From the archives: Taking a journey through AHS’s historic 1965 season
Published 10:43 am Monday, November 30, 2015
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 our last installment of the series, we read all about the Panthers’ rematch against the Cook County Hornets for the Region 1-A championship. The Panthers won another solid victory in the contest and immediately set their sights on a much larger prize, the South Georgia title.
With their ticket punched to the South Georgia championship game, AHS began busily preparing for their next match-up against Region 2-A champions, the Thomson Bulldogs. By all accounts, the Bulldogs were an incredibly tough team with a hard-nosed offense and a defensive line that would often leave their opponents stunned.
In an article preceding the match, Graddick wrote “Thomson is one of the highest-scoring teams in the state if not the highest with more than 400 points scored over the season.”
On the Panthers’ preparedness for the match, Graddick wrote, “Coach Jimmy Hightower said he was pleased with the way the Americus boys had gone through drills this week… The big problem of the week was finding an offensive guard to replace Danny McGowan.” McGowan had sustained a knee injury in the previous week’s match and Hightower eventually decided to alternate three players to fill the void that his absence had left in the team.
In the Nov. 24, 1965 edition of the Times-Recorder, Graddick went into further detail on the upcoming contest in one of is signature “Sportingly Yours” columns titled, “Panthers Near Home Stretch”.
In the column, he discussed the fact that Thomson had never before won a South Georgia championship and, that the Panthers certainly did not want them to win their first in Americus. He discussed the upcoming battle between Commerce and Cochran for the North Georgia championship as well, hinting that he favored Carrolton for the win.
When the speculation about the other side of the state was concluded, Graddick got down to brass tacks. “This Thomson team should be an interesting one to watch since it has run rough-shod over all of its opponents this year…,” he wrote. You might hear fans remark that they haven’t played a very tough schedule. This might be so, but even if they were playing everybody’s B-Team, they would have to be good to score that many points.”
“We do feel, however, that the Bulldogs have not run into a defense as tough as that of Americus,” he continued. “In fact, a Thomson scout was heard to remark at the Americus-Cook County game last Friday, ‘They sure hit hard.’ …In fact I surely doubt that you could get two teams that hit harder on defense than the two that were on the field that night.”
Graddick went on to say that he believes that, despite the unknown capabilities of Thomson’s defense, the Panthers would likely be able to score because of the team’s balanced offense. He also said that, even though the visiting team was known for its high-scoring offense, he doubted that they had five backs that could compare to those of the Americus team.
The front page of the Nov. 27, 1965 edition of the Times-Recorder included an article on the “Marchers for Peace in Vietnam’s” protests in Washington, D. C. alongside another detailing U. S. Secretary of State, Dean Rusk’s frustration that attempted peace talks with Hanoi had been stalled.
These articles were dwarfed, however, by two pictures of the Panthers in action and a lengthy article titled, “Americus Defeats Thomson 20-14 for S. Georgia Crown” that detailed the action in the previous evening’s game.
A portion of this article is shared here:
AMERICUS DEFEATS THOMSON 20-14 FOR S. GEORGIA FOOTBALL CROWN: Commerce Next Foe For Georgia Title
By CLARENCE GRADDICK
SPORTS EDITOR, TIMES RECORDER
Yes, fans there is a defense and an offense, also in football and both were in evidence and used by two excellent high school football teams which battled it out for the South Georgia Class A championship here Friday night before an overflow crowd of about 4,000 people who were limp and exhausted before the final whistle had blown.
Like the true champions they are, the Americus High School Panthers came out on top of a 20-14 score to defeat the Thomson High Bulldogs. This despite breaks, which an alert visiting team took advantage of in the first half to leave at intermission leading the Panthers 14-13.
Gary Reeves was the man who would not be denied on this night as he continually came up with the crucial play, three on offense and his final gem, a probable game-saving interception, on defense with only seconds left. In scoring, he was the first and last and, both times, he put the Panthers out front.
Four passes were caught by Gary during the game, three thrown by his cousin, David, and on all four, he made a superhuman effort to capture the ball.
He literally took the ball out of the hands of the Thomson defender early in the first quarter, tore himself away from two tacklers and traveled 35 yards to complete a 64-yard scoring play to put Americus ahead for the first time.
The next time was only for half the distance but was twice as sensational, if such a thing is possible. Gary went straight down the field as David faded back from the Thomson 31, then he crossed over to the middle with a Thomson defender a step in front of him. The ball sailed several yards to the side of the two players. Suddenly, Gary darted toward the ball , scooped it up at his shoe tops, and stumbled across the goal.
He still wasn’t through and neither was Thomson after David had added his second point-after with a perfect kick to give Americus the 20-14 lead.
Yes, even after, David had backed the Region 2-A champion, Thomson, up to its own one-yard line with a perfectly-placed 29-yard punt that went out at that point with only 1:57 to go in the game.
Like the champions they were, the Thomson boys were down and a long way from home, 99 yards to be exact, but they were far from being out. Three plays later, they had two first downs and were on the Americus 47. Hearts were pounding and all those good seats paid for were of no use to the fans and hadn’t been much of the game.
On third and 15, Jim Norris, Thomson’s sub quarterback and crack passer, let go one intended to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Gary made his last move for the night and it probably was the most important one of the entire game. He out-jumped the intended receiver and came down with the ball at the Americus 18. Cousin David took the ball from the center and fell to the ground as the crowd counted the game to a close.
Graddick went on to write that, though Gary Reeves wasn’t the only player on the field, as the victory was a concerted team effort, it was certainly his night to make the big play. “His only other catch was in the second touchdown drive for the Panthers as he took a third and 10 pass from David for a 32-yard gain… Again, he foiled a good defense as he out-fought a couple of defenders for the pass…,” Graddick wrote.
Graddick continued his description of that scoring drive, saying that Buck Shiver finished off the 64-yard drive for the Panthers from the one for the touchdown.
Thomson’s Al Guy, whose brother Ray would later go on to play for the Oakland Raiders, charged in to block the point-after attempt and held the Panthers to a six-point lead. Guy crossed the Panthers’ goal line twice in the second frame to deliver the Thomson team both of their touchdowns.
The Panthers gained 10 first downs in the match, while holding the Bulldogs to only eight. Thomson won the rushing battle, pushing forward for 116 yards on the ground, while Americus gained 100. Through the air, however, the Panthers dominated in their usual fashion. David Reeves connected on five passes for a total of 153 yards, while Thomson aired the ball out four times for 75 yards gained.
After the clock counted down the final seconds of the game, the Panthers found themselves the South Georgia Champions to the roar of the nearly 4,000 fans who had come to watch the game. Panther supporters swarmed and cheered for the players as they left the field victorious.
Many former players from the 1965 team have recently spoken with the Times-Recorder. When the subject of the Thomson game comes up, inevitably, the players have much to say about the contest.
“I stayed on my back most of the night,” David Reeves said. “Not only were they pass rushing, they were running blitzes left, right, and up the middle. I was running for my life the whole night. When Gary scored the winning touchdown against Thomson, I didn’t even see it. I was flat on my back. I saw Gary break to the right and the boy was right on me and I just threw it the best I could towards Gary and he caught it about a foot off the ground. At least, that’s what I heard. I didn’t see it. Never have seen it.”
Gary Reeves then added, “Thomson was averaging 40 points a game for the season. We hadn’t had but six or 12 points scored against us and they were averaging 40 a game. I don’t know whether or not we’d have beaten them if we’d played them a couple more times.”
Assistant Coach, Melvin Kinslow spoke about Thomson’s only scoring player of the game, Al Guy, with the Times-Recorder. “When we went up there to play them, he was punting them above the lights,” Kinslow said. “We never had seen anything like that. They could kick extra points and field goals from 30-40 yards out.” Kinslow went on to say that Gary Reeves’ game-winning catch was one of the most remarkable plays that the team pulled off that season. “Gary was wide open, but he had to turn around and come back and catch it and he caught it right on his shoe tops,” Kinslow said. “He was so wide open that he turned around and ran about 20 yards into the end zone. That play stands out… That was the state championship. That play there had the state championship written all over it.”
The Panthers’ center, Pete Smith, received what he says he considers to he a great compliment after the game. “Al [Guy] came up to me after the game and said, ‘I’ve never been hit as hard as you hit me tonight,’” Smith told the Times-Recorder. “[Guy] said ‘You just came from everywhere.’ That was a compliment and it made me feel good that he would say something like to me that because there were a lot of other players that were playing just as hard as I was. Phil Saunders hit [Guy] one time and knocked his helmet slam off. That’s a compliment to athletics.”
“I bet that the night that we played for the South Georgia Championship, the fans were, like, six deep on the sidelines,” Smith continued, describing the scene at the game. “There was a fence around the field and there was not an open spot anywhere. People were standing in the backs of trucks and on top of cars. Normally, folks would start getting there about 6:30 for a 7:30 kickoff, but the stands were already full by 5:00. I’ve never seen people like that. I came out to get my ankles taped up and said, ‘Where did all these people come from?’ They were everywhere. There were school buses and charter buses everywhere. That just showed us the caliber of the play that we were about to see… I agree that the Thomson game was pretty much the state championship.”
The Panthers hadn’t won the state championship yet, however. There was still one more opponent to topple before the team could call themselves state champions… the Commerce Tigers.
With an impressive 10-0 victory over Carrolton that same night, the Tigers had won the North Georgia championship and completed an as-yet undefeated season that included seven shutouts. Another high-scoring team, Commerce had given up only 38 points all season and had amassed 337 total points. With their impressive record, the Tigers earned the right to battle the Panthers for the state crown.
Be sure to visit us next week as we wrap up our exploration of the Panthers’ epic 1965 season, with the details of the team’s victory over Commerce in the state championship match.