Nov. 14, 2013
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina plans to "turn back the clock" this Saturday, Nov. 16, as the Catamounts wrap up the home portion of its 2013 season by hosting the Furman Paladins in Southern Conference action at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. Events surrounding WCU's home finale will have a 1983 theme denoting the 30th anniversary of WCU's improbable yet magical run to the NCAA Division I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision, FCS) national title game.
Saturday's festivities include a special 1983 team reunion for former players, administrators, athletic trainers, managers and other students that were affiliated with the season to be held in the main arena of the Ramsey Center. That will be followed by a special pre-game tailgate on-campus for reunion participants and their families.
During the football game, members of the 1983 team will be honored with an in-game ceremony as the Catamounts battle the Paladins. There will also be 1983-themed music and an 80's costume contest.
As the most visual part of Saturday's commemoration, Western Carolina will wear special throwback uniforms that liken those worn during the early-to-mid 1980s.
Starting at the top of the uniforms, fans will notice the return of the golden "The Cats" logo on either side of the traditionally purple helmet, completed with a white facemask reminiscent to those worn during the 1983 season. The purple jersey is adorned with white numbers front and back with smaller numbers on the sleeve below the shoulder pad line, replicating the look used during the early 1980s. Each jersey includes a special commemorative 30th anniversary patch sewn on the upper left-hand chest.
WCU will complete the look with replica gold pants that feature a purple-white-purple, tri-stripe on the either side. The throwback uniform even has a purple belt like those worn during the 1983 run to the NCAA Division I-AA National Championship.
The throwback uniforms to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1983 team was the brainchild of WCU second-year head coach Mark Speir and head athletic equipment manager, Mike Taylor. The retro uniforms were purchased using promotional money through the football team's Russell Athletic contract at no additional cost to the university or the athletic department.
Fans will have the opportunity to bid on the special game-worn throwback uniforms. During the "Beat App" week, a special online auction will be held online at CatamountSports.com with opening bids set at a special $83. All proceeds from the online auction will benefit the Catamount football program.
In addition to 2013 being an anniversary year, WCU's Saturday opponent - Furman - also has special significance for many Catamount fans. Western Carolina and Furman met twice during the Catamounts' 1983 season, tying the fifth-ranked Paladins in Cullowhee, 17-17, before WCU pulled off a 14-7 victory on the road in the semifinal round to ultimately advance to the national title game.
Ten years ago, in 2003, the 1983 Western Carolina football team was enshrined in the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame - coincidentally on the same day the Catamounts faced Furman in Cullowhee. Additionally, eight individuals off the '83 squad have been inducted into the Hall as well.
Under the direction of legendary head football coach Bob Waters, the 1983 Catamount football team rode a string of 12-straight unbeaten weeks to make the Southern Conference's first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision or FCS) National Championship title game.
Western Carolina's 1983 squad got off to a slow start, dropping its first two games to Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) foes, Clemson and Wake Forest, before starting its run of 12-straight weeks without a loss. The win streak began in the third week of the season as the Catamounts rallied from a 10-point deficit in the closing four and a half minutes to upend East Tennessee State, 17-16, as placekicker Dean Biasucci booted a game-winning, 43-yard field goal with 32-seconds remaining.
WCU moved to 2-0 in SoCon play when it scored a road win over Marshall, 21-7, before throttling Tennessee Tech, 42-10, to set-up the first of what proved to be two seasonal meetings with the Paladins. In a showdown of the two first-place teams in Cullowhee, neither would leave the field a loser in a 17-17 tie. The Catamounts held a 17-0 lead before halftime before Furman orchestrated a 90-yard drive to score before intermission and then held WCU off the scoreboard in the second half, tying the game inside game's final 30 seconds.
The tie would ultimately come back into play as in 1983, the SoCon only required each team to play six conference games. VMI chose not to play WCU, whereas it did play Furman. The Paladins finished 6-0-1 on the season while WCU was 5-0-1 in the SoCon, relegated to second place while Furman celebrated the SoCon Championship - it's fourth-consecutive at the time.
Spurred by the disappointment of not winning over the rival Paladins, Western Carolina's 1983 squad posted double-digit wins in its next five outings including a 44-17 win over The Citadel and then blistering archrival Appalachian State, 41-15, to lock-up a post-season bid.
WCU's playoff run got off to a rocky start on the final weekend of November as the Colgate Red Raiders raced to a 23-0 lead in the opening 28 minutes of the first round game. However, what occurred over the final 32 minutes may be the greatest comeback in WCU football history. Scoring with 18 seconds remaining in the first half, the road Catamounts trailed 23-7 at intermission. In the second half, WCU limited Colgate to just 91 yards of offense and four first downs while quarterback Jeff Gilbert racked up 376 yards passing and three TDs split between Eric Rasheed and Kristy Kiser to rally. Biasucci nailed a 51-yard field goal to propel the Catamounts to the 24-23 victory and into the second round.
In the second round, WCU twice rallied from seven-point deficits in Worcester, Mass., before holding off Holy Cross for a 28-21 road win. With the run game stymied, the Catamounts turned to quarterback Jeff Gilbert who completed 28-of-52 pass attempts for 343 yards and three TDs to ignite the offense. Future NFL standouts Tiger Greene and Clyde Simmons combined on a blocked punt with the latter rumbling 60 yards for a score in keying WCU's victory, which set-up the second meeting with the familiar Purple & White of Furman in Greenville, S.C.
In front of a CBS-TV audience and behind a strong defensive effort, Western Carolina avenged the early-season tie by limiting the potent Furman offense - led by SoCon Player of the Year, Stanford Jennings - to just 18 yards rushing total. WCU's David Charpia had three interceptions including two key picks in the fourth quarter with the likes of Simmons, Miles Nicholson, Steve Marshall, Richard Dukes, Ricky Pate, Bernard Jones and Mark Buffamoyer all aiding the strong defensive effort.
Despite the defensive clinic put on by the Catamounts, the underdog visitors led just 6-0 going into halftime.
Trailing by a score of 7-6, WCU drove from its own 10-yard line into field goal range where Biasucci again put the Purple & Gold ahead with a field goal. However, a roughing the kicker penalty against Furman was accepted and the Catamounts rolled the proverbial dice, pulling points off the scoreboard to continue the drive with a fresh set of downs. The big gamble paid off two plays later when Melvin Dorsey scored from four yards out to put WCU ahead with Gilbert hitting Eddie West for a two-point conversion to make it a seven-point game with six minutes to play.
Yet, two interceptions, a muffed punt and booming punts by Steve Kornegay kept the Paladins pinned deep as the Catamounts celebrated victory in the Upstate and earned a date in the NCAA championship game.
After upsetting three teams ranked ahead of it in the I-AA poll, WCU dropped the title game to nationally-ranked Southern Illinois as the Saluki defense picked off seven Catamount passes in the game - the first interceptions tossed by WCU in the post-season. The Catamounts trailed 10-0 at halftime, but 23-straight third quarter points all but put the game out of reach as SIU claimed the title, 43-7.
The 11 victories compiled by the 1983 squad remains the benchmark for WCU football, while the 15 games played by the Catamounts marked the most by any NCAA football team at all divisions in a single-season at the time. WCU finished ninth in the final NCAA national rankings, the highest for a Catamount squad all-time.
A combined 11 Catamounts landed on the post-season All-SoCon squad including eight first team selections and three honorable mentions. Seven members of that team went on to earn All-America honors during their WCU career including Eric Rasheed and Tiger Greene in 1983; Mark Buffamoyer, Louis Cooper and Steve Kornegay in 1984; and both Alonzo Carmichael and Clyde Simmons in 1985.
The '83 team roster also featured the names of seven players who would go on to join NFL rosters with four playing multiple seasons in the nation's premier professional league. Leonard Williams and Fred Davis (Seattle Seahawks) both played during the NFL lockout season, with tight end Alonzo Carmichael joining the New York Jets roster. WCU's 1983 team also included multi-year NFL players Biasucci (Indianapolis Colts, 1984-94; St. Louis Rams, 1995), Cooper (Kansas City Chiefs, 1985-90; Miami Dolphins, 1991; Philadelphia Eagles, 1992), Greene (Atlanta Falcons, 1985; Green Bay Packers, 1986-91), and Simmons (Philadelphia Eagles, 1986-93; Arizona Cardinals, 1994-95; Jacksonville Jaguars, 1996-97; Cincinnati Bengals, 1998; Chicago Bears, 1999-2000).
Tickets for Saturday's Senior Day and 1983 Commemoration game are still available by calling (800) 34-GOWCU or by logging on to CatamountSports.com. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 pm.