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Tennessee Walks Off With 23-22 Victory on Kick by Walk-On

August 31, 1987|LISA DILLMAN | Special to the Times

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — So many times, Rob Houghtlin has won games for Iowa in the final seconds.

He made his name against Michigan two years ago, kicking a game-winning 29-yard field goal with no time left. At last year's Holiday Bowl, he solidified his reputation with a 41-yarder on the game's last play to beat San Diego State.

This time, the irony was that the kicking star many college football fans recognize was standing on the sideline Sunday when the Kickoff game was decided with three seconds remaining. The only thing Houghtlin could do, this time, was watch Phil Reich kick a 20-yard field goal, giving Tennessee a 23-22 victory over Iowa.

The crowd of 54,681 at Giants Stadium and a national television audience certainly couldn't have expected such an unlikely ending. More specifically, it came from an unusual source.

In just his second Division I game as a kicker, Reich was nearly flawless, contributing field goals of 45 and 25 yards and two extra points in addition to the game-winning kick. The only time he misfired was when his 51-yard attempt in the first quarter had the length but sailed wide to the left.

Everyone was waiting for Iowa quarterback Dan McGwire to make his first start. The problem was McGwire really didn't get a chance to show his stuff as he had to split time with Chuck Hartlieb and Tom Poholsky. McGwire, from Claremont, recorded decent enough numbers: 7 completions in 14 attempts for 86 yards.

For Tennessee, running back Reggie Cobb carried the team on the ground, rushing for 138 yards in 25 carries.

Cobb was the game's MVP. But Reich was the sentimental hero in addition to providing the winning kick. Until last Wednesday, Reich didn't even have a scholarship. He walked on at Tennessee last year and got his first chance, against New Mexico, when Carlos Reveiz was suspended for one game.

Then he kicked two field goals and three extra points, before stepping aside when Reveiz returned. From there, it was a matter of patience, something Reich had plenty of.

"This game is a lot bigger than that (New Mexico) because I know I have a full year to kick rather than just one game," Reich said. "I felt a rush of happiness when I saw the ball go through the uprights."

Said Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors: "What more can you say about Phil Reich, in only his second collegiate game, coming through under the pressure the way he did. We wanted to be able to move the ball over to the middle of the field for him, but William Howard was almost able to score on the previous play, and time was running short. But Phil split the uprights, and it was a terrific effort."

Reich was anything but disappointed when Howard's six-yard run fell short, ending at the two.

"More than anything, I wanted to kick a field goal," Reich said. "I didn't want to get a touchdown (with a lot of time left). I knew we could win it with a field goal."

Despite the importance of the moment, the swirling wind and the mass of Tennessee fans in the end zone seats behind the goal posts, Reich managed to block those factors from his mind.

"I didn't see them (the fans) at all," he said. "I put my tee down and I stepped back, and I looked up to see the goal posts. From then on, I didn't look back until after the ball was in the air. That left side I kicked from, and right side are the most difficult kicks."

Actually, 20 yards was nothing for Reich because he had already kicked a 67-yarder. In his mind.

Before falling asleep Saturday night, Reich visualized himself kicking a 67-yard field goal at Giants Stadium.

"It wasn't really a dream, it was something I was thinking about, in my head," he said. "Then, riding over on the bus here, I was picturing myself hitting field goals from different parts of the field."

Someone joked that Majors might have pulled the scholarship had his kicks fell short or wide.

"Yeah, right," Reich said, smiling. Then, he winced.

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