We’re 18 days from the start of the 2017 football season so we’re at number 18 on our countdown of the 50 best games to have been played in Bearcat Stadium, which will on Sept. 1, open its gates for its 50th season.
Today we’ll squeak by the west neighbors on Highway 10, yet again, in 1973.
Why was this game chosen? In only its sixth season of operation, Bearcat Stadium saw its, then, largest crowd at a game, an estimated 3,000. Those in attendance saw Booneville nail down a conference title with an 8-7 win over the Greenwood Bulldogs.
What do I remember? I’ve said this before but I would be willing to wager I was there since it was this season I started attending Booneville football games, but telling you anything other than Bruce Ray was my favorite player would likely be a lie, or at best an accidental truth.
What does Mike Cauthon remember? It was all on the line for the district championship that late October evening. As a team we had set goals before the season, the main goal was to play in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock which required winning the district championship because back then only the district/conference champions made the playoffs.
The Popsicle Gang again went unscored upon as Green-woods only score came via and interception return in the first half and the kicked extra point. The 7-0 score stood until the fourth quarter when the Bearcat offense mounted a drive to score the touchdown on a sweep.
We went for the two point conversion and Bruce Ray muscled the ball into the end zone. The referee’s signal that the conversion was good was delayed and the tension was great. When the referee finally gave the good signal it was amazing how loud the stadium was.
But, the drama wasn’t over. Greenwood with star QB Donnie Sandifer drove the ball down the field as Sandifer was spot-on with his passes. With our backs against the wall, defensive back Chuck Parker made a leaping interception in the end-zone to preserve the win. Chuck was surrounded by the defensive offering congratulations and back slaps. You would think that Chuck would have been elated, which I’m sure he was, but there was a problem in that when Chuck landed with the interception he came down on the football knocking the breath out of him. He was gasping for breath all the way to the sideline and once there received more congratulatory back slaps which he still didn’t need at that point.
The thing that has always stood out to me about that game was that even though we were a senior laden team it was two lower classmen who made the key plays to insure the victory. We were especially happy for Chuck Parker who suddenly and tragically lost his dad, Dr. Bill Parker just two weeks prior. Junior Bruce Ray was a star week in and week out and Junior Chuck was a solid contributor, week in and week out. The lesson learned was that while each member of that entire team was gifted with different degrees of ability and talent, we all contributed and played well together and the whole was much greater than the sum of the parts, especially as was evidenced that October night.
What happened? The Bearcats marched to the Greenwood 13-yard line to start the game but ran out of downs. A couple possessions later the Bearcats started on their own 20 and Ricky Holcomb, on first down, was trying to hit Ricky Lunsford with a pass but Ronnie Williams picked it off and went 35 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Greenwood lead.
Moving the ball for the Bearcats was not impossible they just couldn’t finish a drive. Before the half they drove from their 33 to the Greenwood 11 and from their 22 the to the Bulldog 32 only to run out of downs again on the former, and time on the later, so the first half ended with the Bulldogs up by the same 7-0.
The second half started with more of the same. After forcing a Greenwood punt the Bearcats moved from their 20 to the Bulldog 16 but couldn't score.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, starting from their own 37, the Bearcats went 63 yards behind Ray, Mike Farris and Lunsford before Ray scored from the 3 with 6:17 to go to make it 7-6. He also added the extra two that would win it. Did I mention he was the favorite of a 9-year old.
Greenwood actually had the ball twice more before it ended. Parker's interception was perhaps more heroic since it was in the end zone but Brian Mueller picked off another one in the final minute.
Ray had 139 yards on 27 carries that night as the offense rolled up 305 yards. Defensively it was Bob Lovett with 12 and Glen Fritsche with 11 tackles throwing the shutout against the Bulldog offense.
Tomorrow for number 17 we’ll go back to the future, so to speak.