More than 12,000 fans showed up to watch the last time Abilene’s largest and smallest church-related universities played each other in a college football game.
That was Sept. 11, 1971, when Abilene Christian University and McMurry University battled in Shotwell Stadium, with the Wildcats prevailing, 53-20. Forty-one years later, the two will open each other’s 2012 seasons by playing Thursday, Aug. 30, in the same venue, and presumably, with some measure of local bragging rights riding on the outcome.
The two cross-town neighbors have played 39 times against each other in football.
But today, they have little in common athletically except that both will be playing NCAA Division II sports in the 2012-13 school year, and have an open spot on their schedules the same day.
ACU has an enrollment of about 4,600 and McMurry, 1,400. The Wildcats have one of the top athletics programs in Division II and are exploring a possible move to Division I. The Warhawks – previously known as the Indians before the NCAA forced them to change mascots – are moving up from non-scholarship Division III to their first season in Division II.
The 2012 game is the first of a two-year contract between the two universities. Both games will be played in ACU’s home venue – 15,000-seat Shotwell Stadium – as McMurry’s Wilford Moore Stadium has seating for only 3,200.
The 1971 game was basically over at halftime, when ACU held a 34-8 lead behind two long touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Ron Lauterbach (’73) to senior wingback Nick Pruitt (’72). The Wildcats’ final two TDs were scored in the last minute of the game, including freshman quarterback Clint Longley’s 39-yard scoring pass to sophomore wide receiver Richard Williams (’77) with 16 seconds remaining. At the time, McMurry was a member of the Lone Star Conference and ACU competed in the Southland Conference.
Pruitt was a former six-man football and four-sport star from Sidney, Texas, an exciting playmaker who won the ACU Purple and White spirit award following the 1971 season, and went on to become assistant superintendent of Abilene’s Wylie ISD. Longley quarterbacked ACU to the 1973 NAIA Division I national title before leaving school early to play a short but memorable career with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The speedy Williams also helped ACU to the 1973 national championship and was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.