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The Most Exciting Game in Jacket Football History?

Posted on Monday, May 4, 2020 at 5:24 pm

Jody Hargis
A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the best basketball game in Yellow Jacket boys’ basketball history. I would like to take another trip down memory lane and reprint an article I wrote for the November 16, 1989 edition of the “Grundy County Herald”. It was about the most amazing comeback by a Yellow Jacket football team that I had the privilege to see.
As always, I know I haven’t seen all the games and I’m sure there were others that people would argue that were better. The only other comeback I could remotely compare this game to, would be the Marion County game in Jasper in 1983, where the Jackets overcame a 21 – 0 halftime deficit to win in overtime 29 – 28.
Nevertheless, the Walking Horse Bowl in Lewisburg on November 11, 1989 between the Jackets and the Franklin Road Academy Rebels was the most exciting of all the games I had witnessed. At least, the final 4:38 was anyway!
The following is the entire article from 1989:
Bowl Win Brings Jacket Season to ‘A Fitting End’
Late Rally Stuns Franklin Road Academy 16 – 10
Two weeks ago today an article in the Chattanooga News Free Press beautifully described the Grundy County football team as having the ‘patience of job.’ Saturday, on an absolutely beautiful autumn afternoon the article itself proved prophetic. For 43 minutes and 22 agonizing seconds, it looked as if the Jackets were going to lose a bowl game for the fourth time in five tries. But the ‘patience of job’ finally paid off for the young men who have faced many trials and tribulations during their high school career, as the Jackets stunned the Franklin Road Academy Rebels with two touchdowns and two two-point conversions in final 4:38 to win the 12th annual Walking Horse Bowl 16 – 10.
For three quarters it looked as if neither team was going to come close to scoring. The Rebels had the best opportunity but Derral Combs made a tight – roping interception in the back of the end zone near the end of the first half to preserve the 0 – 0 status. FRA finally mounted a drive that led to a John Lowe field goal with 11:15 remaining in the game. The 31 yard effort gave the Rebels a 3 – 0 lead. After stopping the Jackets and forcing a punt the Rebels drove the ball down the seemingly exhausted Jackets’ throats to take what appeared an insurmountable 10 – 0 lead on Michael Malone’s one yard quarterback sneak and Lowe’s PAT boot with 6:53 remaining.
The Jacket offense did manage back to back first downs to get to midfield but the successive loss of down penalties (intentional grounding and offensive pass interference) forced the Jackets into a fourth and very long situation. Head coach Chris Pickett, feeling they had no choice but to punt, sent Jerry Wayne Sanders into the game and had no idea he set the stage for one of the most memorable finishes in Yellow Jacket football history. Sanders booted a high spiraling punt that was taken by a Rebel returner near his 40 yard line. He veered to the right and as he turned upfield, he was leveled by Dearick Knight, popping the ball loose and sending it about five yards upfield. Jacket Devin Combs scooped up the loose pigskin and scampered 38 yards for the Jackets’ touchdown. All of a sudden the Jackets were back in the game. On the play, however, there was an anxious moment as Jacket assistant Keith Cook collapsed to the ground. He received medical attention on the field and was transferred by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he was treated and released.
Following the tense moment, the Jackets lined up for the two point conversion, quarterback Jason Tate, running the option to his right, pitched the ball to tailback Kenny Sartain as he was being tackled. Sartain couldn’t get outside so he weaved back to the left, spun to the right, then left, and made a sensational backward plunge into the end zone for the two – point conversion.
With 4:38 remaining, Coach Pickett opted to kick deep. He had stated that, “if they hadn’t made the two – point conversion, they would have attempted an onside kick.” Benji Graham’s kick spurted between the two Rebel returners and just as they fielded the ball at their eleven the inspired Jackets led by Derral Combs, were there to pounce on the returner. To add to the faltering Rebels’ problems, clipping was called at the twelve. The half the distance penalty gave the Rebels the ball at their own six. “The Jacket defense, playing as if they were possessed,” according to Pickett, stopped FRA cold in their tracks on three plays forcing a punt. The Jackets’ Knight returned the punt about five yards to the Rebels 36, thus setting the dramatic march. Sartain carried the ball on four successive carries for twenty seven yards and two first downs. Tate then went to a play action pass and hit Knight on first and goal from the nine for the go ahead touchdown. Knight made a stretched out grab moving away from the goal line and somehow managed to right his feet just enough to get inside the pylon. The Jackets faked the PAT kick and holder Jay Trussler threaded the needle to tight end Jerry Wayne Sanders and the two point conversion. The Jackets were up 16 – 10 but for Jacket fans the game still wasn’t over. The Rebels, behind quarterback Malone, took the underneath passes the Jackets gave them and were aided by a fifteen yard unsportsmanlike penalty to give them one last shot. With :04 left in the game and a pass heading for the left corner of the end zone none other than Jacket corner Knight was there to slap the ball out of bounds and preserve the Jackets’ thrilling come from behind victory 16 – 10.
This was their first bowl victory since the ‘63 Industrial Bowl and their best record (8 – 3) since the ‘64 team also went 8 – 3. The winning Jackets had many heroes in probably one of the most dramatic games in Grundy County history. Offensive Player of Game, Tate, was 7 – 8 passing for 69 yards. Knight, who won the Defensive Player of the Game honors, also snared four passes for 45 yards and the game winning touchdown. He had nine tackles and the hit that caused what most likely is the most famous fumble for Grundy County since Chis Grooms recovered a Jerry Bryant fumble for the winning touchdown against McMinn Central twelve years ago. Sartain had 78 yards on 15 carries. Paul Conry was one step from being gone on a punt return. The line consisting of Patrick Morrison, Chad Smith, Chad Dees, Skipper Walker, Christopher Brown, and Jason Geier, along with fullback Darian Thomas, halfbacks Knight and Monte McBee, tight ends Ryan Van Hooser and Sanders and wideouts Devin and Derral Combs and Paul Conry all turned into “possessed blocking machines”, according to Coach Pickett. The defense although giving up 263 yards still was tough as Knight and Van Hooser had nine tackles each. McBee, Brown, and Walker each had seven stops, Geier had six hits and Sanders and Smith five each.
Yes, Jacket fans Saturday will be a day long remembered. These young men withstood many adversities but when it was all said and done they made their mark in Grundy County football history that won’t be forgotten for a long, long time.
About the seniors on the 1989 Team
Below is a column I wrote about this group of seniors. Not mentioned in the article, although it was part of the trials and tribulations these young men faced are those that were missing. The team lost a sensational young man and athlete two years earlier in Craig Lewis. The spring before the season began, saw two year starting quarterback Jim Brown, who was moving to tailback, suffered a torn ACL in his knee. Tony Richards was set to start at quarterback, but broke a bone in his foot during fall camp. Also, Michael Short, an outstanding lineman missed the season. There were probably some other players and events that tested these young men, but the following (Coach’s Corner) summed their careers up:
I’ve been going to ball games most of my life. I’ve seen outstanding victories, and I’ve seen heart – breaking losses. I’ve also witnessed quite a few dull and boring games, both won and lost. But Saturday’s was probably the most heart – warming I’ve ever experienced at a Grundy County football game.
The climatic finish and the jubilant celebration at the end were moments you wish you could freeze in time. As I wandered through the happy throng of players, coaches, and fans, many thoughts of the past three or four years passed through my mind.
As I saw the tears of happiness (thrill of victory) and sadness (end of a memorable season and end of careers for some) stream from the eyes of players and coaches, I remembered some of the tough times these young men experienced. I stood there thinking, finally something great has happened to them. These young men never quit. They never made excuses. They just went about their business in a business – like way.
When they started winning, they were as humble in victory as they were in defeat. As they walk the halls during school, there are no “mightier than thou” attitudes. They are simply students, and seem to want it no other way.
At no time during the season did they show an attitude of “we can’t be beat,” or “we can’t win.” It was always an attitude of going out there and doing their very best. I feel this attitude comes from an inspiring, caring, and hard-working coaching staff. Head coach Chris Pickett, along with assistants Ted Ladd, Mike Ray, Greg Brewer, Tom Melton, and Keith Cook, have displayed a work ethic that has carried over into the players.
These resilient young men have laid a foundation for Grundy County football. The seniors who are leaving can feel good in what they have left for the others to carry onward. Grundy County football still has a way to go to reach the heights of some legendary teams. When that first Jacket team reaches the playoffs, the 1989 Jackets can say, “We started the ball rolling in that direction.”
Closing Comments
The 1989 team was the first under Chris Pickett as head coach. Let’s not forget the rebuilding job Steve Medlin did as head coach from 1985 – 88 with the help of Coach Pickett and Coach Ladd to lay the foundation. However, the 1989 team will long be remembered as the start of a great era in Yellow Jacket football.
The ‘90 and ‘92 teams also captured the Walking Horse Bowl Championship. The ‘91 team was the first team to make the playoffs. The ‘93 team went to the third round of the playoffs as Grundy County football enjoyed a great run in the late eighties and throughout the nineties. It was a very “great time” to be a Jacket football fan.
Whether it was the most exciting game is anyone’s opinion, but, one can’t argue it’s one of the top four or five of all time.