2011-11-30 / Front Page

Showdown at Tigertown

This year’s state championship matchup similar to 1993 game
By LARRY HILLIARD Ledger Sports Editor larry@gaffneyledger.com


Joey Copeland and the Gaffney High Indians will go into Clemson with a perfect record and a national ranking. Joey Copeland and the Gaffney High Indians will go into Clemson with a perfect record and a national ranking. Some memories die hard, and the end of the 1993 season simply won’t go away for many members of that Gaffney High football team.

The Indians dropped a heartbreaking 2-0 loss to the Northwestern Trojans in the Big 16 championship game that year, a game marked by similarities with Saturday’s clash for the Class 4A Division I state title against the Byrnes Rebels.

Like Saturday, the game was played at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium. Like Saturday, the game was a rematch of the regular season. Like Saturday, it pitted two arch-rivals. Like Saturday, the Indians entered the matchup undefeated and nationally ranked.

“I just remember being disappointed that we lost,” said Jeff Coleman, the team’s standout Shrine Bowl linebacker who went on to win a national championship at Tennessee. “It’s been almost 20 years but anytime a really good Gaffney team comes Tyrone McGill, fullback Charles Palmer and tailback Benny Foster combined to rush for more than 5,000 yards. But the offense sputtered against the Trojans’ penetrating defense, which successfully disrupted the Indians’ timing.

The game was scoreless until early in the second quarter when the Indians were forced to punt from their own 6- yard line.

Prior to the punt, then- Gaffney head coach Joe Montgomery called a timeout to instruct punter Charles Palmer to run out the end zone for a safety rather than risk a block and a potential Northwestern touchdown if the snap was errant.

True to Montgomery’s words, the ball skidded on the damp ground before Palmer scooped it up and raced out of the end zone for a safety.

Palmer remembers the play like it was yesterday.

“It was a great decision,” said Palmer, a Shrine Bowl running back as well. “It was early in the second quarter. (Montgomery) said if you have a problem getting it off, take a safety.”

It’s a play that followed him the whole way to Oklahoma, where he played collegiately for Northeastern Oklahoma.

“A guy found out that I was from Gaffney and he brought up that play,” Palmer said. “He asked me if I played in that game.”

The guy unaware that Palmer was the Gaffney punter, then asked, “You’ll must be mad at that punter.”

Despite two potent offenses, the defenses controlled the game as the Trojans clung to a 2-0 lead late.

The Indians finally moved into field goal territory late in the game but Northwestern’s Curtis Whilmore blocked reliable T.J. White’s lastsecond, game-winning field goal attempt.


Quan Weeks (No. 9) brings down a Boiling Springs ball carrier in Friday's semifinal game. The Indians hope to bring down Byrnes and bring home a state title this weekend. Quan Weeks (No. 9) brings down a Boiling Springs ball carrier in Friday's semifinal game. The Indians hope to bring down Byrnes and bring home a state title this weekend. Coleman remembers the conversation he had with Montgomery as the teams lined up for the post-game awards ceremony.

“Coach Montgomery told me that I was going to go to college, win a national championship and I’d forget about this game. I did half of that. I went to college and won a national championship, but I’ve never gotten over the game.

“People don’t let you forget about the game. I’m not bitter, just disappointed for the community and the fans.”

Star linebacker Marcus Bradley said he wasn’t worried when the Trojans went up 2-0.

“The fumbled punt or whatever it was, I didn’t think anything of it,” said Bradley, who played in the Canadian Football League and is now an assistant football coach and strength coach at a high school in Texarkana, Ark. “It was only 2-0 and we had scored a lot of points. It was still 2-0 in the fourth quarter and I was thinking that I had to make an interception or recover a fumble or we might lose.”

Palmer, Bradley and Coleman all believe this version of the Indians won’t leave Memorial Stadium disappointed Saturday.

“I have followed them and this might be the best team Gaffney has ever suited up and that’s saying something,” Bradley said. “We had unbelievable talent on our team — Cornelius Bonner, Jeff Coleman, Ty Byars, Tyrone McGill, Dominique Stevenson — we had blue-chippers who went on to win national championships in college. For people to say that (the 2011 team) is better, they have to be great.”

Palmer will be part of the large Gaffney throng expected to attend Saturday’s game. It will mark Palmer’s first trip to Clemson since the 1993 game.

“Every time they speak about going to Clemson, that game is the first thing that comes to mind,” he said. “It’s going to be a great game, but Gaffney should control it by 21 points.”

Coleman, now a successful businessman in Charlotte, said this Gaffney team seems better equipped to handle the distractions that comes with a nationallyranked team.

“This team has maintained its focus better,” he said. “I had a bad feeling the week of our practice. We let all the stuff (national ranking) get to us. But (the current Gaffney team) has stayed focused.”

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