From the Archives: Taking a journey through the Southland Raiders’ historic 1986 football season; part 7
Published 10:34 am Thursday, September 15, 2016
By MICHAEL MURRAY
Editor’s note: We, at the Americus Times-Recorder (ATR), enjoy celebrating our area’s history of athletic excellence. Most recently, we have embarked on a journey into the past to detail the thirtieth anniversary of the Southland Academy Raiders’ awesome 1986 football season. Over the past several weeks, we have read about the 1986 Raiders’ surprise transition from a crew that many thought would be in a year of rebuilding, to a driving force in the state for independent school gridiron action.
While poring through our archives of old editions from the period, we have uncovered a wealth of knowledge about that epic football season, in which the Raiders plowed their way past competitor after competitor en route to the school’s very first football state championship victory.
In our most recent installment, we read about the Raiders’ initial pair of wins in the state playoffs; a 27-0 thrashing of Mt. DeSales, before moving on to Southland’s semifinal contest, which resulted in the Americus school gaining another shutout victory, 13-0, over Savannah Christian.
This pair of victories didn’t come as a surprise to any local football fans as the Raiders had already soundly defeated both of these teams earlier in the season. In fact, the Raiders had had little trouble taking down any challenger throughout their season to that point, aside from one vary narrow loss to Southwest Georgia Academy.
Following their latest win, however, the Raiders had only one opponent standing in the way of their goal of a state championship trophy; the Westfield Hornets.
In late November, 1986 an aspiring, young Marine Lieutenant Colonel named Oliver North was just beginning to face nationwide scrutiny for his role in the ongoing Iran-Contra Affair, which was dominating national headlines at the time. In the national sports world, newspaper headlines were full of articles about baseball legend, Mike Schmidt, who had just been named the National League MVP for 1986. On the other side of that coin, an up-and-coming young go-getter named Jose Canseco had just been named Rookie of the Year for the American League.
On Nov. 29, 1986, two days after Thanksgiving, the Times-Recorder’s sports page was dominated by a nearly half-page photo, accompanying a headline emblazoned across the top of the page, stating, “Raiders win state championship: Southland Academy tops Westfield 14-7”, penned by ATR sports editor, Ron Evans.
The content of this article is shared below:
Raiders win state championship: Southland Academy tops Westfield 14-7
By RON EVANS
“Perry, Ga. – Southland Academy’s Raiders have arrived. After 20 years and four other tries, the elusive state championship title now belongs to the Raiders.
“Downing a talented, if not pesky, Westfield School squad 14-7 on a muddy field in Perry Friday night, the Raiders ended many years of frustrations by capturing the Georgia Independent Schools Association Class AAA championship.
“Southland came into the game with two things that got them there; big plays and defense. And, they got both again – when it counted.
“The big play(s) was a 47-yard touchdown pass from quarterback, Stephen Summers, to Jeff Rix in the third quarter to pull within 7-6 of the Hornets. This play was followed by an even bigger play.
“Lining up for the extra kick, David Roach mishandled the slick football, picked it up and ran around the right end leaving five Hornets lying on the field for the two-point conversion and all the points the Raiders would need.
“As for the defense, the Hornets gained just five total yards on the ground and 118 total for the game. The Raider defense controlled the Hornets.
“‘That touchdown wrapped the game up for us,’ said Raider head coach, Loveard McMichael. In this, his third year at the helm, he has now taken two teams to the state finals. Southland lost to Savannah Christian in 1984 in his first appearance.
“‘We really couldn’t get anything going early in the game but the touchdown and then David’s [Roach] run got us going,’ he continued. ‘The defense played just super. They kept us in the game.’
“’That pass play got them going. We had it covered but a guy missed the interception and the others were screened,’ said Westfield coach, Gordon Powers. ‘I thought we stayed in there and never did get down. But, I did see a little letdown when Roach scored on the two-point conversion that wasn’t planned.’
“Powers also saw the Raider defense take the game plan of the Hornets out. ‘They completely closed down the middle of the line and that gave them the opportunity to overplay the outside. That was a disadvantage for us,” he said.
“Westfield, which ends the season 10-2-1, scored first in the game with 53 seconds left in the first half. Drifting backwards, quarterback, Joey Brett, who was 12 of eight for 113 yards and no interceptions, tossed to his left to Sam Pearson, who was behind a wall of blockers. The net result of the third and ten play was a 31-yard touchdown. Brett Hardy added the extra point. For the first half, Southland had 89 total yards, all on the ground.
“‘We just didn’t have any big plays,’ said Chan Reeves, who finished the night and his career with 156 yards on 30 carries. ‘We didn’t come up with anything to get us going. We didn’t make the big first downs. But we didn’t get down at the half. We knew we could win.’
“Senior offensive and defensive tackle, Chip Sanderlin, who has been a four-year starter, has been waiting for this a long time. And one more half was too long. ‘We moved the ball in the first half, but we made some mistakes,’ he said. ‘We needed a big play to get going and that pass was it.’
“Southland twice got to the Westfield 37 before being turned away; once on an incomplete pass and the other on a fourth-and-two stopped short.
“Westfield came out running in the second half, getting down to the Southland 27. From there, the Hornets tried a 44-yard field goal attempt, but the snap was mishandled and the Raiders took over on their 49.
“Four plays later, Summers hit Rix with the touchdown pass, which was made possible by blocking from tight end, Brad Pope.
“‘The play was set up the whole time,’ said Summers. ‘It was a fake to Chan. We needed it to get going.’
“The Raider defense started to assert themselves, led by Johnny Green, Ray Clark, Bud Harrod, Roach, and David Harris to name a few. Westfield gained 40 yards in the second half.
“The Raider offense, on the other hand, got rolling with Reeves, Reeves, and more Reeves being the right medicine. Reeves also showed his versatility.
“The last Raider score came with 2:58 left as Reeves went in over the right tackle. The touchdown was set up by a Reeves halfback pass to Roach on a third-and-five down to the four of Westfield.
“After the touchdown, McMichael wanted the game to end right there and then by going for the two-point conversion, but Summers was stopped by Mark Massey on a roll out to the left. It didn’t matter.
“Southland, which ends the season 12-1, gained 163 yards on the ground and 235 total.”
Just like that, egged on by a roaring crowd of supporters who had made the trek to Perry for the match, the Raiders solidified for themselves a spot in local historical lore as one of the toughest teams to grace the Georgia gridiron in 1986.
A tribute to the Southland team was included in the school’s 1987 yearbook, further memorializing the team’s epic season, titled. “OFF TO SAVANNAH…”
Written from the perspective of the team’s fans, the uncredited piece retold the story of their three exciting post-season victories.
The text of this article is shared below:
“On November 14, 1986, the Southland Academy Golden Raiders traveled to the FPD Stadium in Macon to play the Mt. DeSales Cavaliers in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. The Raiders knew that they had to win to stay alive – as is true in every playoff game. The team was familiar with the must-win situation because, the previous week, they HAD to win over a tough Riverview team to get to the finals. This unexpected situation came about when the Southwest Ga. Warriors beat Southland by a score of 15-14 on Halloween night and clinched the 1AAA Region Championship. Consequently, Southland went to the playoffs as the No. two team from the region; being second was, in itself, a first.
“The fans sat in the FPD stands on November 14, sipping coffee and hot chocolate to stay warm. Waiting for the game with Mt. DeSales to begin, many recalled what happened in that stadium the previous year; the memories were enough to send chills down the fans’ spines.
“The Raiders were slow to get started, but when things got rolling for them, they were able to defeat the Cavaliers by a score of 27-0. The win sent the Raiders to the semifinals against their old nemesis, Savannah Christian.
“The game with the Red Raiders was played in Savannah on November 21. Fans and supporters traveled in two charter buses and individual cars. It was a game few wanted to miss. The outcome proved the Golden Raiders were on a roll and would not need the casket that the Red Raiders had provided for them. Southland defeated Savannah Christian by a 13-0 score.
“The final state championship game found Southland versus the Westfield Hornets. This game was played Thanksgiving weekend with most fans devoting the Friday following Thanksgiving to getting ready for the trip to Perry. Southland knew what it was like to be in the state championship game; they were there for the fifth time. Rain and drizzle fell constantly on game day. By kickoff, the field was a muddy mess, but the rain had stopped and it did not start again until the game was over. By the end of the game, however, there was no dampening of the Southland spirit as the Raiders had defeated the Westfield Hornets by a score of 14-7 to capture the first ever State Football Championship!
Alongside this article, the yearbook included quotes from the team’s coaches, answering the question, “What are your feelings on winning the first ever state championship for Southland Academy?”
The coaches’ responses were heartfelt and encouraging. These quotes from three of the team’s coaches are shared below:
Head Coach, Loveard McMichael: “It’s a great feeling to know that we have reached a goal that has slipped by for so many years. The 1986 Raider football team will always be remembered for being the first team to win the state title. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears has gone into this championship. It makes all the hard work of the past teams seem worthwhile.
“The support of the cheerleaders, band, parents, faculty, and administration played an important part of this championship year. Thank you, Raiders for making the 1986 football season the best ever.”
Coach Don Marchman: “I have a lot of feelings about winning the state championship this year. First of all, I will always have a special place in my heart for the 1986 Raider football team! They are one of the finest groups of men I have ever worked with! Each and every player contributed during the season, and it was truly a great team effort by our players. Second, I feel that this championship is shared by all of the cheerleaders, and everyone who has pulled for the Raiders for so long. Winning the state title is the ultimate goal in high school football, and I am sure that the 1986 game is one that will always be remembered by Southland.”
Coach Craig Rhodes: “It was a great feeling winning the State Championship. It is something that, as long as I live, I will never forget. I am really happy for all the players, parents, students, and all the supporters of Southland Academy. They have waited a long time for a State Championship, and now we all have one – 1986, the year of the Raider.”
Editor’s note: The Times-Recorder would like to thank our readers for following this and other installations of the ongoing Archive Series. Be sure to look for more editions of this series in the future as we continue to delve through the ATR’s expansive collection and highlight important moments in local sporting history.