100 Teams in 100 Days: An Inexperienced Team and Injuries Lead to a Woody Hayes Meltdown in 1971

By Matt Gutridge on July 20, 2016 at 11:40 am
The 1971 Ohio State University football team.
Ohio State University Archives

The 1971 season was about change. Woody Hayes needed to replace 17 starters and AstroTurf replaced the grass field at Ohio Stadium.

45 days and counting.

Technically, Hayes needed to find 18 new starters because he lost guard John Hicks for the season to a knee injury. Don Lamka and John Bledsoe locked down two of the 18 spots at quarterback and fullback.

Lamka won the battle for the quarterback position that Rex Kern and Ron Maciejowski vacated, a somewhat surprising move because he previously played on defense. 

Bledsoe became the starter at fullback despite the fact he only had three minutes of playing time in his career. Inexperience ran the show in 1971. 

The 1971 Buckeyes
Record 6–4
B1G Record 5–3, 3rd
Coach Woody Hayes (21st year, 140–47–7)
CaptainS Harry Howard, Tom DeLeone

Games of Note

September 11th • Iowa • Ohio Stadium
A crowd of 75,596 attended the season and Big Ten opener against Iowa. The Hawkeyes, under new coach Frank Lauterbur, won the toss and chose to receive on a rainy day in Columbus.

On Iowa's first play from scrimmage, Frank Sunderman fumbled and Ohio State's Michael Scannell recovered it on the 18-yard line. 

For the first time in three years, Ohio State's offense didn't have the cool hand and strong legs of Rex Kern to guide it down the field. Hayes asked Lamka to replace the All-American that helped bring three consecutive Big Ten titles and a 27–2 record to Columbus.

Unfortunately for Lamka, he fumbled on Ohio State's first snap of the season but teammate Richard Simon recovered. The drive stalled at the 16, where Fred Schram nailed a 33-yard field goal to give OSU an early lead. 

The Buckeyes scored 17 points in the first 10 minutes and never looked back. Lamka and Bledsoe each reached the century mark in rushing and the former scored four touchdowns in his first start. Bledsoe ended his day with 151 yards and two touchdowns. 

Ohio State's defense held the Hawkeyes to 31 yards rushing in the 52-21 rout.  

1971 Schedule
      6–4, 224–120

September 25th • #10 Colorado • Ohio Stadium
No. 6 Ohio State brought a 19-game home winning streak to the table in its first game against Colorado. 

Eddie Crowder's team did not flinch in front of the 85,586 Buckeye backers and drove 71 yards for a touchdown on its second possession.

The Buffaloes ran the ball nine out of 10 plays on the drive and Johnson finished it with a 7-yard keeper. The extra point went wide left, so Colorado led 6-0.

Ohio State's first drive of the second quarter stalled and Hayes sent in Gary Lago to punt. Cliff Branch fielded it at his own 31 and cut through the Buckeyes' special teams for a 69-yard punt return touchdown. The first half ended with Colorado up 13-0.  

Neither team scored in the third quarter, though both had chances.

Ohio State opened the second half by marching all the way to the Buffaloes' 1-yard line. Facing 4th-and-goal from the 2, Hayes gave the ball to Bledsoe, but he Colorado's defense stonewalled him in the middle of the line. 

Near the end of the quarter, the Buffaloes had 1st-and-goal from the 2 but squandered the opportunity with lost a fumble.

The Buckeyes finally got on the board with under five minutes to play when Lamka scored on a sneak. Schram's conversion made it 13-7. 

Hayes tried to keep momentum and called for an onside kick, but Colorado recovered on its own 45. Ken Johnson took advantage of the short field and dodged over left tackle for a 39-yard backbreaking touchdown with 3:30 left.   

On its next drive, Ohio State took to the air and passed five consecutive times to drive 67 yards in just over a minute for a score. With 2:11 remaining and down 20-14, Hayes had to go for another onside kick. This time the Buckeyes recovered, but the ball only went 9.5 yards. Officials awarded Colorado possession.

All was not lost as the Buckeyes' defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense took over at its own 5-yard line following a perfectly placed punt. 

With 1:02 remaining, down six and 95 yards away from a game-winning score, Lamka took to the air again. The Buckeyes approached midfield with one final play before time expired. Lamka tried to hit with Fred Pagac, but the pass fell incomplete and Ohio Stae lost 20-14. 

Colorado outrushed Ohio State 285-145. However, the Buckeyes found success in the air threw, racking up for 255 yards — 205 came in the second half. Dick Wakefield led all players with 11 receptions for 172 yards. After the game, Hayes said, "If I had known what I know now, I would have gone to the passing game a lot sooner."

Crowder and Colorado finished the season No. 3 in the AP Poll.

Following the loss to Colorado, the Buckeyes raced by California 35-3. 

IOWA W7 20–10–2
ILLINOIS W4 37–19–4
INDIANA W8 35–10–4
WISCONSIN W12 30–7–4
MICHIGAN L1 25–39–4

In Week 3, Ohio State traveled to Champaign and beat Illinois for the fourth straight season. The Buckeyes played without the services of Bledsoe and Pagac but still won 24-10.

Next up for Ohio State was a trip to Bloomington, and to no surprise, the Hoosiers did their best to take away the run. Hayes learned from the Colorado game and Ohio State gained 263 of its 384 offensive yards through the air. With the 27-7 victory, the Buckeyes notched their 15th win in 16 tries against Indiana.

After two weeks on the road, Ohio State returned to Columbus and easily defeated Wisconsin 31-6. Morris Bradshaw ran 88 yards for one touchdown run and also returned a kickoff for an 88-yard score as the Buckeyes beat the Badgers for the 12th straight time.

October 30th • Minneapolis • Memorial Stadium
Rain, wind gusts reaching as high as 25 MPH and 50-degree weather greeted Ohio State to Minneapolis a day before Halloween. Only 26,281 filled Memorial Stadium to watch Minnesota (3–4) take on No. 10 Ohio State.  

With time winding down in the second quarter, Ohio State gifted Minnesota the ball at its own 39 when Tom Campana fumbled a punt return. With his team facing a 4th-and-2 on the 31, Gophers head coach Murray Warmath decided to go for it. Craig Curry rolled right and found tight end Doug Kingsriter wide open for an easy 31-yard touchdown. The Gophers led 6-0 after missing the extra point.

Fumbles and punts made first half difficult to watch. The Gophers did not commit a turnover but put the ball on the ground three times. The Buckeyes lost one of its two fumbles and only managed 38 yards rushing. Through 30 minutes, the teams combined for 14 punts.

Hayes gave his team a gentle talking to during the break and Ohio State responded with a 17-play, 80-yard scoring drive that took 7:18 off the clock. The Buckeyes only threw the ball four times during the possession. However, Lamka completed all four of his pass attempts, the last being a 4-yard touchdown toss to the back of the end zone on 4th-and-goal. Ohio State took a 7-6 lead after making its extra point.

Ohio State scored again with four minutes remaining when Dick Galbos dove into the end zone. Trailing 14-6, Minnesota had time for one last drive in an attempt to tie the game.

The Gophers relied on Curry's arm to take them the 80 yards to even the score. After a first down, it appeared Minnesota's comeback drive would stall. On 4th-and-11 from his own 43, Curry overthrew his receiver. However, officials whistled Rick Seifert for pass interference and the Gophers had a second chance.

Seven plays later, Curry scored on a 2-yard keeper to cut Minnesota's deficit to two points. With on 39 seconds left, Warmath's only choice was to go for two. Curry rolled left, couldn't find an open receiver, then headed for the goal line. A barrage of Buckeyes stopped him a foot short of the end zone.

The difficult playing conditions caused the teams to combine for nine turnovers. Ohio State was fortunate to leave Minneapolis with a 14-12 victory. 

November 20th • Michigan • Michigan Stadium
The Buckeyes' season took a downward turn after the win against Minnesota. Unranked Michigan State and Northwestern upset them in The Shoe and the team fell out of the AP rankings. The annual game against Michigan served as a final shot to salvage something from the season.

In front of a college football record crowd of 104,016, No. 3 Michigan (10–0) vied for its first undefeated season since 1948. The injury-riddled Buckeyes entered as heavy underdogs but fought hard. However, the 68th edition of The Game wouldn't be remembered for who won or lost, but the actions of one Woody Hayes.

The Wolverines' defense dominated the first half and held Ohio State to 53 total yards and no points. Michigan's offense couldn't match its defense's superb effort, but Bo Schembechler's team led 3-0 at halftime.

With the offense stalling, the Buckeyes needed a spark from the defense or special teams and Tom Campana obliged. With just over two minutes remaining the third quarter, Campana fielded Barry Dotzauer's punt at the 15 and raced 85 yards for the go-ahead score. In a game where Ohio State lagged behind on the stat sheet, the Scarlet and Gray somehow owned a 7-3 lead.

Campana's punt return:

Michigan struggled to move the ball in the second half until the middle of the fourth quarter. After a Lago punt put the ball at the Wolverine's 28-yard line, Larry Cipa directed the game-winning drive. The winning score came on 1st-and-10 from the Ohio State 21. Cipa ran the option to the right and pitched to Billy Taylor. From there, Taylor raced into the end zone for the final points of the contest.

The Buckeyes had 2:07 to work with, but Thom Darden – a Sandusky native – intercepted Lamka at the Wolverines' 32-yard line. At this point, Hayes lost it and his actions overshadowed the play on the field.

The Ohio State coach's meltdown as described by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Hayes put on a disgraceful performance in the closing seconds of the game. First, he raced on the field to protest a pass interference call which he thought should have been called on Michigan with 1:25 left at the Wolverine 32.

He argued long and hard with the referee, who marched off two consecutive 15-yard penalties. Hayes was so incensed that his players, with the aid of backfield coach George Chaump, finally encircled Woody and forcibly escorted him to the sidelines as he resisted every step of the way.

But Hayes was still raving mad. He grabbed the down marker which is used on the sidelines by the chain gang and ripped it to shreds. He flung its pieces onto the playing field. Then Hayes went for another pole, grabbing it from the official's hands and throwing it to the ground.

The huge throng, now standing, was showering its vocal disapproval. When order was restored, the game proceeded and Michigan killed the final 42 seconds. As the final seconds ticked off, thousands of fans poured on the field to engulf the victorious Wolverines.

What precipitated Hayes' shocking outburst was a pass from quarterback Don Lamka to end Dick Wakefield, which was intercepted by Tom Darden, senior from Sandusky.

Hayes evidently thought that Darden interfered with the play, but no one will ever know because Hayes refused to talk to the press after the game. Many scribes waited 50 minutes, but to no avail. There was no official or unofficial comment from Hayes.

Below you can see the play that caused Hayes to lose his cool and destroy the down marker. 

Ohio State finished the game with 78 rushing yards and completed only five of 10 pass attempts for 60 yards. 

Michigan extended its lead in the series to 25–39–4 and Bo Schembechler was now 2–1 against his mentor.

1971 Recap

  • Ohio State defeated Iowa 52-21 in the first opening game against a Big Ten opponent since 1954.
  • No. 10 Colorado used the triple option to beat the Buckeyes 20-14.
  • Ohio State took a 32–12–2 series lead in Illibuck Trophy games.  
  • The Buckeyes extended the series lead to 5–0 with a 35-3 victory over California.
  • Woody Hayes improved to 18–1–2 against the Badgers after the 31-6 thrashing.
  • Minnesota's Murray Warmath lost his last game against Ohio State 14-12.
  • At halftime of the Northwestern loss, the Wildcats' Athletic Director, Tippy Dye, was on hand for the posthumous honoring of Francis Schmidt's National Football Foundation Hall of Fame induction.
  • Michigan scored late to defeat Ohio State 10-7. Woody Hayes had a meltdown and took his anger out on the yard marker.
  • Ohio State was ranked as high as No. 6, but finished 1971 outside of the AP Poll. 
  • Tom DeLeone was named All-American.
  • Tom DeLeone, Harry Howard, Jimmy Harris, Tom Campana, Dick Wakefield and Stan White were selected in the NFL Draft.

Due to injuries and youth, the 1971 team had 39 different players – 22 on offense, 17 on defense – start throughout the year. The constant roster shuffle led to Ohio State finishing the season with a three-game losing streak, the first since Hayes took over in 1951.

This was the first time in four years the Buckeyes did not win at least a share of the Big Ten title. The drought would not last long.

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