football Edit

In 1919, NC State and UNC renewed their rivalry for good

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Saturday’s game between rivals NC State and North Carolina is the 100th anniversary of the renewal of the series, a hotly contested game that will be played this year at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Why, though, did the teams refuse to play each other from 1906-1918 and why did they start playing each other again in 1919?

The second question is much easier to answer than the first. But the first is more fun to investigate.

North Carolina had started playing football in 1888, the year before the North Carolina School for Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (then known as NC A&M, now known as NC State) even opened its doors to the first class of students.

One of the first things A&M students started doing when the school did open in 1889 was playing football, a decent recreational distraction from the daily marching drills every student was required to participate in at the military school.

When a team was formed in 1892, it needed someone who knew the sport to be the school’s first coach, so they asked Raleigh native and UNC-Chapel Hill student Perrin Busbee, a graduate of the Raleigh Male Academy, to coach the team in the first game in school history.

State’s program slowly tried to catch up during the last decade of the 1800s, but UNC’s stronger team rolled up 204 points in the first six games before NC State ever scored, which came via a 5-point touchdown scored by J. Platt Turner in an 11-11 tie in 1899, setting off a celebration that ended with A&M’s only outhouse being set on fire by jubilant students.

After 39-0 and 30-0 payback wins by NCU, as Carolina was then called, the series began to become more even. In 1902, led by future North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner, the Aggies forged a 0-0 tie.

The next meeting was two years later, in 1904, when A&M scrounged together $500 to pay its first full-time football coach, William Keinholtz of Minnesota.

By then, the rivalry was getting a little overheated. Keinholtz enlisted armed members of A&M’s corps of cadets to protect his team’s practice fields the week of the UNC game. He held out his best player the week before against South Carolina so Chapel Hill scouts wouldn’t know anything about him.

Keinholtz brought with him a pair of brothers from Knoxville, Illinois, who are now long forgotten in rivalry lore, but played an important role in its development.

Harlan Ralph “Curley” Wilson and Arthur Johnson “Babe” Wilson came to play right and left halfback, respectively. They helped the Wolfpack to a 6-6 tie in Keinholtz’s only season as head coach.

Babe was speedy, lithe and strong. Capable, it was said, of running 100 yards in less than 11 seconds. In the first ever track meet against UNC, on April 7, 1905, at the old North Carolina State Fairgrounds, Babe won seven of the 13 events: the shot put, the discus, the broad jump, the 100-yard dash, the 220-yard low hurdles and the 220-yard run.

Later that year, in his second football game against the Tar Heels, Babe Wilson scored four touchdowns, only to see each one of them called back on penalties by game official Thomas “Doggie” Trenchard, a famed All-American player at Princeton in 1893 who was both a former and future head coach at UNC (1895, 1912-15). In his first season at UNC, the Tar Heels claimed to throw the first forward pass in college football history.

“It was the most complete robbery I have ever witnessed on a gridiron,” one veteran witness said of the 0-0 tie in the A&M student newspaper. “Trenchard and Williams [the umpire] should be blacklisted by all colleges that want honest officials to rule their games.”

(Trenchard later coached Carolina to a 26-9-2 record in his second stint with the school, then left college football to become the physical director for Standard Oil Company.)

College football had a difficult season in 1905 with 22 players dying and 96 seriously injured across the country. Critics of the game, which had no protective equipment at the time, wanted an outright ban.

President Theodore Roosevelt, however, saved the game by appointing legendary Walter Camp as chairman of a rules committee that banned the flying wedge, officially permitting the forward pass and establishing a 10-yard first-down distance instead of five.

The committee also established the National Intercollegiate Association, a forerunner of the NCAA, in 1906 to help schools determine eligibility guidelines.

A&M, Carolina and Virginia all agreed to adopt a specific set of rules to codify eligibility of players, limiting the roster size to 28 and games to once a week, requiring full-time enrollment and banning players enrolled in graduate school.

A&M had high hopes for 1906, thanks to the opening of a new athletic field (later called Riddick Stadium) on campus and the arrival of Willie Heston as head coach. Heston was considered the greatest player in football history when he arrived in Raleigh.

In four seasons as a law student at Michigan (after a highly decorated undergraduate career at San Jose State), Heston led the Wolverines to an overall record of 43-0-1 and a win so lopsided in the inaugural Rose Bowl that game organizers ended the contest eight minutes early and for the next 13 years held chariot and ostrich races in Pasadena, California, instead of a college football game. During his four-year career, the Wolverines outscored opponents 2,346-40.

The Aggies were set to play UNC that year, but midway through the season, the Tar Heels began hollering about the return of Babe Wilson, who by that year was pursuing a graduate degree in chemistry at NC State and was an instructor in the chemistry department.

Virginia also had a graduate student on its roster, so Carolina, in the midst of its worst season since the start of the program, cancelled games against both rivals.

Carolina-Virginia resumed the next year and still touts itself as the South’s oldest football rivalry. But UNC refused to play A&M (changed to North Carolina State College in 1917) until the fall of 1919 during the Thursday of the North Carolina State Fair.

This photograph was taking during the 1919 game between NC State and UNC, the beginning of the annual series between the two schools.
This photograph was taking during the 1919 game between NC State and UNC, the beginning of the annual series between the two schools. (NC State)

Tensions between the two schools were both relaxed and heightened earlier in the year when they both self-claimed the 1919 state basketball championship. A hastily arranged game in downtown Raleigh was played to decide the title, with NC State winning 39-29 in Memorial Auditorium in what is remembered as the first postseason game to decide a championship in the state of North Carolina.

They agreed to play baseball later that spring, with the Tar Heels taking the victory.

Still, the real anticipation was for the football game that fall, since State had never won a game in the series’ first 12 games (0-8-4). Carolina had canceled both the 1917 and ’18 football seasons because of World War I, while State played through despite losing players to military training and an outbreak of the Spanish flu, and State head coach Bill Fetzer thought his team might have the upper hand.

The newspapers ginned up interest, and State prepared for the anticipated attendance.

“In order to provide plenty of comfort for the immense crowd expected, the athletic authorities at State College have fenced off the playing field and erected extra bleacher seats opposite the concrete stands,” said the News & Observer in its preview of the game.

“Special parking spaces for autos will be allotted to spectators who should prefer to witness the game from their cars.”

Thus began NC State’s “pass-out” tradition.

The game between the evenly matched teams lived up to its advanced billing. A massive crowd of 7,500 spectators surrounded Riddick Field, including a big group of UNC students delivered before the game by a special train from Chapel Hill and a large number of students from Raleigh’s three women’s schools.

Carolina scored first, after recovering a fumble by State’s Dan Gurley. State answered with a long second-quarter drive that ended when “Runt” Faucette ran the ball in from two yards. On the second-half kickoff, Gurley redeemed his earlier mistake and broke free on an 80-yard run to within the UNC goal-line. A 2-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Homewood gave State a 12-6 lead. Every point-after kick was missed to that point.

Late in the third period, NC State’s drive stalled, and Faucette dropped back to punt. His kick was blocked by UNC’s Grady Pritchard, who picked up the ball and raced to the end zone. Blount kicked the only extra point of the game to give the Tar Heels their winning 13-12 margin.

Wrote one reviewer of the game: “After 14 years the teams of the two State institutions met again and demonstrated to thousands of followers all over the country that it was possible to play without the slightest friction.

“The game was clean, hard fought it is true, but the best of spirits prevailed among the players. The rooting between the rival student bodies was keen but friendly, and alumni and friends backed the team of their choice in a refreshing, fair-minded spirit.”

State finally recorded its first victory in the series on Oct. 21, 1920, thanks to the heroics of Faucette. After the season, UNC hired Fetzer and his brother Bob to be its co-head football coaches. Bill Fetzer stayed at the job for five seasons, while Bob eventually became the school’s first athletics director.

“Babe” Wilson, the former halfback who was the reason the State-Carolina series was canceled, eventually returned to NC State to see many games in the rivalry. Following a stay at Cornell to earn his doctorate, he became head of the chemistry department at Lombard College, Chattanooga and Wabash College before returning to State in 1924 as a fully tenured chemistry professor and later head of the chemistry department.

Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at