1972 prep classic still brings fond memories

By Allen LaMountain

   On October 6 1972, the Tennessee High Vikings and the Elizabethton Cyclones played a "game for the ages."
   Two unbeaten squads -- that also were conference rivals -- met on the Brown-Chidress Stadium turf, and in the next three hours or so, played a game that is still talked about to this day. On the 30th anniversary of that contest, I talked to several 'Betsy players who did battle on that day to see how they remembered things.
   "For me, I'm just proud to have played in that game, and with so many good players that went on and played major college ball," said Joe Alexander, a center on that 'Betsy team. "It's disappointing not to win, and over the years people have second-guessed what we should have done and could have done, but in the end it was all decided on the football field."
   For Dale Fair, who went on to star at the University of Tennessee, he also looks back fondly, but wishes it could have worked out in the Cyclones' favor, saying, "There were some controversial calls and it was a big game for both teams, in front of a packed house.
   "We fell behind early, but managed to get ourselves back into the game in the third quarter. THS was a dominating team in those days, and they could score on you so quick, but we stuck with them and we are proud of that."
   These two school combined to send 12 players to major college programs including Georgia Tech, Georgia, Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Knoxville, so there was no shortage of talent on either side of the ball.
   On the sidelines stood legends like EHS coach Lynn Goddard and Vikings head coach John Cropp, who reportedly said after the contest that: "No team has given my boys a physical beating like Elizabethton did. They are a fine football club. They ran the ball right at us."
   In the game 'Betsy fell behind at the half by three scores, giving the Vikings a 21-0 lead at the break. Vikings halfback Gil Kyle took the ball on the game's first play and went 80 yards for the score.
   "They ran the veer offense, and in those days people didn't know how to defend that offense," said Cyclone coach Steve McKinney, who had a pivotal interception in that contest. "But Coach Goddard had put us through some tough, tough practices and we knew that if we could keep it close that we would physically wear them down."
   Later in the period a short 'Betsy punt led to another THS score, but after another possession the Vikings were forced to punt. Here is where controversy reared its ugly head as Fair bolted 75 yards for an apparent touchdown that was called back for a clipping penalty.
   "For a long while Coach Goddard poured over that film to find the clip, and he never could," said Alexander. "Finally, it came to a point where he had worn that piece of the tape out so bad that he asked Tommy Jenkins to fix it.
   "Tommy told me later that he cut that part of the tape out so 'Coach wouldn't run himself crazy over it,' and told Coach Goddard that he couldn't fix it. I think Tommy still has that piece of tape in his desk somewhere."
   For 'Betsy, as gloomy as it was being down at the break, Fair said that: "We knew we were physically better prepared that they were. They were sucking air at that point, and Coach Goddard had worked our tails off, so we still had something left in the second half."
   Had 'Betsy simply gone quietly in that second half no one would probably remember a thing about the contest, but this is where things got good.
   Halfback Don Buckles scored on the opening drive of the second half for EHS to give 'Betsy a boost and cut the Vikings lead to 21-7.
   Then on Tennessee High's next possession Vikings wingback Eddie Hirsh fumbled and the Cyclones recovered. Four plays later quarterback John Norris lugged the pigskin into the end zone and Norris also converted on the two-pointer to make it 21-15.
   Late in the fourth period McKinney picked off a pass, putting 'Betsy at the Vikings 15-yard line with under eight minutes remaining.
   With two minutes left, the Cyclones had the ball at the Viking four-yard line with a first-and-goal.
   "We had four shots at the end zone and came up empty," recalled Alexander. "We ran left and got nowhere on first down, and it came down to fourth down and goal from the 11 after Norris was dropped for a loss, and his pass was intercepted in the end zone."
   Fair recalled that at the time: "For a 17-year old kid, it's just another game. We didn't know at the time how much this game meant to the people in this town, and how long folks would remember it. But it was a big game for the community. It was a chance to compete for a state championship -- the first since 1938 -- but it just wasn't meant to be.
   "The thing that hurts is that it affected Coach Goddard after the TSSAA refused to uphold our protest. I don't think he ever got over it, and those who knew him could tell you."
   For McKinney, who was a junior on that squad, his take was: "We left everything we had on that field that day. Everything had been taken away, but you knew you gave it the best you had, and that's all you can do."
   For Alexander, he summed it up by saying: "If things were like they are today, we would have had a chance to play them again down the road. That would have really been a game."