By Alvin Richardson
(Author’s note: You can read about these seasons in the book It’s a Dawg’s Life – 60 Years of Morgan County Football available at Madison Drug.)
Winning region titles in football is a quirky business. First off you have to have a bunch of good players, sound coaching and strong community support. Those ingredients however are sometimes not enough. Unless the team is dominant you just about always have to have a smidgen of good fortune. That break might come in the form of a key fumble recovery, a clutch play at just the right moment or a referee’s call that goes your way in a big game.
Most often however, especially in smaller schools like Morgan County, it comes in the form of staying healthy. Because many of your best players often times go both ways an injury to one of these guys is like losing two people. If the injury bug strikes two of your best guys – well it is difficult to overcome. There’s also this – you might have a good team but wind up in a region that has three or four other strong squads or just one team that is clearly better than the rest.
So there are lots of moving parts in winning a region title.
Of course nowadays you don’t have to win the region title to get into the state playoffs – four teams from each region (eight regions in each classification) get to go but it wasn’t always like that. Prior to 1990 only the region champ advanced to the state playoffs (although there were often times region playoffs). That format nearly always left at least one worthy team in each region out in the cold. In 1990 the GHSA changed the format to allow two teams from each region into the state playoffs and in 1996 expanded the state playoffs to the current format of four from each region.
From a historical aspect Morgan County has won 10 region titles since 1948 and each one has been special in its own way. Here’s a quick rundown on how each of those teams accomplished that monumental feat.
1955 Region Champs and State Champs / 13-0
Coach – Charlie Brake
In Coach Charlie Brake’s second and final season at Morgan County the Bulldogs were a dominant team who won the school’s first state title. They were led by All-State fullback Bob Mason, quarterback Snooks Saye and captains Frank Eaton and Eugene Sidwell. They ran roughshod over their opponents and were one of the best defensive squads in school history (5.8 ppg). The key regular season win was over Washington-Wilkes who’s only loss (27-13) was to Morgan County. The Dogs defeated South Habersham 13-6 in the region final in a game played at Sanford Stadium and then went on to defeat Carrollton 20-7 in the state semifinals and then Vidalia 21-12 in the state title game.
1956 Region Champs and State Champs / 12-0-1 / Coach – Bill Corry
Bill Corry’s first team suffered a tie in the season opener against Rockdale County and then ran off 12 straight wins on their way to the Class B state title. This was the best defensive team in school history surrendering just 3.5 points per game on the year. They had to beat rival Washington-Wilkes twice. They turned that trick by stopping them in the regular season game (14-6) and again just two weeks later in the region championship game (33-7). For the second year in a row those were the only two games that Wilkes lost. The Bulldogs were led by All-State players Snooks Saye (QB) and Bo Orr (End). That team was captained by Marvin Ruark and Saye. Morgan then went on to defeat Trion 26-0 in the semifinals and took down Blakely-Union in the finals for Morgan County’s second straight state championship.
1958 Region Champs and State Champs / 12-1
Coach – Bill Corry
Much like the 1956 team the 1958 Morgan County squad had a dominant defense. They gave up only 52 points in 13 games (4.0) which made them the second best in school history. After dropping their opening game to Class AA Newton County 6-0 (Morgan was in Class B) the Bulldogs ran off 12 straight wins on their way to another state title. After going 9-1 in the regular season the Dogs shut out Rabun County 19-0 in a region playoff contest, trounced Tucker 26-0 for the region title, sneaked past Fort Valley 12-6 in the state semifinals and then took down Mitchell County 20-7 for their third state title in four years. The 1958 team was led by All- State player and Back of the Year Jake Saye, All-State end Neal Vason and All-State tackle Jackie Tumlin. Team captains were Felton Jenkins, Vason and Tumlin.
1959 Region Champs and State Champs / 14-0 / Coach – Bill Corry
The 1959 Bulldog squad was the second team in school history to go through a season with a perfect record. The team averaged 28.3 points per game (5th best in MCHS history) and gave up just 4.5 points per outing (4th best all-time). They also posted eight shutouts which is a school record. As usual the key game of the year was a 13-12 win over Washington-Wilkes in which Neal Vason scored both TD’s and ran in the deciding extra point (at that time one point was awarded for a run, pass or kick on the PAT). The Bulldogs dispatched Tallulah Falls 41-12 in a region playoff game then shut out Rockdale County 27-0 for their fourth region title in five years. In the state playoffs Morgan routed Villa Rica 21-6 and then pulled out a last second 7-0 win over Brooks County in the state title game for the school’s fourth Class B championship. The team was led by All-State players Neal Vason (E), Bobby Tamplin (QB), Charles Ruark (B), Bonar Newton (B), Jerry Hilsman (T), Branham Garth (E), Ray Bennett (B) and Charles Bell (G). Team captains were Jerry Hilsman and Neal Vason.
1961 Region Champs and State Semifinalist / 11-1-1 / Coach – Bill Corry
The 1961 edition of Morgan County’s Bulldogs were a young group who nearly pulled off another state title. A solid offensive team, MCHS scored 25.0 points per game but again made their living on defense giving up just 5.7 points per game to their opponents. The only blemish of the regular season was a 6-6 tie to a powerful Thomson team. They came through with a hard-fought 18-13 win over Washington-Wilkes in the regular season finale to capture the sub-region title and then had to survive what amounted to two region title games (in a rare scenario the region was divided into three sub-regions). They took down Rabun County 26-0 in the first one and then Tucker (22-7) in the second stanza of that wacky region set-up to advance. They then played Fort Valley in the state semifinals and for the first and only time in Bill Corry’s career the Bulldogs lost (9-7) a state playoff contest. See my book to get the details on that one – it’s interesting. The team was led by All-State end James Taylor along with the twins Bill and Bob McWhorter and guard John Shockley. Team captains Taylor and Jerry Gilbert.
1962 Region Champs and State Champs / 14-0 / Coach – Bill Corry
In Bill Corry’s final season the ultra-successful coach produced what many believe to be Morgan County’s best team ever. The Bulldogs scored 31.7 point per game (tops in school history) and gave up just 5.7 points per game for an average differential of 26.0 points per game. Many of those points scored by opponents were after the game had been decided and because the Bulldogs beat their first nine opponents so badly the second unit defense was on the field a great deal. Game 10 was a different story. Morgan County nipped arch-rival Washington-Wilkes 3-0 in one of the greatest games ever played at Legion Field (later to become Bill Corry Stadium at Legion Field.) Bob McWhorter kicked a 25 yard field goal in the fourth quarter to provide the margin of victory and propel Morgan to the sub-region title. The Dogs then obliterated their final four opponents by a combined score of 124 to 26 including a 39-7 pasting of Hawkinsville in the state title game. Morgan County was led by All-State players Bill McWhorter (B) and John Shockley (G) but this was a team full of stars like Bob McWhorter, Troy Lancaster and Otha Knight. Team captains were Lancaster and Shockley.
1977 Region Champs / 8-3-1 / Coach Wayne Bradshaw
Morgan County fans had to wait 15 long years for their next region title. Under Coach Wayne Bradshaw it looked like they might get it in 1974 but the Dogs were nipped 3-0 on penetration by Harlem in the region finals to spoil an undefeated season. The 1977 season didn’t start off looking like it would amount to much. The Bulldogs suffered through a tie and two losses to open the campaign but then came roaring back with eight straight wins. The key was a 20-6 win over Putnam County to secure the sub-region title and a date with – you guessed it – Washington-Wilkes for the region championship. Morgan prevailed 27-7 in that one led by Charles Taylor who rushed for 188 yards on 21 carries. The season ended in the state quarterfinals when the Bulldogs lost 12-7 to Jeff Davis in a game that was marked by a 75 yard TD pass from Allen Crowley to Melvin Carter that was nullified by penalty. Charles Taylor was an All-State running back on a team that featured other stars such as Allen Crowley, Willie Little, Tracy Franklin and John Ruark.
2002 Region Champs / 9-3 / Coach Kenny Moore
In an unprecedented drought the Bulldogs hadn’t won a region title in 25 years. Coach Kenny Moore’s 2002 team broke that drought by going undefeated in Region 7AA and soundly thrashing second place Washington-Wilkes 30-6. The season started slowly with losses to Central Macon and Commerce but the Dogs then rattled off nine straight wins, including all seven of their region contests to capture the crown. The team was strong on both sides of the ball averaging 27.1 points on offense (8th best in school history) and surrendering just 9.3 points on defense. The Bulldogs went on to shut out Coosa 24-0 in the first round of the state playoffs before losing to Wesleyan in the second round. Morgan County was led by a bevy of All-State players including Dusty Sidwell (TE), Corey Woodward (K), Jeremy Duff (OL) and Pierre Griffin (B). Woodward set school kicking records for most PAT’s, most field goals and longest field goal (50 yards).
2003 Region Champs / 10-2 / Coach Kenny Moore
Bulldog fans didn’t have to wait very long this time. For the first time since the 1961-62 seasons Morgan County won back-to-back region titles. The Dogs lost just one regular season contest and once again made a clean sweep in Region 7AA going 7-0 and winning the region championship by two games over Washington-Wilkes and Putnam County. It was another strong offensive team that averaged 28.8 points per game (4th best in school history). In the first round of the state playoffs Morgan handed Model a 28-10 loss but lost 34-0 in the second round to Greater Atlanta Christian to end the campaign. Making All-State were Adam Swymer (OL), Dusty Sidwell (LB) and Richard Chamberlain (WR). Sidwell was the team’s MVP and Dillon Bowers was Region 7AA’s Special Team’s Player of the Year.
2016 Region Champs / Season Ongoing / Coach Bill Malone
This story is still unfolding. The Bulldogs went 8-2 on the regular season and 5-0 in Region 8AAA.
They will play in the first round of the state playoffs at Bill Corry Stadium on November 11th.