By: R. Alan Richardson, Sports Editor
The 1990 season would turn out to be the best that Morgan County had seen in 28 years. Not since the 1962 state championship team, coached by Bill Corry, had a Morgan squad won a state playoff game. The team went 10-3 with two of those losses coming at the hands of eventual state champs Lincoln County in Class A and Pepperell in Class AA. 2015 is the 25th anniversary of that fantastic season. Head Coach Alvin Richardson came to MCHS in 1987 to replace Wayne Bradshaw and he had a tough act to follow. Bradshaw had put the Dogs back on the map and was a perennial winner in 4-AA sporting an overall record of 86-52-3 while making the playoffs seven of the 12 years he coached. The first two seasons for Richardson saw losing records posted, but in his third year the team turned the corner going 6-5 to make the region playoffs losing 21-7 to Greene County. His fourth season in 1990 would turn out to be his best at the Morgan County helm.
The head coach said, “It was a remarkable year. We opened the season ranked fourth in the state based on our previous year’s success and the number of returning starters we had. I thought that ranking was a little lofty, but we also felt that if we got some breaks and could keep our injuries to a minimum that we could compete with most teams in AA. However, it was also a tragic year as well because D’Angelo Warren suffered a catastrophic paralyzing neck injury in the Putnam game.”
Morgan lost the opener to Lincoln 9-0 then went on a tear winning five straight against Greene 6-0 (OT), Oconee 27-14, Harlem 28-7, Putnam 13-7 (OT), and Washington County 3-0. The always tough Washington-Wilkes Tigers stopped the streak winning 10-8 before the Dogs won out defeating Jones County 20-17, Monroe Area 40-14, and Hancock Central 29-12. Richardson commented, “I didn’t even attend the Hancock game as I missed the first game of my life in the hospital with dangerously high blood pressure. The guys came through and didn’t miss a beat to win the game.”
Morgan was headed for the region playoffs to face another of their biggest rivals, the Greene County Tigers. The Dogs had defeated Greene earlier that season in a close, intense, and physical game like it always was. Morgan trailed at halftime 7-0 but Ken Floyd returned the second half kickoff to put his team in business. The extra point was wide making the score 7-6. Morgan then went on two long drives of 78 and 51 yards to seal the deal and put the Dogs in the state playoffs for the first time since 1977. Key players in the game included Marcus Gibbs, Cedric Robertson, Shane Ewing, and Brian Garrison.
The Dogs were now bound for state to face an undefeated (11-0) and highly ranked Cedar Grove team. They were favored by the Atlanta Journal to win the game. Coach Richardson stated, “Our team had survived an extremely tough region and I felt we would be competitive even though Cedar Grove had more skill athletes. The game took on added significance because D’Angelo Warren was present on the sidelines for the first time since his injury. This gave all of us a much needed emotional lift.” For the fifth straight game the Dogs came from behind in a significant and historical win.
Cedar Grove took first blood on a Morgan fumble early in the game that ended up in a touchdown on a very short field to go ahead 6-0. Morgan then recovered a fumble on Cedar Grove’s 32, went in after five plays on a four yard run by Robertson, and got the PAT from Garrison to take a 7-6 lead. The head coach observed, “During the first period and remainder of the game, fullbacks Richard Hubbard and Jason Smith established a threat in the middle of the defense that was one of the keys to the game.” The Saints responded with a long drive and capitalized on it to take a 13-7 lead into halftime. “Coach Steve Cisson, our defensive coordinator, made some adjustments at the half and we owned them on both sides of the ball the remainder of the game,” said Richardson.
Cedar Grove only mustered 30 yards while MCHS was piling up 175 in the second half. They took the lead again in the third quarter when Robertson went 46 yards for the score and Garrison made the all-important extra point to take the lead for good 14-13. On the next possession Cedar Grove snapped the ball over the punter’s head that resulted in a safety and the Dogs went up 16-13. On the next possession the home town boys ripped down the field in seven plays that covered 64 yards with the exclamation point coming off the legs of Robertson again to go up 23-13. “The last drive we added three to the lead after going 78 yards on 13 plays and Garrison nailing the field goal with 5:40 left and that was the way it ended. The win put us in the quarterfinals and ended the 28 year drought without a state playoff win.” Richardson said with a smile. What loomed next was a matchup with the undefeated and second ranked Pepperell Dragons coached by former UGA player and captain, Lynn Hunnicuttt. Pepperell had to go on the road to face the Dogs in hostile territory. Richardson commented, “Their visit to Legion Field produced the biggest crowd that I have ever seen in my 28 years back in Morgan County. They controlled both lines of scrimmage and we had no answer for tailback Frankie Fletcher behind the best offensive line I’ve ever witnessed. We turned in a gritty defensive effort in the second half holding them scoreless, but the damage had been done with the 21 point first half. We couldn’t find a way to move the ball consistently losing 21-0 to the eventual AA state champs. Our Bulldogs ended up ranked seventh in the state.”
Coach Cisson discussed that team, “We had a team reunion about two years ago and had some tape from that year. The one thing that popped out at me was the sheer speed of the defense and how fast they played. Our two linebackers, Trellis Worrell and Mike McCauley, were as good a duo as I’ve ever coached. That team was flat-out tough, in shape, and hard-nosed. They would hit you in the mouth. Cedric Robertson was great at weak side corner which is probably the toughest position on the field, Chad Smith was great at filling lanes, Mike Chapman was one tough defensive tackles I’ve coached, and Shane Ewing gave us terrific run support. We were a ball control team that were hard to run on and stopped the run very well.” Coach Richardson made these final remarks, “Remember that there were only two teams that made the state playoffs then. That little team didn’t have any superstars and we only had one player to make All-State (Mike McCauley). We did have several who made All-Area (Trellis Worrell LB, Mike McCauley LB, Cedric Robertson RB, Michael Chapman DT, Carlos Crutchfield NG, Richard Hubbard FB, Shane Ewing SS, and Marcus Gibbs QB) with the Lake Oconee Free Press, but this was a team with great chemistry. We had eight players that played both ways. They were the kinds of kids that just didn’t like to lose and on top of that we had a very tight-knit coaching staff.”
Three of the coaches on that staff have never coached in but one place, Morgan County High School. Donald Harris was a long-time football assistant and varsity basketball head coach, Allen Crowley is still an active member of the MCHS football staff as the defensive coordinator today, and Steve Cisson is in, what is thought to be, his final year as the Athletic Director. These men have all given so much to the Morgan County football program and the kids of this community. I hope we all recognize the sacrifices and dedication that sometimes goes unnoticed behind the scenes. We should all applaud what they not only accomplished in 1990, but over the many years that they have helped guide our children. Note: The only other state playoff win by an MCHS team since then came in 2012 when they defeated Gordon Central 24-21. According to head Coach Bill Malone, GC decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal in the waning seconds of the game. After a QB scramble, current football coach Carter Shultz tackled him on the one yard line to save the day.