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Valdosta - 1989  State Champion GHSA  AAAA

Coach: Nick Hyder (302-48-5)
Record: 14-1 (Lost to Colquitt Co. 7-0)
Average score: 25-6
Playoffs: Beat Shaw (21-12), Colquitt Co. (20-7), Brunswick (42-0), LaGrange (24-13), Clarke Central (33-13)
Stars: QB Alton Hitson, RB Carlos Parker, DB Chris Hart, LB Anthony Williams

Notes: Valdosta's fourth state champ of the 1980s set a record for most wins by a school in a decade (125) and tied Avondale (101-10 in the '60s) for fewest losses. Parker rushed for 1,639 yards. The defense allowed 28 yards rushing per game, lowest for any state champ in at least 35 years.

1989 In Review
From 1990 Valdosta Media Guide

This one might have been the sweetest of them all.

Believing in themselves and their coaches like perhaps no team which had come before them, the 1989 Valdosta Wildcats scratched their way from the brink of playoff elimination all the way up to the top of Georgia high school football, winning the school's 20th state championship with a fierce determination that amazed even their most ardent fans.

In a season already being remembered as "unlikely;' Coach Nick Hyder's gridiron warriors heeded every ounce of his "never, never, never, never, ..., never quit" philosophy, staring down defeat square in the eye during a remarkable 14-1 season.

When the Cats' 33-13 title-clinching triumph over Clarke Central was finished on that 22-degree night in
Athens, the 4,000 black-and-goldbleeding Valdosta loyalists in attendance knew, right then and there, that there was something very special about this edition of Wildcats.

So what made this group so special? And what made this state championship so different from the other 19?

The story began on the first day of camp in August. Quarterback Jason Nichols, a senior and the projected starter, dropped back to pass during a routine scrimmage. Finding no receivers open, Nichols then scrambled for yardage. A defender came up and hit Nichols cleanly, but squarely in the leg. Nichols' season ended right there withh a broken leg.

Ordinarily Hyder would have turned to backup QB Deric Cotton, but Cotton was still not fully recovered from knee surgery in the spring. So what's a coach to do?

Enter Alton Hitson, a 170-pound junior projected to start at wide receiver. Hyder tapped Hitson because he was "a good student and athlete with a good attitude, ... his teammates respond to him, ... and he played some quarterback on his junior high and 9th-grade teams." Well, OK, but hardly the stuff of which Valdosta High quarterbacks are made.

But Hitson didn't care that his resume for the job wasn't up to snuff. All he did was step in, work hard, play steadily without being spectacular, improve by about 1,000 percent from the first game to the last, and eventually lead his team to the state championship. And all of this with not one, but TWO early season hip-pointers that made his legs look like jelly.

While certainly not the sole reason for the Cats' success in '89, Alton Hitson was the focal point of an offense that was often-criticized yet somehow did just enough at the right time to win every game but one. "Besides,"
Valdosta fans were saying before the season opener, "We don't have to worry about the offense. We've got THAT DEFENSE."

And oh boy, what a defense.

While holding their opponents to an impressive 87 points in 15 games (5.8 per game), Coach Jack Rudolph's stoppers' main strength in '89 was rushing defense. Though no records are available to confirm this, it is believed that the measly 34 yards rushing per game allowed by the 'Dosta defense in '89 is a team - and possibly a state - record. NOBODY, not Tony Grant of Statesboro, not Reggie Glover of Coffee, not Carlos Freeman of Clarke Central, ran on the Wildcat "D" in '89.

Here's how it all happened:
Game One -
Valdosta 34, Camden County 0 - The first of six shutouts on the year, the season-opener at Cleveland Field was actually a close game until the Cats scored 20 points in the fourth quarter. But Camden's offense had little to do with it, as the visitors from St. Mary's were held to ZERO first downs and minus-25 yards total offense. Contributing on defense for Valdosta were tackle Robert Fillmore's fumble recovery and Trampis Wrice's interception to set up a score.

Valdosta used Hitson and Cotton at quarterback for 90 passing yards, 26 of those coming on a TD from Cotton to Carlos Moore. Tailback Joe Wright picked up 59 yards on 12 carries for one score, and kicker Dow Drury had a 34-yard field goal and four perfect PATs. VHS also got scoring runs from Chris Chachere and Albert Edmonds.

Game Two -
Valdosta 24, GreeneTaliaferro 0 - Another bruising performance by the defense earned Valdosta its second victory at Cleveland Field, as Class AA Greene could muster but 57 total yards and two first downs. The offense kicked in with 271 total yards, three touchdowns, and a 32-yard field goal by Drury. Carlos Parker and Joe Wright divided 141 yards rushing, Parker broke paydirt twice, and Tracy Smothers snagged a 27-yard scoring toss from Hitson.

Defensively, Adrian Lewis and Chris Hart each had a pass theft, while down linemen George Copeland and Andre Hampton, along with linebacker Bruce Daniels, enjoyed a night of harassing Tiger runners.

Game Three -
Valdosta 41, Waycross 18 - These two teams are making a habit of playing wild games. VHS jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead on Parker's 1-yard dive and Carlos Moore's 21-yard reception from Hitson, following a fumble recovery by linebacker Anthony Williams. But Waycross did a number on the Cats when quarterback Jake Fleming craftily faked a bootleg before finding B.J. Marshall behind the Valdosta secondary for a 69-yard touchdown. VHS got one, and Waycross two, more scores before the half to make it 21-18 Cats at intermission.

After receiving proper motivation from Mr. Rudolph and Company at halftime, the 'Dosta defense shut down the Bulldogs for the final two periods, adding a score of their own when Anthony Williams recovered a 'Dog fumble in the end zone. Carlos Parker finished with 111 yards on 22 trips and four touchdowns.

Game Four -
Valdosta 35, Northside Warner Robins 0 - Parker ran over, through, around, behind, in front of, and under the Eagles of Northside for 229 yards on 23 carries and three scores. Parker had 197 yards at halftime and sat out the final 1-1/2 quarters. Fullback Shawn Gay also got in on the scoring when he took a short pass from Hitson and rambled 55 yards to cross the stripe.
Several sacks by defensive ends Fred Henton and Dexter Daniels kept the Eagles bottled up all night long, and Joe Wright had several impressive punt returns. It was
Valdosta's 34th consecutive regular-season victory.

Game Five -
Valdosta 38, Statesboro 7 - Playing in Statesboro for the first time ever, the Cats spotted the Blue Devils an early touchdown by Tony Grant, following a fumble deep in Devil territory. But that was it for Grant and his teammates, as they would finish with only 98 total yards. Grant, who ended the season as the second most-prolific runner in the state in '89, was "held" to 89 yards, the most any runner would get on Valdosta during the year.

For the go-team, Parker again had a great night, scoring three times and gaining 147 yards behind crisp blocking by Matthew Butler, Kevin Wilkerson, Jaret Johnson, Jason Peters, Brooks Akins, Shaun Eilders, Kevin Mitchell, and Mickey McSwain.
Quarterbacks Hitson and Cotton combined for an un-Valdosta-like 171 passing yards, with Cotton spotting Carlos Folsom for a 57-yard tally. Wright added a nifty, twisting 32-yard punt return for a score.

Game Six -
Valdosta 23, Bainbridge 0 - A bruising 'Dosta defense brutalized the Bearcats of Bainbridge, holding them to minus-11 yards total offense in the sub-region opener at Valdosta. Relentless rushing by Copeland, Fillmore, Daniels, Hampton, Henton and Eric Phillips crushed the Bearcats' chances, while the somewhat sluggish VHS offense found enough juice to rack up three scores and 215 rushing yards. 'Cat Cornerback Marshun Lane returned an intercepted pass to the Bainbridge four to set up one of two scores by Wright, and Parker busted a 38-yarder up the gut for another. Drury booted a 32-yard field goal to finish the scoring.

Game Seven - Colquitt County 7 - Valdosta 0 - Blame it on (take your pick): 1) The cameras of ABC-TV's "20-20" show, in town filming a feature on Wildcat football; 2) Fan complacency; 3) The way the stars were positioned; or 4) Colquitt simply shut down Valdosta's offense and executed a perfect option-pitch to score the only TD necessary.

In reality, it was almost all of number 4, although some fans, coaches, and players said the cameras did change the focus of preparing for this game. For whatever reason, Coach Jim Hughes' Packers beat the Cats by holding them to only 108 yards rushing and 45 passing. It was the first regular-season home shutout for
Valdosta since 1974, when VHS lost 40-0 to Thomasville, coached by - guess who? - Jim Hughes.

Colquitt's Spindola Merritt took a pitch right and scooted 26 yards with
4:30 left in the fourth period for the game's only score. It was the only time the Packers were on the Valdosta side of the 50 the entire game. Meanwhile, the Wildcats' offense got close four times - three times inside the Colquitt 4-yard line - but came up with nothing. Hitson's pass over the middle at the Pack 25 with seconds left was intercepted to clinch the win for Colquitt. The Wildcats had lost on national TV, although the taped show would air a few weeks later.

Game Eight -
Valdosta 14, Tift County 7 - This one would've made the NFL instant-replay officials pull their hair out. Trailing 14-7 with a minute left and looking at second and goal from the Valdosta one-yard line, lifts Ricky Jennings was ruled by two officials to have scored just before he fumbled the ball at the goal line. But two other officials - including the head referee - ruled the play a fumble, erasing the Devils' opportunity to go for a tie or a win. The Cats then ran out the clock to end the game.

Before all of that,
Valdosta went up 7-0 in the second on Gay's 1-yard plunge. The Blue Devils answered, however, with Jennings' 1-yard run. Tift's 7-6 lead held until 7:53 in the fourth when Valdosta's Joe Wright sped 3- yards for a score, barely escaping the grasp of a Devil defender.

Game Nine -
Valdosta 10, Coffee County 3 - The season would turn around for the Wildcats in the friendly ,confines of Jardine Stadium outside Douglas, Ga. in late October. Facing possible elimination from the region playoffs for the first time in 15 years, Valdosta packed up its players, coaches, band, cheerleaders, fans and - most importantly, the Cleveland Field "Ghost" - to do battle with the suddenly fearsome, 8-0, fourth-ranked in the state, Coffee High Trojans.

A 3-0 Coffee halftime lead had
Valdosta feeling nervous, as the offense had so far been unable to generate any threat, while the defense held the Trojans except for the field goal. And then then Hitson got it started, breaking several tackles as he picked his way for 30 yards on the first play of the third stanza. The Trojans held, but then the Cats held Coffee, which then punted to pint-sized Carlos Moore. Moore zipped down the right sideline to the Trojan 12. From there, Parker took a nowpatented option pitch right from Hitson and raced into the end zone.

After the first of two pass thefts by Chris Hart, the Cats clinched it with a pressure-packed 25-yard field goal by Drury. The Cats were in the playoffs again.

Game Ten -
Valdosta 17, Lowndes 0- The "Game In Which All Records Are Thrown Out The Window" was just that, as the 2-7 Vikings gave 8-1 Valdosta all it wanted. Drury's 25-yard field goal and Wright's 37-yard catch from Hitson put the Cats up 10-0 at halftime. After a scoreless third, VHS put it away with Parker's 44-yard gallop. The senior runner would finish with 150 yards for the night.

Valdosta contained the Vikes' talented junior Jeffrey Thomas, holding him and his teammates to 51 total yards.

Game Eleven -
Valdosta 21, Shaw 12 - Valdosta's loss to Colquitt meant that the Wildcats, as the second-place team in 1-AAAA (South), would have to hit the road for the playoffs. In Columbus against Shaw, the Cats appeared to be sailing at halftime, as three touchdowns gave them a 21-0 lead. One of those scores came on what most fans would agree was the greatest play all season by Valdosta, and one of the most incredible in several years.

Diminutive Carlos Moore fielded a Shaw punt at his own 15-yard line in the second quarter. Apparently boxed in by at least five would-be tacklers,
Moore faked left, then right, then did a 360-degree spin. His tacklers all grabbed at air as Moore miraculously slipped them and started heading upfield, picking up a few blockers. All of the Shaw defenders were taken out, one-by-one, by 'Dosta blockers - all except one, who was closing in on Moore and would apparently reach him in time to make the tackle.

But Moore had one fellow Wildcat left to help him - teammate Frederick Henton, whose trademark white towel, stuffed down the back of his pants, was nearly horizontal as Henton came flying over to try to block Moore's tackler. With perfect timing and perfect positioning, Henton plowed into the tackler, who never knew what hit him, and
Moore coasted into the end zone for an 85-yard TD.

Despite the 21-0 halftime lead, the Cats coughed up five fumbles in the second half, allowing Shaw to score twice and have a real shot at winning the game. VHS held on though, and the long-awaited rematch loomed next.

Game Twelve -
Valdosta 20, Colquitt County 7 - The Wildcats got what they wanted: a chance to atone for their only loss of the year and to win their fourth straight Region title.

Ironically, this night is when ABC would broadcast the program it had done which centered around Colquitt's win in the first game. It was dubbed the "VCR Bowl", as
Valdosta fans at this game in Moultrie would be unable to see the 10:00 p.m. airing on live TV.

Before a jam-packed Mack Tharpe Stadium crowd, Valdosta dug deep into its tradition bag, displaying a gritty determination that left no doubt as to their newly-crowned status as Region Champions, 1989. And the Cats did it with nothing fancy - just a renewed strength on plays which the Packers had stopped in the first meeting, and with a particularly ferocious defensive effort.

Parker's two short runs in the first half gave VHS a 14-0 intermission lead. And a third-quarter drive, featuring a successful fake punt run by Henton and capped by Hitson's 1-yard sneak, put the Cats in good shape at 20-0.

To their credit, however, the Packers didn't quit, scoring once on a 53-yard pass from Bucky Goff to Nathaniel Lewis, and getting close near the end of the game before a
Valdosta interception in the end zone sealed the victory.

It was a sugary-sweet win, and for the first time all season,
Valdosta (its fans, anyway) began to think that this team was special, and they just might have a chance at winning the whole thing.

Game Thirteen -
Valdosta 42, Brunswick 0 - Returning to Cleveland Field for the first time in five weeks, the Cats finally shook the "13th-game jinx", dominating a Brunswick team which was playing in its first-ever state playoff game.

Most of the damage came late after
Valdosta had built a 13-0 halftime lead. But despite the final margin, one play could have turned the entire game around, and it was made by - who else? - Fred Henton.

Get the picture:
Brunswick had blocked an Eric Philips punt only to be stopped by the Cats on a fake field goal attempt. Valdosta then drove the field to score, with Chris Chachere doing the honors from five yards out to make it 13-0 Cats.

On the ensuing kickoff,
Brunswick's Okera Grant took the ball at his own four, found a seam, and sped upfield, having outraced all defenders. Everyone in the stadium, including Grant himself.thought he had a clear shot to paydirt.

Everyone that is, except Henton, who literally came out of nowhere to chase down Grant at the 'Dosta nine-yard line. Films would show that Henton, as a kickoff team member, raced down to about the
Brunswick 35 before realizing that Grant had broken free. Then, igniting his afterburners and extending his "horizontal stabilizer" (as one fan called his white towel), Henton hit warp speed to run down Grant.

On the next play, 'Dosta intercepted
Brunswick and the game was basically over at that point. The Wildcats finished with 320 yards rushing, Parker getting 156 and Chachere 118. The D-Cats earned their sixth shutout in holding the Pirates to 16 (that's S-I-X-T-E-E-N) total yards.

The Wildcats played everyone dressed out, and the seniors said good-bye to Cleveland Field, as it would be their last game at home.

Game Fourteen -
Valdosta 24, LaGrange 13 - A four-hour bus drive to LaGrange to face the state's "most dangerous" quarterback was next for the Wildcats, who were rapidly becoming a team of destiny. The Grangers' Rodney Hudson, only a sophomore, had accumulated over 2,000 yards passing and running in the first 13 games.

But in weather which was absolutely miserable - driving wind, rain and sleet, temperatures in the low 30s, and the field turned into a greasy mud bowl - the Wildcats stopped Hudson and Company.
Valdosta drove 77 yards for an early score, and following a LaGrange fumble, went up 12-0 with seven minutes to go before halftime.

That's when
Hudson got cranked up, hitting Tracy Heard behind the 'Dosta secondary to make it a shaky 12-7 VHS lead. Later, just before halftime, the Grangers nailed a punt down at the Valdosta 1-yard line. On first down, the Cats fumbled it away, and LaGrange capitalized to go up 13-12.

Joe Wright returned the second-half kickoff 52 yards to LaGrange's 35 to put
Valdosta in business. Eight runs later - the Wildcats would not throw the ball all night long - VHS scored on Chachere's 2-yard dive, making it a precarious 18-13 game in the Cats' favor.

After a half-dozen punt or turnover exchanges, with Valdosta putting heavy pressure on Hudson, the game came down to one last shot by the Grangers. Three straight passes were batted down by Wildcat defenders Trampis Wrice and
Travis Lane.
Then, with the clock running out,
Hudson rolled to his left, looking for a man in the end zone. Sandwiched by two Valdosta headhunters as he released the ball. Hudson threw a "pop-up" into the waiting arms of Wildcat noseguard Andre Hampton. The senior, who runs anchor on the Cats' 400-meter relay team, then raced untouched down the right sidelines for a 50-yard bizarre interception touchdown to end the game.

Somehow, the team that few people gave a chance to was now playing for the state championship.

Game Fifteen -
Valdosta 33, Clarke Central 13 - Like Valdosta, Clarke Central was in the state title game to the surprise of its supporters. The Gladiators lost their first three games (one later ruled a win by forfeit), and had upset number-one ranked Southwest DeKalb 21-20 a week earlier.

But none of the
Valdosta folks doubted Clarke's right to be in this game, as the Gladiators had what appeared to be a dozen gifted athletes averaging 6-foot-3, 240 pounds or so.

But the Wildcats knew that heart could beat talent, in spite of what one sportswriter had written in predicting a Clarke win. How else would you explain the fumble on the opening kickoff (described by Coach Jack Rudolph as the turning point in the game)? Or how could you explain the 30-yard touchdown pass from a scrambling Alton Hitson to a falling Tracy Smothers to put the Cats up 7-0?
And finally, how do you explain the third quarter, which saw
Valdosta score two touchdowns, on long runs by Parker and Hitson, and hold Clarke to 27 total yards? As Hyder said later, "I guess we peaked tonight. And the state championship game is a good time to peak, don't you think?"

The Wildcats truly saved their best 'til last, and the game was really more lopsided than the score indicated. The Cats were stopped once inside the Clarke three, and the Gladiators scored their second touchdown on the game's last play with a desperation pass against the
Valdosta third-team defense, which had only nine players in the game on that play.

Valdosta outgained Central in total yards 299-138. Parker finished with 127 yards and three scores to give him 1,675 yards and 25 TDs for the year.

So that's the story of how perhaps one of the most unlikely
Valdosta teams clawed its way to the top of the heap.

It was a good way to end the year for the senior Cats, who finished with a four-year record of 53-3, with four region, two state, and one national championship to their credit.

It was also a good way to end it for the "Boneyard Leader," Defensive Line Coach Freddie Waters, who retired at the end of the '89-'90 school year. Waters has been turning out superb defensive lines at
Valdosta since 1974, and is the primary reason for the Cats' vaunted rushing defense this season.

Finally, it was a good way to end the 1980's, a decade which saw Valdosta High School:
- win 125 out of 135 games (93%), a state record;
- win seven region titles;
- appear in all 10 region title games;
- win four state titles; - and win two national titles.

Included in the overall record for the decade is a regular-season mark of 96 wins and only four losses.

And the team which many had written off after the loss to Colquitt actually was recognized on a national basis once again. USA Today newspaper had the Cats ranked 11th in its final "Super 25" poll of teams in the country. Also, the nation's oldest prep football ranking, the National Sports News Service, placed
Valdosta as the seventh best team in America.

Hyder summed up the year properly.

"We enjoyed the struggle," he said. "That's what it's all about."

And then with a smile, "We just never quit."

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