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November 22, 2014

The Dogs' Feast of the Harvest

On the day Georgia hosts its annual FCS sacrificial lamb, I take a look back at what has to be one of the most unusual, yet intriguing road trips for a Bulldogs' football squad in the last half-century: Georgia's Harvest Bowl appearance coming curiously at the "home" of an eventual Division I-AA/FCS program.

The Harvest Bowl, or Harvest Festival, held annually at Victory Stadium in Roanoke from 1958 to 1969, was a regular-season game and fundraiser for the city's Junior League. Notably, the game's acclaimed halftime show was filled with bugle corps and drill platoons.

"From what I recall, it was a really special weekend for that area in Virginia," Ronnie Jenkins informed me the other day from the trucking company he owns in Millen, GA. Lettering at UGA from 1965-1967, Jenkins remains the school record-holder for most career rushing yards by a fullback (1,641).

Six of the first eight Harvest Bowls pitted Virginia Tech versus Virginia; the others countered Virginia Tech against William & Mary in 1959, and the Hokies versus Wake Forest in 1965.  Therefore, when Georgia ventured to face the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) for a night game in late September of 1966, it was certainly a first-of-its-kind match-up for the "bowl," and technically considered a "neutral-sited" game although Victory Stadium was located only 55 miles from the VMI campus.   

Victory Stadium, which would stop hosting college games just three years later in 1969 and be completely demolished in 2006, was not the most ideal venue for the visitors. Of the stadium's 27,000 seats, only 15,000 were filled for the Georgia-VMI game, which remains to date the lowest attended UGA football game since the school began releasing complete attendance records 70 years ago beginning in 1954. "And, the field was painted green from one end to the other [to hide damaged grass]," Jenkins added. "After the game, our white pants had so much paint all over them, they wound up just getting the team new pants."

At the night-time Harvest Bowl of 1966, the VMI
cadets cheer on their Keydets as they enter the
field against Georgia at Victory Stadium.
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Bulldogs stalled in VMI territory. Forcing the Keydets to punt, sophomore Kent Lawrence then fumbled on the return and VMI recovered inside Georgia's 20-yard line.  Seven plays later, the FCS-like Keydets reached the end zone and led the heavily-favored Bulldogs, 7-0.

"At first, Coach Dooley had a fit; I guess we were not that motivated because of who we were playing," Jenkins claimed. "But, we soon got it going." 

Soon, like on the ensuing kickoff, when Lawrence redeemed himself with an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Soon after Lawrence had tied the game, the Bulldog offense began noticing a near-flaw in the VMI defense in the form of an overzealous nose tackle.

"The biggest thing I remember about the Harvest Bowl was their guy lined up across from our center, Jack Davis," Jenkins said. "He'd take a fist to Jack's helmet (head slap) upon the snap of the ball back when you could get away with doing that, especially when you played in the middle of line [somewhat hidden from officials]."

The overexerting--although minor--defender, plus his slight hesitation in reacting following his head slap, caused the Georgia offense to change its game plan to a small degree.  "So, we decided to run right at [the nose tackle]," Jenkins said.  "We were able to wear him down physically."

Due in large part to simple up-the-middle
dives & plunges by Jenkins (No. 44),
UGA feasted on VMI at the "Harvest."
The Bulldogs began pounding the ball with Jenkins, and the junior fullback ran right at the head-slapping Keydet, and usually by him for chunks of yardage. Jenkins, who would finish the season leading the SEC champion Bulldogs in rushing with 669 yards, ended the Harvest Bowl with 133 of his season total--the most rushing yards by any Bulldog in a single game during the 1966 regular season. Jenkins' 26 carries against the Keydets were nearly three times as many as the teammate with the second-most (QB Kirby Moore, nine), and would be the most by a Bulldog in a single game for the entire campaign.

Late in the fourth quarter, Georgia had built a 36-7 lead over the hapless host. The Bulldogs possessed the ball on the VMI 1-yard line with 53 seconds remaining. There was only one play appropriate to call, and it came--Jenkins again trucking up the middle, falling into the end zone for a touchdown, and capping a Most-Valuable-Player performance in the Harvest Bowl.

"They even gave me a little trophy," said MVP Jenkins of the Harvest Bowl committee following the Bulldogs' 43-7 win in Roanoke.

Forty-eight years later, knowing he had experienced some health issues back in March, I concluded my chat with Ronnie Jenkins by asking if he was currently doing well.

"Much better than before. Back on my feet, and back working hard at my trucking company," appropriately declared the one-time Bulldog battering ram known for trucking over the opposition.

2 comments:

Rugbydawg79 said...

Thank You Patrick-I really enjoy these posts on Bulldog history.
Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving ! GATA

Patrick Garbin said...

Thanks, Rugbydawg79. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, as well.--Patrick