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STEPHENVILLE (May 5, 2015) — A pair of championship football teams became the 149th and 150th members of the Tarleton Athletics Hall of Fame last weekend during the induction ceremony at the Barry B. Thompson Student Center Ballrooms.
The 1977 and 1978 football teams were two of the most significant football teams to ever don the purple and white.
“In my opinion, this was the beginning of Tarleton’s success as a four-year institution,” said Dr. Joe Gillespie, who was the full-time defensive assistant for head coach Buddy Fornes in each of those seasons. “That 1977 season was a turning point for us as a senior college. We started that year with a big win over a national powerhouse and later played the eventual 1977 national championship runners-up, Southwestern Oklahoma, to a three-point game. It was a good season and the start of great things for the program and this university.”
Led by Fornes, the Texans in 1977 won the school’s first TIAA conference championship—marking the first football championship for Tarleton as a senior college—with a record of 7-3 and an unblemished 4-0 conference mark. In addition to the perfect conference record, Tarleton also got a historic win to begin the ‘77 campaign by beating the three-time NAIA national champions, Texas Lutheran, in the season opener.
“When I think of Coach (Buddy) Fornes, I think that he was a man of integrity,” said Gillespie. “He did things the right way, he treated his athletes like they were his own kids and the players loved him for that.
“He provided the program with a family atmosphere,” continued Gillespie. “The players and coaches were a big family. Our children were at the practices, our wives were all friends and the players were like brothers. I think that’s why a lot of these guys are still connected to Tarleton today.”
In the ensuing season of 1978, Fornes’ Texans picked up right where they left off by leaning on the most dominant defense in school history en route to the school’s second straight TIAA conference championship, the first NAIA national playoff appearance and the school’s first undefeated record as a senior college at 8-0-1.
The 1978 team showcased the most dominant defense in school history and arguably one of the greatest NAIA defenses of all-time.
Led by All-American Tally Neal, Tarleton’s defense set records in that season that still set the precedent for Texan defenders today, such as fewest total yards allowed (978), fewest points allowed per game (4.4), fewest points allowed in a season (40), fewest rushing yards allowed in a season (158) and the fewest passing yards allowed in a season (830).
The school record of 988 total yards allowed in 1978 has a padded lead over the second-best season in school history, which was 2,101 yards allowed in 1982. The record for fewest points in a season of 40 is also well protected, as the next closest season is 123 points allowed.
Fornes, Ronnie Giles and Gillespie were the only full-time coaches on the staff for these two championship seasons.
Several members of the teams returned to Stephenville Saturday night, along with their friends and family, to reflect on those championship seasons. Johnny Gann represented the 1977 team with a post-induction speech while Neal represented the 1978 team.
Members of the 1977 and 1978 Texan football teams who were inducted into the Tarleton Athletics Hall of Fame include:
* Denotes deceased