Monday, December 7, 2009

Brandon Make Run for State Title, 12/5/69

On December 5, 1969, Tampa Stadium served as the site for a district battle between two unbeaten teams each seeking their first state title.

Clearwater (10-0) hoped to return to the state Class AA finals for the first time since 1964. Brandon (8-0-2) sported the best record in its relatively short history and were on unfamiliar ground. At stake in this contest, a trip to the state semifinals.

The two schools were quite a contrast in styles. Brandon made their mark in 1969 on defense, shutting out eight of their ten opponents. The Eagles allowed only three touchdowns the entire season, but were not quite the scoring machine, either. Brandon averaged just 15.9 points per game, and recorded two scoreless ties against Hillsborough and Plant.

Clearwater, meanwhile, rolled up the points, scoring 323 points in 10 games. Its defense, by contrast, gave up an average of 11.2 points per game.

Clearly, Brandon's defense would have to carry the day against the potent Tornadoes offense. The two teams slogged it out in the game's opening quarter, playing to a scoreless tie through the first 12 minutes. A huge play on special teams by Brandon, however, helped open the scoring in the second quarter.

Return man John Rayburn brought a punt back deep into Clearwater territory early in the quarter to set up Brandon with terrific field position at the Tornadoes 20. Running back Lane Exum carried on each of the next five plays, finally capitalizing from one yard out to give Brandon a 7-0 lead.

The defense then proceeded to blow the game wide open for the Eagles. An interception by Larry Bass on the next Tornadoes possession once again set up Brandon in Clearwater territory at the 47. This time, Rayburn found his way into the end zone on an eight-yard run to extend Brandon's lead to 14-0.

On the ensuing drive, John Lacer picked off an errant screen pass by Clearwater quarterback Frank Duncan and returned it 14 yards for Brandon's third touchdown of the quarter. A missed extra point left the score 20-0 in favor of Brandon.

The Eagles essentially shut down Clearwater's vaunted offense all game long. Brandon surrendered just 43 yards rushing -- 21 on one play in the third quarter. The Tornadoes were able to throw the ball somewhat successfully, gaining 130 yards through the air, but had four passes intercepted.

On the other side of the ball, Brandon was able to control the clock by running the football while completely eschewing their passing attack. The Eagles' 217 yards of total offense came entirely on the ground. Quarterbacks John Snowden and Mike Burnett attempted five passes between them but failed to complete a single one.

It didn't matter, however, as Brandon's defensive domination kept Clearwater off the board with the exception of a third-quarter touchdown run, a fourth-and-goal scamper from the 1 by Tyson Sever. The Eagles held on from there to capture a 20-6 victory over the Tornadoes.

The win propelled Brandon into a semifinals showdown in the Orange Bowl against Miami Jackson High School (11-0). In Jackson, Brandon would face a similarly defensive-minded team that had shut out five opponents during the season.

A mere 6,000 fans showed up for the contest in the 75,000-seat Orange Bowl on Dec. 12. Those in attendance saw a hard-fought 7-6 triumph by Brandon.

Lane Exum scored Brandon's lone touchdown in the second quarter and the Eagles carried a 7-0 lead into the fourth quarter. Brandon's defense characteristically saved the day when it mattered most.

A touchdown by running back Moses Moore brought Jackson within one point. The Generals chose to go for two -- and the lead -- instead of kicking. Brandon's Jim Dorsey sacked quarterback Willie Hayes back at the 20 to preserve the lead and ultimately the win for the Eagles.

With the victory, Brandon joined Robinson High (1963) as the only Class AA Tampa-area schools to have reached a state playoff final in football.

The Eagles' dream run finally reached an end at the hands of Leon High School (12-0) on December 19 in the Class AA championship game. In front of 20,000 at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Leon High rushed for 245 yards and overcame a 14-7 deficit, rallying in the second half to defeat the Eagles, 24-14. For the second week in a row, the once stout (but perhaps fatigued) Brandon defense surrendered more than 200 yards on the ground.

While the loss ruined Brandon's hopes for a championship and an undefeated season, the Eagles finished 10-1-2 and produced one of their most memorable seasons ever.

"It's welded the entire community together, having this fine winning football team," Brandon Principal Lyle Flagg said 40 years ago. "Our winning tradition has begun."

No comments:

Post a Comment