LSU Pivotal Football Moments
pivotal college football moment: A decision by a coach or athletic director that changes the momentum of a program or an action by a player that changes the momentum of a game.
1939 Holy Cross: Kavanaugh's Trifecta
The 1939 Tigers lost their opener to Ole Miss in Baton Rouge. Then they hit the road for an historic trip to the Northeast.
LSU's second opponent was Holy Cross in Worcester MA, a suburb of Boston. Bernie Moore's coaching staff and 37 players made the trip by air, making them the first team from the South to fly to a game. Ken Kavanaugh, the Tigers' star end, admitted he was on edge during the 11-hour, four-stop journey on two Eastern Airlines DC-3s. "I was trying to figure out how they kept that big machine in the air. I wasn't sick. I was just nervous."
1939 LSU Tigers Before Flying to Holy Cross
Holy Cross was an eastern power in those days. They had compiled a 40-5-4 record over the previous five seasons. The Crusaders had beaten Georgia two years in a row. LSU had actually dropped Texas, a team they'd beaten three straight, to schedule a home-and-home series with Holy Cross to beef up the schedule.
Coach Joe Sheeketski's squad had impressed the reporter for the Portsmouth (NH) Herald as "a powerful contender for national honors" after their 28-0 victory over a "tough" Manhattan team. With only two starters missing from the '38 team that lost but one game, the Crusaders used "the Notre Dame 'platoon' system," not surprising as Sheeketski played for Knute Rockne from 1930-32.
Still, the Herald writer cautioned: "Come Saturday, Holy Cross meets an even sterner test in the light but speedy Louisiana State eleven ..."
Sheeketski didn't seem to see the upcoming contest that way. He was so well satisfied with his team's performance in the Manhattan game that he decided not to scrimmage his regulars during the week. Kavanaugh recalls: "They laughed at us. They were asking us what we made the trip for."
The Associated Press summary of college football results for October 8 included this paragraph. "Flatly refusing to believe all the tall tales they heard of Holy Cross power, the Tigers of Louisiana State shelled the Crusaders 26-7 at Worcester as Ken Kavanaugh, great end, caught three passes for touchdowns and scored the other on a 90-yard run after intercepting a Holy Cross aerial."

L: Leo Bird carries against Holy Cross. R: Ken Kavanaugh catches a pass.
(LSU Gumbo Yearbook Class of 1940)
All three touchdown passes came from sophomore LHB Leo Bird, and the "aerial" that Ken intercepted was actually a lateral. The Tigers held the "reputedly powerful Crusa­ders" scoreless until the fourth quarter before an "amazed crowd" of 24,000 at Fitton Field. HC's score came only after recovering a fumble on the LSU 10.
Kavanaugh's Leaping Catch
The Tigers seized the upperhand early. Sophomore TB Leo Bird boomed a 66y quick-kick out of bounds inside the one. The ensuing punt from the end zone traveled only to the 32. After one first down, LSU faced third-and-11 at the 22. Marty Mule: "Kavanaugh faked to the outside and shot downfield before cutting back to the inside to look back in time to Bird's high pass coming toward him. At that very instant, the transmission of the radio broadcast was severed. ... Twenty minutes later, when the broadcast resumed, lis­teners found out what the dismayed crowd witnessed: Kavanaugh, with a high leap, took the ball right out of the hands of a safety and spun into the end zone for the first touchdown."
Kavanaugh's Second Spectacular Grab
The 6'3" 200lb end made another spectacular catch in the second quarter. Mule: "Lead­ing Kavanaugh, Bird fired a shot toward the corner of the end zone, and again a defender had a chance at the ball. As the defensive back reached high for the ball, Kavanaugh stretched his frame as far as it would stretch, made the catch, and stepped across the goal line."
And a Third
Ken caught another touchdown pass in the third period, this one from the 15. But his most remembered play of the day came on defense later in the period. Holy Cross finally mounted a drive that penetrated the LSU 15. Mule: "The Tiger defense ... strung out a wide option play, and the ball-carrier, about to go down, tried to lateral to another back. The ball seemed to hang weightless for an instant, then Kavanaugh picked it off and brought it back 74y for LSU's last touchdown." The play was reminiscent of Ken's 99y fumble return against Rice in 1937.
Kavanaugh's performance in the most populous section of the nation helped him be­come LSU's second All-American end in three years after Gaynell Tinsley.
After a stop in New York to visit the World's Fair, the Tigers arrived in Baton Rouge Sun­day night to complete the 3,000-mile journey. "A roaring, frenzied crowd of 5000 LSU stu­dents accorded their Bengal Tigers a glorious welcome."
The Fighting Tigers II: LSU Football, 1893-1980
, Peter Finney (1980)
Game of My Life: LSU, Marty Mule (2006)