September 3, 2015

1978: Corral Field Goals Propel Rams to Win Over Eagles

The Los Angeles Rams traveled to Philadelphia to face the Eagles in a NFL season-opening game on September 3, 1978. LA, which went 10-4 in ’77, had a new head coach in Ray Malavasi, elevated to replace George Allen, who returned to the team for 1978 after seven years in Washington only to be fired during a tumultuous preseason, and who was in turn successor to Chuck Knox, who led the Rams to five straight division titles but no Super Bowl appearances. The offense, directed by QB Pat Haden, was deep and talented while the defense was outstanding. One newcomer was Frank Corral (pictured above), a placekicker out of UCLA who was drafted in the third round.

Philadelphia had long been a losing club, including a 5-9 record in 1977, but was looking to improve in Head Coach Dick Vermeil’s third season. The seeds were there in an emerging defense that featured a good line anchored by DE Carl Hairston and a solid corps of linebackers led by Bill Bergey. QB Ron Jaworski was still a work in progress and near the end of the ’77 season rookie HB Wilbert Montgomery, the league’s top kickoff returner, showed promise as a runner from scrimmage and claimed the starting job.

It was a sunny afternoon at Veterans Stadium with 64,721 fans in attendance. The Eagles had the game’s first possession, punted, and LA went 42 yards in 12 plays. Pat Haden completed three passes, two of them to convert third downs, and after the drive finally stalled at the Philadelphia 12, Frank Corral kicked a 29-yard field goal.

The Eagles responded with a promising series spurred by Wilbert Montgomery’s 15-yard carry on first down. Ron Jaworski completed two passes, and was fortunate when an apparent interception was wiped out by a penalty on the Rams. But the home team came up empty when Nick Mike-Mayer’s 37-yard field goal try was blocked.

The teams traded punts as the game moved into the second quarter. A poor kick by Rick Engles that traveled only 29 yards gave the Rams good field position at their own 44 and, keeping the ball primarily on the ground, they went 26 yards in eight plays that concluded with another Corral field goal, this time from 47 yards, to extend their lead to 6-0.

The clubs again exchanged punts and the Eagles squandered good field position at the LA 38 when Jaworski threw a pass that was intercepted by SS Dave Elmendorf. Neither team was able to get out of its end of the field until, in the closing seconds of the first half, Haden connected with WR Dwight Scales for a gain of 21 yards to the Philadelphia 31. However, Corral’s field goal attempt from 48 yards hit the left upright and was unsuccessful.

Both offenses remained stymied during the third quarter, although the Rams were winning the field position battle. A promising LA series that featured a Haden throw to Tyler for 16 yards reached the Philadelphia 24, but Tyler fumbled on a first down carry and Bill Bergey recovered for the Eagles.

Philadelphia kept the ball on the ground and moved effectively, although a fumble by FB Cleveland Franklin turned the ball back over to the Rams. Los Angeles had to punt once again with less than a minute remaining in the period, and as the game moved into the fourth quarter, the Eagles were forced to do the same from their own 21. This time Engles’ punt was blocked by CB Pat Thomas and the bouncing ball was recovered by safety Nolan Cromwell in the end zone for a touchdown.  Corral added the extra point and the Rams were ahead by a seemingly-comfortable 13-0.

Once more the teams traded punts, but Philadelphia finally came alive on offense with nine minutes remaining in regulation. Jaworski (pictured at left), who was the target of booing by frustrated home fans thus far, completed a third-and-six pass to WR Harold Carmichael for 32 yards, another throw drew a pass interference penalty on the defenders, and the five-play, 80-yard series concluded with Jaworski connecting with WR Ken Payne for a 24-yard TD. Mike-Mayer converted and the LA lead was cut to six points at 13-7.

The Rams couldn’t move past their own 20 on the ensuing possession and a punt was pulled in by WR Wally Henry at the Philadelphia 43, who returned it 57 yards for a touchdown. Mike-Mayer added the point after and, in sudden fashion, the Eagles were in front by 14-13 with 5:27 left on the clock.

Once more the teams traded punts following short possessions, and the Rams found themselves with the ball at their own 12 with less than two minutes remaining. Haden completed six of his next seven passes, starting off with one to WR Ron Jessie that gained 29 yards and two to WR Willie Miller that picked up ten yards apiece. The 60-yard drive concluded with Corral kicking a 46-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining, and the Rams won by a final score of 16-14.

In a contest in which neither offense excelled, Los Angeles had more total yards (220 to 208) and first downs (15 to 10). The Eagles recorded five sacks, to three by LA. They also turned the ball over twice, to one by the Rams, while the visitors were penalized 10 times at a cost of 82 yards, to three flags thrown on Philadelphia. The teams combined for 17 punts (nine by the Rams, eight by the Eagles) and the special teams for each club each accounted for a touchdown.

Pat Haden (pictured at right) completed just 14 of 33 passes for 154 yards and no touchdowns, but also gave up no interceptions and performed well in the clutch. Wendell Tyler led the Rams in rushing with 36 yards on 10 carries while Willie Miller was the top receiver with three catches for 44 yards. Frank Corral was good on three of four field goal attempts, two of them from over 40 yards that included the game-winner.

For the Eagles, Ron Jaworski was successful on 7 of 17 throws for 102 yards and a TD while being picked off once. Wilbert Montgomery ran for 46 yards on 12 attempts and caught a pass for 23 yards. Harold Carmichael’s one reception for 32 yards made him the leader in receiving yards while Mike Hogan, who ran for 37 yards on 8 carries, and TE Keith Krepfle each had two pass receptions, for 12 and 11 yards, respectively.

“I’m not going to let the fans substitute my quarterback,” said a Coach Vermeil of the booing directed toward Ron Jaworski. “I got one who can win for us; they can boo all they want. I’m not going to take him out. The only ways he matures is if he throws nine innings. They can boo for six months; he will get better.”

Vermeil did indeed stick with Jaworski, with favorable results, and Wilbert Montgomery rushed for 1220 yards. Following another defeat, the Eagles won four of their next five games on the way to a 9-7 record and Wild Card spot in the playoffs. They lost to Atlanta in the first round. The Rams reeled off seven straight wins as they topped the NFC West once again with a 12-4 tally. They made it to the NFC Championship game before falling to the Dallas Cowboys.

Frank Corral’s opening week heroics launched a season in which he led the NFL in field goals (29) and scoring (118 points). He was named to the Pro Bowl in what would prove to be the best of his four years with Los Angeles which also included doing double duty as punter in the last two.