Carpenter's Team: Champions of the South
by Jonathan Fisher
TSL Extra, Issue #2

Editor's Note: this article was submitted by Jonathan Fisher to TechSideline back in October. Jonathan wrote the article when he was an undergraduate student at Tech and submitted it in December of 1997 as a research paper for his Historical Methods class. Since the article has its origins as a research paper, it has a research paper "feel" to it, such as citing sources when quotes and information are given. Nonetheless, it is very interesting reading. It is also admittedly very long, so we advise setting aside sufficient time before reading it. While editing this paper for inclusion in the TSL Extra, nearly all of the original content was preserved unaltered.

Prologue

As fans enter Cassell Coliseum, they are greeted by a picture and sign which reads, "Frank Loria, Virginia Tech’s First All-American." While accurate, the late, great star of the 1960s was not the first Tech player to receive respect at the national level. In an era before NCAA regulation, polls, and even statistics, Hunter Carpenter led Virginia Tech to its first truly great football season, a 9-1 mark in 1905. The maroon and orange did not win nine games in one season again until Bill Dooley’s squad went 9-2 in 1983.

1905 was Hunter Carpenter’s final season, and he went out with a bang. His statistics are phenomenal, despite limited playing time. Yet the most alluring part of this great season was the controversy surrounding the game with the University of Virginia, in which Carpenter was the key figure. Blood was so bad following this battle that the two teams did not play again for seventeen years. As great as Carpenter was, it is important to note that he was not the team captain in his final year, and in fact did not even play in four of the ten games. The team as a whole was a great one, perhaps pound for pound the best the school has ever seen.

Game 1: V.P.I 86, Roanoke College 0

The first game of the 1905 season was played on September 30 in Blacksburg. The Techmen scored two minutes into the game and never looked back, posting a 52-0 lead after a shortened fifteen minute first half. The second period lasted only ten minutes and saw the cadets play only reserves in route to the 86-0 thrashing, the most lopsided score in the history of Tech football, in any era. The reports of the time stated that Roanoke College gave a good effort, but in the end were just too small. Tech ran no deception plays, instead relying on the size advantage to run off tackle and around end for anywhere from ten to thirty yards per play.

In his book Hoos ‘n’ Hokies, Roland Lazenby wrote that it was this game in "which Carpenter was said to average better than 20 yards per carry (page 22)." This statement seems to fit better however in Lazenby’s other work Legends, as both The Virginia Tech and The Richmond Times Dispatch indicate that Carpenter did not even play in the game. The latter listed Harris, Tredwell, Strickling, and Connor as the major contributors for Tech. The referee for the game was Professor Vawter (probably Jr.), while Instructor Miles served as umpire (The Virginia Tech: October 23, 1905).

Game 2: V.P.I. 12, Cumberland University 0

This game is somewhat of a mystery. No account exists in The Virginia Tech or The Times Dispatch, at least not anywhere near the scheduled game date. In columns later in the year which recap the season, the game is also absent. Perhaps it was canceled and played at a later date. The score above is straight from the 1906 Bugle.

Game 3: V.P.I. 16, Army 6

Tech proved victorious in this game, which was probably the most significant one the school had played to this point, at least on the national level. Gleaming with regional pride, The Virginia Tech proclaimed:

For the first time in the history of foot-ball in the South, a team representing a Southern institution has met a representative Northern institution and defeated them by a decisive score. This victory is one in which every lover of the game in our Southland can justly feel proud for it clearly demonstrates the possibilities of Southern athletics and Southern systems of coaching (October 23, 1905).

Army was a team already on the scene, annually playing such powerful schools as Harvard and Yale. While surprised by the outcome of the game, it appears that the players from West Point received the Tech team well and accepted defeat humbly. The same could not be said of the Northern press, which immediately began whining and making excuses. The New York Times wrote:

Against a strong eleven West Point’s defeat would not have been surprising, in spite of the hard luck she has been playing in, in the matter of injuries, but against the Virginia Polytechnic boys she was certainly not expected to meet defeat (Sunday October 15, 1905, p. 13).

The game went as follows: Army won the toss and received the ball. After gaining nothing, they punted to Tech and Carpenter returned it thirty yards. Tech’s first drive resulted in a Carpenter field goal; Tech 4, Army 0.

Tech again held Army and mounted a fifty yard scoring drive culminating in a seven yard touchdown run by the left halfback Treadwell, who was injured on the play. As well as kicking the extra point, Carpenter also chipped in two runs for twenty-seven yards on the drive; Tech 10, Army 0.

Tech’s next possession was a long grinding drive that ended on a three yard scoring plunge by Wilson. Carpenter added the extra point; Tech 16, Army 0.

The Cadets from West Point were truly on their heels at this point. On Tech’s final possession of the first period, Carpenter ripped off runs of five to ten yards at a time. After three quick first downs the half ended with Tech threatening.

Christmas came early in West Point as Carpenter fumbled the opening kick of the second half and Army took over on the Tech seventeen. The men from Blacksburg fought hard to defend the goal, forcing Army to run nine plays, seven of which netted two yards or less. The fullback Tourney finally scored on a half yard run; Tech 16, Army 6.

The rest of the game was back and forth, highlighted by Carpenter, who had a nice thirty yard run but missed several field goals. The gun sounded, and the Techmen returned to Blacksburg victorious.

Game 4: V.P.I. 56, Gallaudet College 0

The team from Gallaudet was no match for V.P.I. Though quick and skilled in the kicking game, they simply could not overcome the size and strength differential. Hunter Carpenter dominated the show with 129 yards on only six carries. He scored two touchdowns and handled most of the kicking chores, racking up seventeen total points. The rest of the team ran for 250 yards, including a 72 yard game by the Quarterback Nutter (The Virginia Tech; October 27, 1905).

Game 5: V.P.I. 35, North Carolina 6

In the ten years since Tech had begun playing football, this had turned into one of the most hard fought rivalries. Following this shellacking by V.P.I. the series record lay at (3-3-3), all three ties scoreless. The point totals for the nine games; 76 for Tech, 71 for the Tar Heels. The players from Chapel Hill, who prided themselves on tough play on the defensive side of the ball, could only watch in amazement as their former teammate Hunter Carpenter rolled off 255 yards on only eleven carries. This performance included runs of 30, 50, 56, and 80 yards. The QB Nutter also had a solid game.

"Their former teammate?" you say? Yes, Carpenter had played at UNC the previous year. Hunter Carpenter hated the University of Virginia so much that in 1904 he transferred to UNC, which had a great team that year, in an attempt to beat UVa. Carpenter had been unsuccessful in five attempts at Tech to beat UVa. The Hoos nipped the Heals 12-11, and Carpenter returned to Blacksburg for his last season

What appeared at first to be another classic match up turned into a pummeling. Tech took its first possession and mounted a sustained drive, with Willson scoring from two yards out. Carpenter’s kick made it Tech 6, UNC 0. Tech later fumbled on its own 35 and Carolina scored on a long run: Tech 6, UNC 6. On Tech’s next possession Carpenter hinted of the carnage awaiting the Tar Heels in the second period. After he ripped off 23 yards on three carries, the Tech drive seemed to stall. Facing third down and sixteen to go, Carpenter lined up to punt, only to tuck the ball under his arm and race around end 56 yards on the fake for the touchdown. The kick failed, and Tech led at the half 11-6.

The second half was a spanking by Tech. On plays too numerous to mention, Carpenter ran the Tar Heels into the ground. He added his final thoughts for the afternoon during the game’s last minutes, rumbling for an 80 yard touchdown. Carolina never knew what hit them; final score - Tech 35, UNC 6.

Origins of the 1905 Tech-UVA Controversy

The 1905 Tech-UVa game s was the most controversial game ever played between the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech. It is also extremely important in the history of Tech football because it marked the first win over that state rival, and Hunter Carpenter’s only one. Yet this now legendary game was almost never played, and even when the game was not in question, the status of Hunter Carpenter was.

The controversy had its roots in February of 1905 at the annual meeting of the Virginia Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association, the regulatory body at the time. At this meeting a contract for a Tech-UVA game the following fall was drawn up. During the same conference however, UVA decided to withdraw from the association for an unrelated reason.

In response to an August inquiry by the Tech management, UVA officials stated that the game would not be regulated by any VICAA rules except Article 7, which called for lists of players to be provided to the opposition’s management upon request. By that clause, the request must be submitted at least 15 days before the contest. In violation of the rules which they had set, the UVA management wired their list on October 23, only twelve days before the game. The following day Manager Bryan wired again, and after explaining why the violation had occurred, he closed with a statement which caught the Tech officials by surprise:

Lest you should contemplate playing Carpenter against Virginia I write to protest him and to state that his athletic career is too besmirched with professionalism for Virginia to submit to your using him in a game with her (Reprinted in The Virginia Tech; November 5, 1905).

The faculty committee at Tech at once made inquiries into the accusation, and after they were satisfied as to the amateur status of all players on the team, a response was sent on October 25 which stated that all players named on the original list would in fact play.

Two days later the plot thickened. UVA officials now claimed not only to have hard evidence against Carpenter, but also listed Nutter, Webber, Harris, and Strickling as being suspected of professionalism as well. Although admittedly having no tangible evidence against these other players (and apparently not consulting anyone at the acclaimed law school about the workings of justice in America), it was added that they could play, provided their innocence was proven. This letter was received on October 29th, only five days before the game, and was UVA’s first official protest against any of Virginia Tech's players.

In a response the following day the Tech management pointed out (accurately) that UVA, having removed itself from the VICAA, had no basis upon which to protest the amateur status of any players. In fact it was only UVA which had violated the contract in any respect thus far (the late list). It was further stated that the claim that Hunter Carpenter was not a "legitimate" student had been received as "having reflected upon the integrity of the Executive of the College." In response to a similar list sent by UVA, a signed affidavit attesting to the amateur status of all players on the Tech team was sent.

At this point UVA officials reaffirmed their position that Carpenter would not be allowed to play until he had been cleared by an impartial committee. Tech’s management countered by saying that such an investigation would not be practical at such a late date, and that the Tech team was prepared to play the game under the terms agreed to in the original contract. In a final telegram, received at 8:00 p.m. the Thursday before the game, there was the first mention of the nature of the evidence against Carpenter. The claim apparently involved the previous season, which he had spent at North Carolina. No other details were provided.

After some debate by the Tech Athletic Council, the decision was made to send the team. Several members of the council went along to assist in any further discussions. Upon arrival in Charlottesville on game day, UVA officials stated that Carpenter would be allowed to play if both he and his father offered honor statements attesting to his amateur status. Once these statements were procured, the officials did an about face, refusing to accept them and instead demanding sworn affidavits. At this point the Tech management decided to terminate all discussion and present the team on the field. Just before game time, UVA offered a final ultimatum, sworn affidavits or no game. Their bluff was called, and the game began (The Virginia Tech; November 10, 1905).

Hunter Carpenter maintained his amateur status until his death. It appears that the whole thing was a farce. No evidence was ever presented. College Topic, the paper which had started the whole controversy, later recanted and offered an apology to both Hunter Carpenter and his father (Legends, p. 24).

Game 6: V.P.I. 11, Virginia 0

Even without the controversy, the game was destined to be a good one. The undefeated Techmen were up against a Virginia team with a 4-1 record, their only loss coming the same week as Tech’s win over Army, to the Carlisle Indians. The 12-0 shutout itself was not so embarrassing when it is considered that Carlisle was one of the most powerful programs in the nation. Jim Thorpe and the great coach "Pop" Warner are two of the many legends associated with the Indians.

The game began with Tech receiving the ball. After an unsuccessful attempt to advance, possession was relinquished on a 45 yard Carpenter punt. Aided by some penalties, UVA drove into Tech territory only to lose the ball on a fumble at the 43 yard line. After a 7 yard run by Willson, Carpenter picked up 40 more on two efforts. Virginia at this point sucked it up, and held on a great defensive stand. Tech was denied the end zone and UVA took over on the 6 inch line. The Hoos immediately punted and Carpenter called for a fair catch on the 18, but Virginia was penalized 15 yards for interfering with the reception.

With first and goal for Tech at the 3 yard line, it took only two plays to reach pay dirt. Nutter circled around end for the first score of the game, again contrary to the accounts of Ronald Lazenby, who states in both of his books that Carpenter scored both Tech touchdowns. Carpenter kicked the extra point, and 15 minutes into the game the score was Tech 6, UVA 0. The remainder of the first half was marked by good play by Tech on both sides of the ball. Virginia simply could not sustain a drive. Carpenter had runs of 24, 16, 15, and 12. He also attempted a field goal, which was wide by only inches. Tech could manage no more points, however. The half ended with Tech driving at the UVA 35.

UVA was held on its first possession of the second half, and Carpenter missed another field goal on the subsequent Tech drive. After another exchange of punts, UVA put its best drive together, the most dramatic aspect of which being what appeared to be a long touchdown run by Johnson. It was ruled however that he had stepped out of bounds at the 34 of Tech. The drive continued to the Tech 14, where UVA attempted an unsuccessful fake kick. Tech drove to the 25 before being forced to punt. Virginia fumbled the return and Tech retained possession at its own 40.

Tech could advance no further, and in what turned out to be his most important play of the game, Carpenter punted for 60 yards. UVA, now pinned in at its own 3, attempted to punt out of danger. C. V. Hanvey sneaked through the line and blocked the kick and Strickling fell on the ball at the 2. Three plays later, Carpenter walked in. After Strickling’s missed kick, the score was Tech 11, UVA 0. Tech controlled the rest of the game with great field possession play aided by Carpenter’s good punting. UVA never threatened again, and the gun sounded with the final score of Tech 11, UVA 0 (The Virginia Tech, November 10, 1905).

The win was heralded as the greatest ever at Tech. It inspired several poems published in The Virginia Tech and several pages of attention in The Bugle. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding the game led to a 17 year hiatus in the series.

Game 7: V.P.I. 15, Washington and Lee 0

Tech returned home for what The Virginia Tech described as an unusually clean game. Carpenter, Willson, Stiles, and Treadwell were all absent from the lineup. Perhaps mentally exhausted by the events of the week before, Tech played a sloppy game. W & L played smart, and their team was described as especially quick, but in the end they were no match for the bigger and more talented V.P.I. players. Harlan and Nutter scored, and the highlight of the game was perhaps the 40 yard field goal by Strickling (The Virginia Tech, November 17, 1905).

Game 8: V.P.I. 34, South Carolina 0

This game was just as the score indicates. Hunter Carpenter ran for 188 yards on 18 carries. He also returned a kick 58 yards. When the game ended, Carpenter had scored five touchdowns and the defense had posted yet another shutout (The Virginia Tech, November 24, 1905). A member of South Carolina’s team later described Carpenter as "a back in the caliber of Jim Thorpe and Red Grange" (Lazenby, Hoos ‘n’ Hokies, p. 27).

Game 9: V.P.I. 6, U.S. Naval Academy 12

The game against Navy was marked as a great match up. Tech, at 8-0, had outscored its opponents 247-11, while the Midshipmen (10-1) had managed a combined 265-12. Of their ten victories, nine were by shutout. In order to beat Tech, any team knew they would have to do two things, stop Hunter Carpenter, and find a way to score on Tech’s defense. Navy managed to accomplish these goals, at least enough to win.

Tech could not move the ball at all in the first half. After several exchanges, Navy put together a strong drive and scored on an 8 yard run. After the kick it was 6-0. Near the end of the period Tech did manage to drive down to the Navy 15, but a Carpenter kick sailed wide and the half ended with Tech failing to register any points.

The start of the second period was marked by perhaps Hunter Carpenter’s greatest play of the year. On the opening kickoff Harlan received the ball and quickly pitched to Carpenter. He raced the full 90 yards for the score, only the third given up by Navy all year. The kick made the score 6-6. The ensuing kickoff was short, and Navy secured excellent field position. Only moments after Carpenter’s spectacular run, Navy broke the tie on a short run.

The score was 12-6 with only a few minutes remaining. Tech drove again deep into Navy territory and again Carpenter missed a field goal. After holding Navy, Tech got the ball back for one last try. It appeared the game would end in a tie, and perhaps that would have been a fitting end. It was not to be. The gun sounded with Tech threatening at the Navy 10 yard line. The end of the recap in The Virginia Tech perhaps puts it best:

The above rehash of the game shows that our team is composed of mortals, not invincibles or professionals, and conclusively proves that in every race there has to be a loser. "Nuf Sed." (The Virginia Tech, December 1, 1905)

Game 10: V.P.I. 34, V.M.I. 0

Fanfare was great for this season ending battle played in Richmond. Spirits and hopes were high on both sides, but in the end V.M.I. was simply no match. Carpenter did not play, but Hanvey chipped in four touchdowns and Lewis and Cox each had one.

The Virginia Tech proclaimed Tech as "Champions of the South," pointing out that no other Southern team had beaten V.M.I. Vanderbilt also claimed this title, with a record of 7-1. They had outscored their opponents 372 to 22, and their only loss was to national power Michigan by a score of 18-0. The rest of their schedule was not so tough, however, and they failed to notch a win against an opponent the caliber of West Point. This led the paper to conclude that Tech was in fact the better of the two teams (December 8, 1905).

Whether or not the 1905 team was "Champion of the South," it was one of the greatest in the history of the school. Perhaps more important, it was a fitting conclusion to the career of Hunter Carpenter, and it included Tech’s first win over UVA. As many of the first great Southern players, Hunter Carpenter was never named All-American. Yale legend Walter Camp personally named the team, and he never included Southern players. In 1955 Hunter Carpenter was named posthumously to the College Football Hall of Fame. Members of the 1905 teams from Army, UNC, South Carolina, VMI, and even UVA fought to get him inducted (Hoos ‘n’ Hokies, p. 27).

Jonathan Fisher is originally from Fairlawn, VA, just across the New River from Radford. Jonathan graduated from Pulaski County High School in 1994, received his B.A. in History from Virginia Tech in 1998, and is currently in his third year at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, PA. Jonathan plans to open a private law practice in Newbern, VA (near Dublin) in late 2001.

 

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