The Last Time Murray State Visited Athens

(Athens, Ga) – The Georgia Bulldogs open their 2019 home football schedule Saturday against the Racers of Murray State.  A member of the Ohio Valley Conference, the Racers come to Athens with a connection to the Bulldogs which started in Valdosta, Georgia. In 2002, the Valdosta State Blazers were NCAA Division II national runners up; their quarterback was current Racer Head Coach Mitch Stewart and their defensive coach was Kirby Smart. But this is not the two school first time the school have faced off, they played the opening game of the 1945 season at Sanford Stadium on September 22, 1945, a 49-0 Georgia victory.

In the fall of 1945, World War II had just ended, and college football was re-energized with American servicemen who returned with college eligibility. While recruiting wars are furious now, there was at the time serious recruiting going on during an actual war. As things settled in, it was obvious that Georgia Head Coach Wally Butts had put together a talented roster that included Georgia legend Charley Trippi (although Trippi did not rejoin the team until mid-October against LSU).

The college football landscape was much different in 1945. Instead of programs signing contracts years in advance to play, Georgia and the Murray State College game was not agreed upon until September 11, 2019, just 11 days before it was originally played (Georgia’s original opponent that day was  to be the Jackson (Miss) Army Air Base, but they disbanded two weeks before). Back then, the Racers were known as the Thoroughbreds, but that was shortened over time to make it easier to include in newspaper headlines. Their coach that season was Roy Stewart, who was inducted into the Murray State Hall-of-Fame in 1971. Their current football stadium is named for him.

This was not to be the Thoroughbreds day. Playing in from of 6,000 fans at Sanford Stadium on a boiling hot afternoon, Murray’s squad, who had just nine days of practice, was never a threat. Georgia scored four touchdowns in the first quarter and coasted to a seven-touchdown victory.

1945 Murray State Team put together quickly by Head Coach Roy Stewart

Georgia was led by true freshman quarterback Johnny Rauch. He threw a 15-yard TD   that day to Georgia end Reid Moseley. Over his career, Rauch led the Bulldogs to a 36-8-1 record. Included in these victories are four straight bowl game appearances, as well as an undefeated season in 1946. On an individual level, he won first team All American accolades following his senior year and left the school as college football’s all-time passing leader with 4,044 yards (he is still in 9th place with 4,044 career yards but is now 9,122 yards behind career leader Aaron Murray).

Even without Trippi in the lineup, Georgia had an impressive running game with halfbacks John Donaldson and Charlie Smith who each scored touchdowns. Donaldson would have a 65-yard TD run for Georgia later that season in their 20-6 Oil Bowl victory over Tulsa.

Georgia’s Sanford Stadium in 1945, note the railroad bridge in the left of the picture and the hedges.

The biggest blow that day came on an injury, Georgia guard Charles “Beefy” Eaves, who Butts said was possibly the best player on the team, suffered a broken back an missed the remainder of the season.

Charles “Beefy” Eaves in 1945, 35 years before Hershel would wear #34

Several of Georgia’s players went on to successful coaching careers, Rauch coached in the AFL with the Oakland Raiders and was the losing coach in Super Bowl II. Donaldson returned to his hometown of Jesup to coach where he won two state championships, then went to Florida to coach for the Gators before returning to Athens as part of Vince Dooly’s original coaching staff in 1964. He returned to Jesup in 1973 where he coached former Georgia legend Lindsey Scott.

The Dogs finished the season 9-2 and ranked 18th in the nation, but the foundation was laid for the 1946 undefeated team that is one of the best n Georgia history.

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