From the archives: Taking a journey through AHS’s historic 1965 season
By MICHAEL MURRAY
Editor’s Note: Here at the Americus Times-Recorder, we’re very proud of our area’s rich history of sporting excellence. One of the area’s most celebrated historical periods of athletic prowess was the Americus High School Panthers’ 1965 season, in which the team went undefeated, rolling over opponent after opponent on their way to a sweep of the state championship series.
While delving through our back issues and expansive archives, we have uncovered a wealth of photographs and articles written by former Times-Recorder sports editor, the late Clarence Graddick, during that era.
In last week’s installment of the series, we read about the Panthers’ Homecoming victory over the Central High School Yellow Jackets which marked the team’s eighth consecutive win of the season. This week, we will continue the action with the details of the Panthers’ first test of the year that did not result in a shutout. On Oct. 29, 1965, the Panthers traveled to Camilla to take on the Mitchell County Panthers, who opened the match with a drive that many of the Americus players would later describe as “devastating”. True to their form, the Americus High Panthers pressed forward to grab a blowout win over the Camilla Panthers.
On the morning of the match, Graddick published, in one of his signature series of “Sportingly Yours” columns, a preview of the upcoming action. Here’s what Graddick had to say about the game:
PANTHERS WILL WIN
One thing is certain about the championship game between Americus and Mitchell County tonight in Camilla. If there is a winner, the champion of Region 1-A West will be the Panthers.
The winner of the game will cinch the title of the sub-region and ace the winner of the Fitzgerald-Cook County game also being played tonight. The simplicity of the fact that the Panthers will be the champion is both teams have the nickname of Panthers, thus if we do not mention a town we can be sure of a right guess.
SHOULD BE GOOD GAME
The fans who make the trip to Camilla tonight should see one of the better games of the season regardless of who wins. Both teams have strong defenses and both have been able to score enough to support good records for the season. Mitchell has been blanked only twice during the season and both times came on a muddy field. Its loss, 6-0, was played on a rain-soaked field with the rain still coming down. The 0-0 tie with Fitzgerald was also under muddy conditions.
Americus has drawn a blank only one time during the season and this was also on a muddy field. This was a 0-0 tie with Fitzgerald on the ground, and the northern Panthers probably have a better air attack than the southern Panthers from Camilla.
WE’LL QUIT HEDGING
Now, we will stop hedging and get back to the way we feel about the situation. We look for the Americus Panthers to continue the winning streak which began 10 games ago… Not only will Americus win the championship, its 11th game, but will also raise its unscored-on streak of games to nine.
Every one of the fans who travel to the game will be able to see the Americus boys play the strongest team on defense since the Fitzgerald game and this time the contest will be played on a bone dry field.
Graddick then went on to discuss his and Alf Bell’s ongoing competition to predict the winners of the area’s region match-ups. Both prognosticators predicted that Americus would claim a solid victory over their Mitchell County adversaries. However, they disagreed on the outcome of the Cook County v. Fitzgerald test.
Further down in the article, Graddick wrote, “Fitzgerald vs Cook County – We look for the Hurricanes of Fitzgerald to blow away the nice Homecoming that the Cook County Hornets have fixed. They will try to make it more than the 13-0 score made by Americus.”
Bell, correctly, predicted that the Hornets would deal an upset to the Hurricanes, however, and that the Americus Panthers would have to battle Cook one more time for the region final.
The next morning, the Oct. 30, 1965 edition of the Times-Recorder included an article about a piece of landmark legislation passed by the 89th Congress of the United States that extended voting rights to over 150,000 southern African Americans. The same edition included an article, citing FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover’s, assertion that the continuing civil disobedience associated with the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War protests would increase the nation’s crime problems.
The paper’s sports section, however, was dominated by news of the Sumter High School Fighting Tigers having clinched the 2-A sub region title and an in-depth article on the Panthers’ victory of the previous night titled, “AHS takes 1-A West title with 34-6 Mitchell victory.”
A portion of this article is shared here. Due to the manner in which the volumes were bound, some of the articles’ text is not visible. As a result of this, the article is, necessarily, paraphrased.
AHS Takes 1-A West Title With 34-6 Mitchell
By CLARENCE GRADDICK
Sports Editor, Times-Recorder
CAMILLA, Ga. – The Americus High Panthers had their goal line crossed Friday, spotting the Mitchell County Panthers six points but coming back to take a 34-6 victory and wrap up the championship for sub-region 1-A West here tonight before a large crowd, most of them from Americus.
Americus will now face Cook, a team they beat 13-0 in regular season play for the region title after the season has ended. Cook defeated Fitzgerald 14-7 for the region 1-A East title…
The boys left little doubt that they had come to play as [Mitchell County quarterback, Marvin Pitts] returned the ball down past the Panthers’ previously ironclad defense and rolled to a touchdown 15 plays from the kickoff to take a 6-0 lead…
Their celebration was short-lived, however, as the wounded Americus Panthers roared into life and in two minutes, recaptured the lead on a 57-yard scoring pass from David Reeves to cousin, Gary Reeves… David Reeves then kicked the extra point to send Americus into the lead to stay with 2:09 left in the initial period.
Early in the second period, Reeves hit Bob McKinnon with a 29-yard pass to crossover the goal and again kick an extra point. Before the half ended, Americus had pushed across another, this time on foot with Jimmy Lunsford directing the attack after Reeves had slightly sprained his throwing hand.
Bill Chambliss carried this one in as he tripped down the sidelines for 21 yards. In the absence of Dvid, Gary kicked the extra point for a 21-6 margin with 2:33 left in the half. Harrold Horne set up the score with a pass interception on the Mitchell 33.
Gary Reeves hit the end zone again in the third period, with 28 seconds left, as he took a pass from David on the Mitchell 18 and made like a halfback as he reversed his field to escape three defenders and complete the 36-yard scoring play, capping a 77-yard drive. David did the honors for the point after.
A third four-play touchdown drive came for Americus as Horne carried over from the two-yard line in the fourth quarter and David missed the extra point on this try, leaving the score 34-6. Chambliss, who led all ground gainers with 77 yards in eight runs, ate up most of the yardage on runs of 15 and nine yards.
Graddick went on to praise the team’s defense, saying that, despite Mitchell’s disappointing (for AHS fans) opening drive, the Americus defense “was its same impregnable self and, until the subs took over after the final touchdown, the Camilla team was able to move the ball for only two first downs.” He also heaped praise on defensive players, Ronnie Adkins, Phil Saunders, and Pete Smith among others, saying that they did plenty of damage in turning away the Mitchell County assault.
Graddick wrote that Gary Reeves had played, possibly, the best game of his career, calling his touchdown runs, “extra-effort occasions.” “On his first touchdown, the 57-yarder, he had to slow down for the ball but used his superior speed to outdistance three defenders for the tying score.”
“In the third period,” Graddick continued, “he did his best job of the year as he came back to get a pass from David, who had a sprained hand and was unable to get his usual distance, and with a good move, easily left three Mitchell County players flatfooted as he went on from the 18.”
The Panthers managed a total of 348 yards in the contest, with 184 gained on the ground, while 164 were achieved through the air on David Reeves’ six completions. Despite the defensive team’s pride being slightly bruised in the first frame, Americus’ defenders held Mitchell County to only 128 yards.
Just like that, in a mere 48 minutes of playing time, the Americus Panthers found occasion to both celebrate the sub-region win, and mourn the demise of their eight-game shutout streak.
When Gary and David Reeves recently spoke with the Times-Recorder, both had plenty to say about this particular game.
“I can tell you exactly coach Hightower said that night down in Mitchell County,” David said in the interview. “Everybody was talking about it. It was in all the papers. It was all over town that we hadn’t been scored on. They took the ball on the opening kickoff and just marched down the field and scored. Coach Hightower talked to us on the sideline. He said, ‘Okay, all this is over with. We’ve been scored on. Let’s get out there and play football.’”
Gary added, “After the game, I was talking with Lee Burnett. He was with Camilla. I knew him pretty well from playing against him. When we were talking, his dad came running over to us, saying, ‘I knew when y’all scored on them, you were gonna make them mad.’”
“They had one ol’ boy, a defensive back, down there playing for them,” Gary continued. “Lee told me that, before the game, he had said, ‘Don’t you worry about that Reeves boy. I got him. I got him.’ He was talking about me. [In the first quarter], we ran a look-in fake pass. I ran around and David looked up like he was going to throw a quick pass. Then, I turned and ran while that boy was coming up to intercept. I went right by him and laughed at him when I passed him. David then just tossed it and I caught it for a touchdown.”
In another recent interview, Coach Melvin Kinslow spoke with the Times-Recorder about the first time an opponent made his way into the Panthers’ end zone. He said that it was not, necessarily, the coaching staff’s goal to amass such an impressive string of shutouts. Rather, he implied that it was simply the result of having so many dedicated and talented team members.
“What we were looking at then was not giving up points,” Kinslow said. “We were just worried about winning the game. That’s what we wanted to do. I didn’t keep up with [the shutout streak] that closely. All I was concerned about was whether or not we had one more point than the other team did when the game was over.”
That was important to those guys, though,” he continued, referring to the payers. “Not letting anybody score was important to them.”
Mike Fennessy also offered his thoughts on the outcome of that match in a recent interview, saying, “That was devastating when we gave up our first point. That fired us up. We didn’t want to give up points…”
Be sure to visit us next week as we continue to explore the Panthers’ epic 1965 season, with the details of yet another impressive victory over the Thomasville Bulldogs and excerpts from ATR interviews with even more former Panther team members.