1947 Sun Bowl
|1947 Sun Bowl|
|Date||January 1, 1947|
|Location||El Paso, Texas|
|Payout||US$9,438 per team|
The 1947 Sun Bowl was a post-season American college football bowl game between the Virginia Tech Hokies of the Southern Conference and the Cincinnati Bearcats. It took place on January 1, 1947, at Kidd Field in El Paso, Texas. Cincinnati defeated Virginia Tech 18–6 in cold and icy conditions that led to a scoreless first half and three blocked extra points by Virginia Tech. The game was the first NCAA-sanctioned post-season football contest for Cincinnati, and was the first bowl game in Virginia Tech history. The 1947 game was also the 13th edition of the Sun Bowl, which had been played every year since 1935. In exchange for their participation in the event, each team received $9,438.
The 1947 Sun Bowl game was held as the culminating event of the Sun Carnival and was held at 15,000-seat Kidd Field on the campus of Texas Western University, today known as the University of Texas El Paso. The matchup of Virginia Tech and Cincinnati was out of character for the Sun Bowl, which traditionally matched the champion of the Border Conference with the best possible opponent. Hardin-Simmons University, champions of the Border Conference, declined a Sun Bowl bid, as did the second-place team, Texas Tech. With no other option, a member of the Sun Bowl Committee—who happened to be an alumnus of Virginia Tech—suggested inviting the Hokies to play against Cincinnati, which had already accepted an invitation.
Virginia Tech came into the game having gone 3-3-3 under coach James Kitts. Kitts, in his first year replacing coach H. M. McEver, had coached the team in 1941 before the outbreak of World War II interrupted the Virginia Tech football program. During the 1946 season, Kitts' team defeated the No. 12 N.C. State Wolfpack for the first win over an Associated Press Top 25 team in school history, the Washington and Lee University Generals, and the Hokies' traditional rivals, the Virginia Military Institute Keydets. During Virginia Tech's preparations before its departure for El Paso, heavy snow fell on Blacksburg, Virginia, forcing the team to use snowplows and construction equipment to clear a space for the team to practice. The Hokies traveled to El Paso without star punter and rusher Bobby Smith, who had been injured in Virginia Tech's final regular-season game.
The Cincinnati Bearcats traveled to El Paso having amassed an 8–2 record under second-year head coach Ray Nolting, who took the head coaching position in Cincinnati with the revival of the football program after the end of World War Two. The Bearcats' two losses came against Kentucky and at Tulsa, and they earned wins against tough opponents such as Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio.
The 1947 Sun Bowl was the Bearcats' first official bowl game, but two 1902 post-season games in New Orleans, Louisiana, may be considered the first bowl games in Cincinnati football history. In 1902, Cincinnati completed a 7-1-1 season, losing only to the Carlisle Indians. Following the conclusion of its football schedule, the Bearcats were invited to New Orleans by the Southern Athletic Club to play a football game on New Year's Day. Cincinnati easily defeated the Athletic Club team, and at the victory party following the win, students from nearby Louisiana State University invited the Cincinnati players to come to their school to play another game. That game, which took place a few days later, resulted in a 22–0 Cincinnati win, and may be considered the first bowl game.
The game was played in extremely cold and icy conditions, still the worst in Sun Bowl history. Three inches of snow fell on top of a layer of frozen rain the day before the game, and at kickoff the teams took the field under cloudy skies and in below-freezing temperatures. Despite the inclement weather, 15,000-seat Kidd Field was approximately half full, and bowl officials estimated the crowd at around 10,000 people.
Weather conditions allowed both teams' defenses to dominate in the first half. Virginia Tech had the best chance to score of either team in the first half when it drove to a first down inside the Cincinnati two-yard line late in the first quarter. On four straight running plays, however, the Bearcats' defense held, and Virginia Tech was denied a scoring opportunity.
In the second half, however, Cincinnati's offense managed to begin moving the ball effectively. On Cincinnati’s first play of the second half, halfback Roger Stephens broke through the Virginia Tech defensive line for 26 yards, taking the ball inside Virginia Tech territory. Cincinnati's drive would overcome two 15-yard penalties and one five-yard penalty en route to a touchdown just a few plays later. On its next possession, Cincinnati's All-American Roger Stephens again broke off another long run, this time for 19 yards, setting up another Bearcats' touchdown. Virginia Tech countered with a long drive that reached the Cincinnati 23-yard line before an errant pass was intercepted by the Bearcats in the end zone. Virginia Tech managed a defensive stop, however, and marched down the field for a touchdown to climb within six points. Cincinnati sealed its victory, however, when Bearcats' halfback Harold Johnson intercepted a Virginia Tech pass late in the fourth quarter, returning it all the way to the Virginia Tech 25-yard line. That return set up a Cincinnati touchdown and put the Bearcats up by the game's final score, 18–6.
Virginia Tech blocked all three Cincinnati extra point attempts, while Virginia Tech's sole extra point kick missed. Cincinnati's kicking woes were also reflected in their punting game. Cincinnati averaged just 19 yards a punt, setting the record for the lowest punting average in Sun Bowl history. All 24 of the game's points were scored in the second half. Virginia Tech earned just 34 rushing yards against the Bearcats' defense while allowing 369 yards to Cincinnati's rushing offense. Those two totals are the least-gained and most-allowed marks in Virginia Tech bowl game history.
Prior to 1954, the Sun Bowl did not award most valuable player honors, but Harold Johnson from Cincinnati was statistically the game's most valuable player, intercepting two Virginia Tech passes (one in the end zone) and scoring the first touchdown of the game on a 13-yard run.
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