The final score shows Houston 17, Texas A&M 13. But like everything else in UH’s 1980 season, the win did not come easy.
The Cougars faced all sorts of obstacles early in the season as the offense slumped, injuries mounted, and the Mad Dogs were not up to snuff. Thankfully, the Aggies came to town and the Coogs began to resurrect their season.
UH started the ’80 season #8 in the country and picked to win the Southwest Conference. But an early wrist injury to starting QB Terry Elston derailed any chance of a third-straight SWC title. And a loss at Baylor in the league opener dropped the Coogs to 1-3, the school’s worst start as SWC members.
But another curveball came for the Coogs: for the first time in franchise history, the Astros made it into the NL playoffs. And because neither the Stros nor the Phillies swept the five-game playoff series, both Houston teams would play a game in the Astrodome that Saturday. The Astros would play the matinee and the Cougars would follow some 3.5-4 hours later.
Aggie coach Tom Wilson was outraged that Bill Yeoman would not move the game to Rice Stadium in order to play the game at 7:30. He said UH’s reasoning was obvious.
“The Astrodome is the greatest home-field advantage in the Southwest Conference because of the lighting, the footing, and the circus atmosphere.” Ringmaster Bill Yeoman was not impressed with the Aggie outcry.
Because of the Aggie protests, “I may not be able to sleep,” Yeoman deadpanned to reporters. He also noted that the Aggies forced UH to play in a half-renovated Kyle Field in 1979.
“We’ve been playing so bad, the Aggies ought to want to play us in a parking lot,” Yeoman said.
That Saturday, the Phillies and Astros went to 10 innings before the road team snatched the victory. The Astrodome crew converted the field and at 11:33 p.m., the ball was in the air for the latest-starting game in college football history. The two teams traded punts and the game moved to Sunday scoreless.
Sophomore Brent Chinn started at QB for the Coogs and, at exactly midnight, fumbled a snap that was picked up by the Aggies. They went on to score to take a 7-0 lead. The Cougars tied it up on a short TD run in the second quarter.
The El Paso Times, publishing the Sunday paper on Mountain Time, ran a short blurb featuring the halftime score and early highlights.
Chinn ran in a score in the 3rd quarter before suffering a leg injury, forcing Yeoman to play freshman Audrey McMillian at quarterback. A week later, McMillian would start at Texas Stadium vs. SMU, the first freshman starter at QB in UH history. When asked who would back up McMillian and freshman Lionel Wilson, Bill Yeoman cocked a half-smile and said, “Oh we have a walkon. But that’s about all he can do. Walk on.”
Terald Clark led the UH rushing attack against the Ags and finished with 103 yards. Linebacker Steve Bradham had 15 tackles in UH’s best defensive effort of the season to that point.
“We made some changes that really helped and we got after it Saturday,” Bradham said.
In the week leading up to the game, Yeoman asked senior All-American tackle Hosea Taylor to move to noseguard. Taylor did not question the move and went about learning the position in just two practices.
“Coach Yeoman says it’s going to help us defend against the run,” Taylor said in the postgame. “I’m willing to do anything if it’ll help us win.”
The Aggies were forced to double-team Taylor all game, opening up opportunities for Bradham. Leonard Mitchell also had a great game, finishing with 11 tackles and a late-game sack. Butch LaCroix intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble, and batted away two balls in the end zone.
Despite 7 A&M turnovers, the Cougars struggled to put them away. The Aggies scored with less than a minute to play and recovered the ensuing onside kick. But UH’s Calvin Eason intercepted a Gary Kubiak pass to seal the win for the Cougars.
Finally, at 2:41 a.m. the final seconds ticked off the clock. But the night was just beginning for most of the Cougar players.
“Yeah, I saw the sun come up,” Bradham said later in the week. “I don’t know what time I got to bed but I greeted the daylight.”