10th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1944
#13 Georgia Tech 20 (Final: 8-3-0)
#15 Tulsa 18 (Final: 6-1-1)
How Georgia Tech and Tulsa Met in the 1944 Sugar Bowl
That’s what Frank Broyles remembers of the turning point in the 1944 Sugar Bowl – though it didn’t manifest itself until later.
The crucial play came on Georgia Tech’s first series – after Tulsa took a 6-0 lead on a 15-yard pass from Clyde LeForce to Ed Shedlosky – when halfback Eddie Prokop, blocking for Broyles, was rushed by the one -armed guard Ellis Jones. One the collision, Prokop took an accidental crack to the face. “We didn’t have big face-guards then,” Broyles, who played both halfback and fullback, recalled. “I looked at Eddie, with his bloodied mouth already beginning to swell, and it was plain he was as angry as anybody had ever seen him.
“‘Give me that ball,’ he told us. That may have been the biggest play of the game.”
It didn’t seem so at first, but it was as if a long-burning fuse had been lit.
Tulsa was ahead 18-7 at the half, but Broyles said the Yellow Jackets were still steaming about the shot to Prokop, who began punching out yards at every point of the defense. Tech, though, couldn’t sustain anything.
Tulsa’s Jimmy Ford faked a pass and then found a hole at right tackle. He veered to the sideline, then went 76 yards with the Tech defense in faint pursuit. It was the longest run from scrimmage in the 10 Sugar Bowl games and staked the Hurricane to a 12-0 lead as LeForce missed his second extra point.
Tech immediately answered with a 12-play drive. Broyles went in from the 1. Prokop converted.
Ford made his presence felt again when, shortly after the Tech touchdown, he launched a 68-yard punt that flew over Broyles and went out at the ‘Jackets’ 6. Broyles tried to kick it back out of the danger zone, but the weak snap grazed the leg of a blocking back and the ball came to rest at the 1. After a delay penalty, LeForce, who was sent in to kick the PAT before the touchdown was even scored, sliced off tackle for the touchdown.
“I thought (Hurricane) Barney White recovered for a touchdown,” a sheepish Coach Henry Frnka said later of the scramble at the 1 for the loose ball. “It looked to me as if one official raised his arms. I sent LeForce in to try the extra point, and I was as much surprised as anyone to see us draw a five-yard penalty for excessive time. Of course, LeForce scored from the 6, but if Tech had held us it would have made us look awful dumb. It was no time to substitute, I’ll admit.”
When it was time to do what he was originally sent in to do, LeForce missed his third PAT, and the score stood at its halftime margin of 18-7.
Prokop pitched Tech back in it when he arched a pass over the straining fingers of defender Camp Wilson to Phil Tinsley, who made the grab, whirled at the 30, found himself alone and went the 46-yard distance. It was a pivotal play because Wilson came so close to intercepting with a chance of putting the Sugar Bowl out of reach for Georgia Tech. Instead the Yellow Jackets were down just 18-13 after a missed Tech PAT.
“Wilson cried after the game over his failure to intercept,” Frnka said. “We have a signal on intercepted passes for the men to form in front of the man intercepting. Wilson actually gave the signal, so sure was he that he had the ball. He must’ve jumped too soon and missed it coming down. He probably missed it by inches. That’s how close it was. We all thought he had the ball.
The momentum had switched. “We began having some injuries,” said Jones, “and we weren’t real deep to being with. Georgia Tech was gaining momentum, you could feel it, but we kind of felt we could hold them off.”
They couldn’t. On a drive highlighted with laterals and scrambles, Prokop moved Tech to the 4. Tulsa held – for three downs. Ed Scharfscherdt went in and Prokop kicked the extra point to put Georgia Tech in front for good.
Ellis Jones was sobbing on a bench in the Tulsa locker room when Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy walked in and shouted to him, “Buck up, boy. You played well enough to win, but didn’t. You gave it a good shot, that’s all that counts. These things happen in life.” Jones said, “I never forgot that.”
The man who got the biggest satisfaction of the day was Eddie Prokop, whose number of carries (43), yards gained rushing (199), and total yards (256) were all Sugar Bowl records.
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.