South of Markham: Little Rock’s first Football Miracle PART II
March 25-31, 2019
By Kris Rutherford
After three unsuccessful seasons as head coach of the Little Rock Junior College (LRJC) Trojans football team, Coach Alvin Longstreth likely wished he’d hedged his bet on deciding to return the Trojans to the field in 1934. When his team opened the season with three losses and six points scored, Longstreth planned to play out the string and permanently send LRJC football to the showers. With the the Arkansas Razorbacks Freshman squad next on the schedule, Longstreth was likely more concerned for the health of the football players he’d expect on the basketball court in a few weeks.
Heading into the game, LRJC had no advantage over the Razorback freshmen. The U of A attracted the best football players from Arkansas and nearby states. Its linemen towered over the Trojan, outweighing them by untold pounds of lean muscle toned in their well-outfitted weight room in Fayetteville. As for the Trojans, Coach Longstreth had been afforded a $400 annual budget for his football team, and it had not increased since his arrival on campus. Kavanaugh Field was staged for a blood bath, the only question being how badly the young Hogs would massacre LRJC, embarrassing the team on its home field but encouraging local Razorback fans about the future of their beloved Hogs.
News coverage leading up to the game was tepid and far from excessive; after all, the entire affair was to be nothing but a light workout for the heavily-favored Hogs. For the Trojans, the game offered the opportunity to play in front of the largest crowd the team had ever drawn as the typical few dozen fans swelled into the hundreds well before kickoff.
While the opening period was scoreless, the Razorbacks took the ball nearly to the Trojan goal line three times; yet, the Trojan defense stiffened and held the powerful Hogs offense in check. When Ray Goss lofted an 18-yard touchdown pass to Sherland Thomas in the second quarter to give LRJC a 7-0 lead, few Arkansas supporters were fazed. The Hogs may have played down to the Trojans level in the first half, but the advantage Arkansas had on the line would soon take the life out of LRJC. And it appeared the Hogs would do just that in the third quarter as they marched toward the Trojan end zone. But when LRJC defender Jerry Hord intercepted a pass at the 15-yard line and returned it for an 85-yard touchdown, all bets were off. Something magical was happening at Kavanaugh Field. Per the Arkansas Gazette, “The crowd that had earlier taunted the Trojans yelled themselves hoarse, pleading with the Trojans to stop every Arkansas offensive.” And while the Hogs did eventually come alive with a safety in the third quarter and a touchdown of their own late in the game, it was too late. The Trojans froze the ball, draining the clock and emerging with an astonishing 13-9 victory.
The Arkansas Gazette seemed somewhat perplexed in its handling of the outcome. As the statewide newspaper, Gazette editors knew they had to support the Razorbacks, but they also had to credit the hometown team. The headline on October 27 read, “Junior College Astonishes,” followed by “Scheduled to be led to the Slaughter, Little Rock Lads Score Victory …” The article noted how the Trojans not only surprised the Razorbacks and the crowd but also handed Coach Longstreth the “shock of his life.” The “Porker yearlings” were expected to “annihilate the lowly Little Rockers,” the opening paragraphs noted in a taunting tone. But later in the article, the rhetoric cooled. While pointing out that Troy Keith had likely completed one of the best tackles in Junior College history, the coverage was complimentary of several Hog freshman, particularly former Little Rock High School quarterback Bob Johnson who “thrilled several times with good runs …” Ultimately, it was the Trojans afternoon in the sun and the last LRJC football would see for many years.
When LRJC prepared for its eventual Junior College National Championship in 1949, Coach Longstreth, now a Little Rock surgeon, looked back on the upset of the Freshman Hogs of 1934. He noted that in reality, the victory spelled the end for the Trojan football program. The loss was a crushing blow for the Razorbacks program, and the University was less willing to place its freshmen squad on exhibition in future years. For the Trojans, the lack of fan support and continued refusal of LRJC administrators to increase the team budget made it impossible for Longstreth to achieve more than the “impossible” he achieved in beating the Razorbacks.
After several seasons coaching the Trojan basketball team, Longstreth, Troy Keith, and Ray Goss all enlisted in the service, each an airman in World War II. Colonel Keith became a highly decorated pilot and made a career of the military, serving in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; Goss, a U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant, served in World War II and returned to Little Rock where he worked many years in the lumber business; and Alvin E. Longstreth gave up the title of “coach” after the outset of the war, replacing it with “Lt. Colonel” before adding “M.D.” after his name.
While the members of the 1934 LRJC Trojans football team went separate ways after the season, it is doubtful any ever forgot their achievement on Kavanaugh Field that October afternoon. Perhaps a few fathers who drive their young Hog fans passed War Memorial Stadium and tell them the story of the “Miracle on Markham” should head south on Fair Park and east on Daisy Gaston Bates Drive to the rear of Central High School where 85 years ago, the LRJC Trojans provided Little Rock its first college football miracle.
Kris Rutherford lives in Maumelle and has authored three books and over 60 articles on Texas League Baseball History, many published on the League’s webpage. He has written three youth sports novels and collaborated on two additional book-length works. A member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and the Society of Baseball Research, he is a contributor to the new book, “The Team that Couldn’t Hit: The 1972 Texas Rangers.” Kris and his wife, Karen, own and publish the Roxton Progress, a small North Texas newspaper. v
After his football career ended, Troy Keith entered the Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force, serving in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. (Source: Fold3.com)