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.
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
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
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, CamdenCounty 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.
Offensively, 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 ,
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
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? -
Colquitt's Spindola Merritt took a pitch right and scooted 26 yards with 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 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
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.
Defensively, Valdosta contained the Vikes'
talented junior Jeffrey Thomas, holding him and his teammates to 51 total
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
And then with a smile, "We just never quit."
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