gerry Kent came up big, knocking away Toscano’s pass and forcing the field goal.
LSU’s offense still couldn’t convert a first down, and the Tigers punted the ball away. Wyoming took over at midfield with a minute and half left. Surprisingly, Wyoming called for nothing but run plays, not wanting to risk another interception in the wet weather. But Kiick picked up enough yards for DePoyster to nail a 49-yarder with a second left on the clock.
It could have been worse, but LSU was down 13-0. Despite great field position, LSU didn’t have a point, primarily because LSU had converted just one first down. Tommy Allen had 21 yards rushing on 11 attempts, not much better than Nelson Stokley’s 10 yards on 5 attempts. Stokley had attempted 9 passes and just one of them was completed, for five yards to Tommy Morel.
No way around it, LSU was getting its ass kicked. LSU needed to turn things around in hurry. Grezaffi gave LSU good field position with a 32-yard kickoff return. And while LSU would cross midfield, they still had to punt as the drive stalled out. The teams traded punts, and Toscano would march Wyoming down the field again. This drive floundered due to a 15-yard holding penalty, but DePoyster came on for another long field goal try. Luckily, his 46-yarder sailed wide.
Cholly Mac had to do something, and he looked down the roster for options. With his usual partner in the backfield, Jim Dousay, injured, Allen would yield playing time instead to little used third stringer Glenn Smith. Smith had just 30 carries for 74 yards on the season, but now came into the game not really as relief, but as a desperation move. Nothing else was working.
On third and 7, Stokley and Smith combined for a 39 yard pass play, easily the best offensive play of the game for LSU. A steady diet of Smith got the ball inside the red zone, and Stokley would call his own number to get the ball down to the one. On second and goal, smith capped off the 11 play, 80 yard drive with a touchdown run. LSU was back in this one, down 13-7.
Now, it was Wyoming’s turn to feel the pressure. LSU’s superior depth was beginning to wear on Wyoming, and their offense went three and out. LSU took over possession and reached the midfield stripe right as the third quarter closed.
Smith and Stokley would keep bludgeoning the Wyoming defense, picking up yards in chunks. But it would be Tommy Morel who would come up huge on this drive, making a great sideline catch to get near the red zone and then coming up with the touchdown grab in between three Cowboy defenders on third and goal from the eight.
Cholly Mac could not escape the thing that had cursed him all season. Roy Hurd came onto the field to kick the extra point and put LSU up by a point, but… well, you see where this is going. Hurd missed the kick, and the game stayed tied at 13. LSU kicking couldn’t cost LSU yet another win, could it?
The teams would exchange punts without converting a first down, and Wyoming started to gets its offense going again. Toscano guided the team near midfield and on first down, Huey dropped an intended pass. Undeterred, Wyoming went back to Huey on a halfback pass, but Tommy Youngblood sniffed out the play and intercepted the ball, ending the Wyoming threat.
LSU would be forced to punt. The ball clearly bounced off the Wyoming player’s foot on the video, but the refs on the field did not see it that way, and Wyoming took over on offense. Benny Griffin makes the issue academic two plays later, intercepting Toscano’s wounded duck of a pass.
LSU took over on the 31, and Glenn Smith continued the best game of his life, rushing the ball for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, Stokley completed a pass to Morel at the one, who stepped over the goal line to give LSU the lead. This time, Hurd hit the extra point.
Wyoming, having now squandered the lead, couldn’t handle the kickoff and fumbled the ball out of bounds to start at their own 15. Toscano got the offense moving again, getting the Cowboys across midfield with under two minutes to play. That’s when Johnny Garlington burst through the line, sacked Toscano and forced a fumble, recovered by LSU with 1:37 left to play.
LSU couldn’t run out the clock, so Wyoming had one last chance to win the game with 39 seconds left. Thanks to the missed PAT, Wyoming was down just six points. From his own 28, Toscano heaved the ball downfield, which found George Anderson after being batted down, who raced down the open field. At the 18 yard line, Barton Frye made a season saving tackle by dragging Anderson down from behind. With one second left, Wyoming had time for one more play.
Toscano found Huey over the middle, who raced towards the goalline, stopped by Gerry Kent a mere five yards away from pulling off a miracle in the final minute. Wyoming’s comeback bid was denied, and LSU instead had completed the biggest comeback in Sugar Bowl history since 1935. All it took was a third string running back coming off the bench and rushing for 74 yards in the best game of Glenn Smith’s life.
Wyoming’s bid for an undefeated season fell just short, and their #6 final AP rank is still the best mark in school history. Wyoming wouldn’t win 10 games again until 1987.
17-6 Texas A&M
37-6 at Florida
13-13 at Ole Miss
LSU did what Alabama couldn’t do that year, beat SWC champion Texas A&M. It was LSU’s biggest win of the regular season, but I went with the comeback win over the upstart program in the major bowl. But rivalry wins are sweet. Florida went 4-2 in the SEC that season, but missed out on the Sugar Bowl free for all thanks to getting the doors blown off by LSU. All of the games lost due to kicking woes were a travesty which cost LSU an SEC title, but at least they tied Ole Miss instead of losing. Though that is a game that felt more like a loss than a tie. LSU only needed a win over Tulane to secure the Sugar Bowl birth. LSU blew a 28-0 lead, and the score was 34-27 late in the fourth with Tulane driving for a possible game-tying score (as you can probably guess, Hurd missed a PAT). Sugar Bowl president Sam Corenswet, Jr. stood up and declared he was going to search for a place to jump out of the stadium. The immortal Louisiana sportswriter Peter Finney replied, “Try the press box window. That’s high enough so that if they go for two and miss, you’ll have enough time to pull the rip cord.” No rip cord was needed, as the defense held and Haynes ran out the clock.
What’s the Greatest Game of 1967?
This poll is closed
Sugar Bowl over Wyoming
Beating rival Texas A&M
Blowing out Florida
Tying Ole Miss