In the fall of 1961 “The Magnificent Seven” was on at the Palace Theater, Roger Maris was being hounded by the press as he closed in on Babe Ruth’s home run record. The United States and Russia were on the verge of a confrontation over the Berlin Wall and challenging each other in their race for outer space. On the home front Maxwell House coffee was selling for 59 cents a pound, sirloin steak was 89 cents a pound. Bill Hartman was running for mayor of Athens, and with an offense spearheaded by two of the top halfbacks in the state (Ralph Bray and Woody Chastain) and a tough hard nosed defense Athens High football fans were ready for a great season.
Weyman Sellers was noted for his tough summer football practices and the summer of ’61 is remembered as one of the all time toughest. This team was in shape to play four quarters.
Sellers brought them into their season opener against Region 4AAA favorite R.E.Lee as a two touchdown underdog, but he had a surprise for the Rebels: a “quickie” or no huddle offense.
The Trojans’ defense played an outstanding game giving up two touchdowns on long passes, but the quickie offense didn’t fool anyone and couldn’t get untracked on the drizzly night in Thomaston. The final score was Jim Cavan and the Rebels 13 Athens 0.
After a week spent putting the quickie offense back on the shelf and getting back to “fundamentals” Athens got their first victory of the season with a 26-0 Sanford Stadium win over Druid Hills.
Phil Williams’ interception stopped an early threat at the Athens 28 and the Trojans proceeded to drive all the way to the Druid Hills three where they fumbled the ball away. However the Athens defense swarmed on the Druid Hills quarterback in the end zone causing a fumble which Jerry Matthews recovered giving the Trojans a 7-0 lead. Minutes later Woody Chastain scored from five yards out, then quarterback Tommy Harrold sneaked over from the one on the first play of the second quarter to put Athens up 20-0. Sellers emptied the bench in the second quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Harrold hit Ronnie Bowie with a pass, Bowie was hit, turned and lateraled the ball to right guard Bob “Ruby” Taylor who rambled to the 12 yard line. Connie Couch ran the ball in on the next play to give the Trojans their final margin. In addition to demonstrating his broken field running ability, Taylor was recognized after the game for his outstanding blocking. Chastain had 10 carries for 109 yards (100 in the first half).
A banged up and flu ridden Athens team faced a very strong Avondale (who had lost to Valdosta in the state finals in 1960) in game three and were routed 34-7.
The Trojans rebounded in week four with a 32-6 win over Cross Keys, but it wasn’t easy.
Athens seemed to be going through the motions in the first half but held a 6-0 lead at intermission on a Chastain TD, Then Cross Keys returned the second half kickoff 92 yards to tie the game at six. A big hit by Virg Yeakey fired up the defense. Roger Alexander recovered a fumble which set up a 43 yard touchdown pass from Harrold to Charlie Webb and Athens held a 13-6 lead.
Gilbert Milner then recovered a fumble at the Cross Keys 21 and Ralph Bray scored four plays later from the four. Connie Couch added a 14 yard TD, and Corbin Paris ran an interception 45 yards for the last score. Taylor, Yeakey, Bray and Allen Hogan were cited for their defensive play.
The Trojans pushed their record above .500 with a Thursday night 20-7 win over Marist in week five of the season.
Early in the first quarter, Marist fumbled a high Jerry Matthews punt and Roger Alexander recovered at the Trojan 41. Athens drove the 49 yards in six plays with Chastain scoring from the four. The highlight of the drive was a 22 yard Harrold to Bowie pass.
The Kaydet line outweighed Athens by an average of ten pounds a man, but the scrappy Trojan defense kept Marist in check. A Jim Young interception stopped the only Marist threat late in the second quarter.
Early in the second Half, a bad snap on a Marist punt gave Athens the ball at the Marist 11. They gained eight and two yards for a first down at the one. Then Athens lost the ball on a pitchout and Marist recovered at the four. The Keydets then drove 96 yards to tie the score at 7-7.
Following the kickoff, Athens took over at the 31. Bray broke for 45 yards to the 24. Chastain went 5, Bray threw to Chastain for 10, Bray went 6, Chastain 1, Harrold for no gain, then Bray went for two yards and the go ahead touchdown.
Bray caught a 14 yard pass from Harrold for the final score.
Next up Athens found themselves cast once again as underdogs going up against very big and very good Decatur. But the Trojans once again rose to the occasion notching their third straight victory by an impressive 21-0 score.
Athens won playing ball control holding the ball for 72 plays to Decatur’s 47 for the game. The Bulldogs ran only nine offensive plays in the second half.
Decatur threatened early taking possession at the Athens 29 following a botched Trojan punt. They quickly moved to first and goal at the six. But the Athens defense, led by Jim Young, Allen Hogan Virg Yeakey, Jerry Adams, and Jim Cash, bowed and held the Bulldogs on four downs.
A big hit by Jerry Matthews caused a fumble which Jerry Adams recovered setting up the Trojan offense at the 28 of Decatur, seven plays Chastain scored from the six, Athens led 7-0 at the half.
The first Trojan drive of the second half went to the Bulldog six where they lost a fumble. However they next took over at the 48 and went the distance in 10 plays. The drive was highlighted by Chastain’s great catch at the seven. 14-0.
The Trojans topped off their scoring with a 12 play 54 yard drive in which Bray and Chastain alternated carries behind their stalwart offensive line. 21-0.
Next up was Gordon and the Generals gave Athens a surprisingly tough homecoming football game until the Trojans broke it open in the fourth quarter and cruised to a 30-7 victory.
A Harrold to Charlie Webb pass of seven yards gave Athens a first quarter lead and they spent the second quarter in the Generals’ territory, missing several scoring opportunities before getting a safety and another touchdown for a 16-0 halftime lead.
The Generals posted a touchdown late in the third quarter to make the score 7-16 and then Athens took the ball and made a 74 yard ball control type drive for another score 23-7.
Jim Young intercepted a Gordon pass at the 40 and returned it to the three to set up the final Athens touchdown. 30-7. Four in a row. Bray had 14 carries for 135 yards.
Bray and Chastain combined for 200 of Athens’ 203 yards rushing in another Sanford Stadium Thursday night win, this one coming over Campbell Smyrna, 21-2.
Early in the second quarter Athens went 58 yards in 10 plays for a seven point lead, then drove for another score and a 14 point halftime lead with 1:33 on the clock. After a blocked punt gave Smyrna two points, Harrold hit Charles Webb with a 45 yard scoring toss in the fourth quarter to make the final score 21-2 Athens. Five in a row.
The Trojans win streak went to six with a 14-0 shutout of Southwest DeKalb.
Midway through the second quarter Charles Webb and Bob Taylor forced a Panther fumble which was recovered at the S.W. DeKalb 38. Jimmy Cash went for six on first down and Chastain broke for the final 32 yards on second down for a 7-0 lead.
In the third quarter Gilbert Milner snuffed a Panther drive recovering a fumble at the Athens 42. Chastain ripped off 30 yards on first down, three on the next play, and then Bray went 25 yards for the score and a 14-0 lead.
Bray had 86 yards on 13 carries, Chastain had 73 yards on seven carries, and Athens had their sixth win in a row.
The final game of the 1961 season was of course against hated arch rival Gainesville.
In ’61 Gainesville had one of their all time great teams, led by future UGA quarterback Preston Ridlehuber. The Red Elephants’ offense was averaging 43 points per game and their defense hadn’t given up over seven in any contest. They were the top tanked AA team in the state and we had to play them up there.
It was one of the greatest football games of all time.
On the game’s first offensive play, Ridlehuber ran for five yards, was hemmed in and lateraled the ball to Scotty Gunter who went 73 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead only 23 seconds into the game.
Athens didn’t blink however, the Trojans took the ball at their own 21 and drove 79 yards in 13 plays to score on a one yard Chastain run. Bray, who had a 34 yard run on the drive booted the extra point and Athens had a 7-6 lead.
The Trojan defense stopped Gainesville on the next series and Connie Couch returned the ensuing punt to his own 42. Sophomore running back Carl Gilbert then took a handoff and went 58 yards for another Athens touchdown. 14-6.
After a penalty stopped another Trojan drive they punted the ball dead at the Gainseville five midway in the second quarter. The Pachyderms then used 20 plays to gain six first downs and drive the ball the length of the field for a touchdown making the score 13-14 with ten seconds left in the half.
The defenses dominated in the scoreless third quarter and for most of the fourth, then late in the fourth Gainesville recovered a fumble at the Athens 18. Six bone rattling plays later, as the clock ticked under a minute, Ridlehuber plunged for the end zone from the two foot line. He fumbled the ball and Athens recovered it at the three. But the refs stepped in and took the ball away from the Trojans saying that Ridlehuber had scored before he fumbled. No instant replay. Gainesville leads 20-14.
The crowd of 6,500 thought that the game was over. Gainesville thought the game was over. But the Trojan’s weren’t through yet.
Chastain returned the ensuing kickoff to the Athens 31 where a 15 yard penalty was tacked on moving the Trojans out to their own 46 with 40 seconds on the clock. An incomplete pass. Then Harrold hit Couch for 43 yards and a first down at the Gainesville 11. Harrold then pitched the ball out to Bray who passed to Chastain who made a great catch at the three with the seconds ticking down. The Athens players frantically tried to call time out. The refs didn’t give it to them and the seconds ticked off without another play being run. This is known as one of the all time greatest high school football games in the state of Georgia. Only one thing would have made it better. ONE MORE PLAY.
Athens High School’s success in 1961 was a tribute to the outstanding young men on the team, a great coaching staff, Sellers was joined by line coach Frank Malinowski. end coach Jimmy Williams, trainer Richard Saye, Chaplin Reverend Pat Harrison, and Managers Johnny Whitehead and James Moncrief. The cheerleaders, Trojettes, and majorettes were all outstanding, and the Athens High School Band of 1961 may have been the school’s best ever. It was a year in which everyone did their part. School spirit was a way of life for everyone in 1961.