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Today's Tidbit... Football On The Wayne (State)
Sometimes a college football pocket schedule is just a college football pocket schedule; other times, it goes much further, illustrating how a football program or even a school's existence is never assured. That latter is the case with a pocket schedule printed in advance of the Wayne State Tartars 1970 season.
Wayne State traces its origins to the founding of Detroit Medical College in 1868 and is now a public university with 24,000 students in Midtown Detroit, just west of downtown. The Tartars, now Warriors, compete at the DII level as a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Association (GLIAC) member. They have played football since 1918 and claim only three conference championships, though they reached their heights by losing the 2011 DII national championship game.
The 1970 team was an independent playing in the NCAA's small college division in its sixth season under coach Vern Gale, a former Wyoming halfback who had success at North Dakota's Valley City State before taking the Wayne State assignment. Three assistants had been with him all six years at Wayne State as they compiled a 15-18 record in their first five years. Like all teams, they were optimistic heading into the 1970 season with a strong backfield and undersized linemen.
Let’s look at how they fared in each game.
September 26 vs. Ferris State
Despite their optimistic outlook, the Tartars were not favored in their season-opener with Ferris State. Located in Big Rapids, Michigan, Ferris State is now a fellow GLIAC member, though their recent fortunes have differed since Ferris State won the 2021 and 2022 DII National Championships. Still, the Tartars were less than gracious hosts, intercepting four Ferris passes and recovering four fumbles as they walked off with a 24-7 win, despite accumulating 120 yards in penalties.
October 2 vs. South Dakota State
Like Ferris State, South Dakota has also enjoyed recent success, having won the 2022 FCS National Championship, but they went 2-8 in 1970, with Wayne State running away from the Jackrabbits in a 21-12 Motor City victory.
October 10 @ Bradley
The Tartars' game in Peoria with the Bradley Braves marked the start of three opponents whose football fortunes were soon to end. Down 10-0 in the second quarter and 10-7 at the half, WSU quarterback Mitch Ritter had two touchdown runs in the second half, leading Wayne State to a 37-17 victory.
Bradley finished 1-8 for the second straight year. Although Bradley started playing football in 1897, the program was losing money, enrollment was down, so their administration eliminated the football program one month after the 1970 season ended.
October 24 @ Parsons
After a bye week, WSU was all set to take on Parsons College in a Friday night game in Fairfield, Iowa, but their plane could not take off due to fog. Instead, they flew to Iowa the following morning and played on a muddy field. After earning a safety and missing an extra point attempt, Wayne State was down 10-8 with seconds left when they attempted a game-winning field goal and missed.
The game was the last played at Parson's Blum Stadium since Parsons did not field a team for the next two years or ever again. Founded in 1875, Parsons grew from several hundred students in 1955 to 5,000 in the 1960s by accepting virtually anyone willing to pay the tuition. They lost their accreditation once or twice before closing the school in 1973.
October 31 @ Illinois - Chicago Circle
The University of Illinois - Chicago Circle (now without the Circle) has 33,000 students today, making it the largest university in Chicagoland. They did not have a football program until 1965, yet held a 2-2 record against their Detroit counterparts before 1970. However, the 1970 meeting did not go their way, as WSU scored on its first two possessions on their way to a 24-8 victory. Besides a pick-six, the Chickas did not cross midfield during the game.
Chicago Circle finished winless in 1970, won twice in 1971, and went winless in 1972 and 1973 before dropping football.
November 7 vs. Kalamazoo
Entering the game at 4-1, Wayne State faced a Kalamazoo quarterback ranked fourth in the nation in total offense. WSU lost its quarterback to injury during the game, but his backup performed well, and the defense intercepted three passes as the Tartars won 33-10.
November 14 @ Central State (OH)
The Tartars traveled to Wilberforce to face Central State in a game played in a Detroit-style driving rain. Neither team did much offensively as Central State lost two yards passing during the game, and WSU swam to a 12-6 victory.
November 21 @ Hillsdale
Heading into the season finale with Hillsdale, Wayne State stood 6-1 with the opportunity to match the program-best 7-1 record set in 1934. However, the bigger story was Hillsdale's junior kicker, Chester Marcol, who had not missed an extra point attempt in his college career. The week before, he had kicked his 100th straight extra point to break a 1919 record by Centre College's James Weaver.
Alas, Hillsdale allowed Marcol to extend his record as the Chargers blew out Wayne State 39-0, though Marcol missed his 105th attempt, ending his record at 104. Following his senior season, the Packers drafted Marcol in the 2nd round, and in 1972, he became the only kicker to be named the NFL Rookie of the Year.
Wayne State finished the 1970 season with a 6-2 record, equalling their 1967 record under coach Gale. Gale remained along Wayne State's sidelines for another year before leaving. A long line of others have taken his place, enjoying success here and there, but at least the program has continued, as has the school. That's more than can be said for a few of their 1970 opponents.
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