I must admit one of the joys of writing my story last week on the 20th anniversary of the Beavers’ 17-7 1999 win against Cal was that it gave me an opportunity to write about a punter.
Mike Fessler punted 14 times for 593 yards in the victory, which ended OSU’s streak of 28 consecutive losing seasons. A 15th Fessler punt was blocked. The 14 punts remains a school record and the 593 yards is the conference single-game mark.
I broke down his performance punt by punt. Here is what I found:
--First, he was remarkably consistent: 10 of the 14 punts were of 40 yards or longer. Three were less than 40, with his long kick traveling 56 yards.
--Seven of the punts were returned by Deltha O’Neal, who went on to play in the NFL. O’Neal gained just 31 yards on the seven returns, an average of just 4.4 yards. He had one fair catch.
--Nine of the punts landed inside the 20 or in the end zone, leaving the Bears with consistently bad field position. Ten of the Cal drives following Fessler punts came from the 25 or closer to the goal line. Five drives started inside the 18.
--Oddly enough, scores followed the two punts that resulted in drives starting inside the 5. Fessler pinned the Bears back at the 2 late in the first quarter, but the visitors struck for an 83-yard TD pass, their only score of the game. A Fessler punt in the second period was downed at the 4, and two plays later the Beavers were awarded a safety when a Cal player was called for a holding penalty in the end zone.
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--Eight of Fessler’s punts came after three-and-outs, drives in which the Beavers were not able to record a first down.
Fessler and his Cal counterpart, Nick Harris, combined to punt 26 times for 1,037. Which made me curious about what the college records are in those categories … which led me to perhaps THE strangest game in college history (yes, I know, I called the OSU-Cal games ONE of the strangest … but read on … this one is a doozy).
Texas Tech played Centenary on Nov. 11, 1939 in Shreveport, Louisiana. The game was played in a monsoon that led to ridiculously muddy conditions.
The Raiders and the Gentlemen (love that nickname) soon discovered that the best way to move the ball … was to punt it. The two teams combined for 77 punts, including one stretch that spanned the third and fourth quarters in which the teams punted on first down on 22 consecutive plays; 67 of the 77 punts came on first down.
A total of 42 of the punts were returned (which seems a miracle). 19 went out of bounds, 10 were downed, 4 were blocked, 1 was fair caught and 1 went into the end zone for a touchback. At first I was surprised at the touchback total, but I shouldn’t have been. To punt the ball into the end zone you almost have to get to midfield.
Which essentially never happened. Centenary racked up 31 yards of total offense in 22 plays. Texas Tech was held to minus-1 in 12 plays. The two teams combined for 14 fumbles, with 6 of them lost. Alas, we don’t know how many punts were fumbled.
Any guesses on the final score? Yup, it was 0-0.
The game set 13 NCAA records, mainly for punting and futility, which have not been broken. Included are the magnificent records set by Charlie Calhoun of Tech. He punted 36 times for 1,318 yards, averaging 36.6 yards, which seems remarkable given the conditions.
Fessler could have done it if he had to. You think a Beaver punter doesn’t know how to kick in the rain?