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1977 Andalusia vs Walter Wellborn 3A State Championship game as I remember it.

by Brant Locklier
from the Press Box

      On December 2, 1977 the Andalusia Bulldogs (13-0) were in another state championship football game. It would be the fourth in five years for the Bulldogs. The Dogs were 61-3-1 in their last 65 games. They had played 45 straight home games without a loss and had not lost in 28 consecutive games and were in the midst of the greatest five year record of any team in AHSAA history lower than class 7A.

      The Bulldogs had lost school record holding rusher Bobby Johnson to graduation in 1976, but the massive offensive line returned intact. It was anchored by all-state Denny Merritt, all-state Doug Collins and all-state Leslie Little. The Dogs still averaged 30 points a game on offense, but it was the defense that was the anchor of this team.

      Four year starters and all state players Tim Nall (LB) and Rickey Vinson (NG) led that defense. CB Landrum, Ronnie Blair, Calvin Grace, Mark Blackwell, Jerry Moore and Gary Odom were some of the others. They were small, quick, sure tacklers and were never out of position. The bulk of this defense had been together for four years and may have been one of the greatest defenses of all time. Over a 4 year period that first team defense had only allowed 12 touchdowns. In 1977, the Dogs had only allowed 73 points in 13 games and the first team defense had only allowed 2 field goals and 1 touchdown all season (12 points).

      Walter Wellborn (13-0) of Anniston would be their host and it would be the first match up of 13-0 teams in playoff history. The Panthers had the number one offense in the state and came in averaging 39 points per game and allowing only 7 points a game. Quarterback Barry Miller was being looked at by Clemson scouts and tailback Jeff Cunningham was being looked at by Auburn. Tackle Donnie Brooks was also all-state and led the blocking for that high powered offense.

      It would be a classic number one in the state offense- against arguably the best defense in ASHAA history game. The night was crisp and cool as the teams warmed up. The college coaches looked at the Andalusia defense and said, "my goodness they are small. Wellborn is going to run all over them with that huge offensive line." I countered, "we will see, they have only been scored on once this season."

      Andalusia won the toss as the crowd roared at the overflowed "The Hill" in Wellborn. Britten Kicked off for Wellborn and Andy's Bobby Smith returned it out to his own 32 yard line. Little Joe Ball carried for 1 yard and Quarterback Lex Short picks up 2 more yards. Roy Ben Dorsey only gets a yard and the Dogs have to punt. Punter Van Starnes kicks a 31 yard punt and Wellborn took over at their own 33 yard line as the Wellborn crowd roared with anticipation as their offense took the field.

      Cunningham slammed it up the middle for 4 yards, Blackwell makes the stop. Cunningham carried again and got 2 to the 39 as Blair makes the stop. Fullback Harris Montgomery bulled his way for 9 yards and a first down at 48. Wellborn was trying to put a drive together.

      Montgomery carried again and only got a yard as Blair made the tackle. Quarterback Miller then dropped back to pass bit it was batted down by Grace and the drive was stopped. The Wellborn punt was nearly blocked by Vinson and only goes 17 yards to the Andy 33 yard line. The Andy crowd gave the Dog defense a standing ovation as they left the field.

      Dorsey gained 5 yards on a pitch, but Ball had no gain on second down. Eddie Henderson squirmed inside for 4 yards, but came up a couple of inches short of the first down and Wellborn had held. Punter Starnes got off a 35 yard punt and backed up Wellborn to their own 22.

      Wellborn's Miller tried a keeper to the right but Jerry Moore stayed home to stop him for no gain. Cunningham then exploded for 29 yards into Bulldog territory at the 49 yard line for a first down and the Panther crowd was roaring their approval. Britten tried a reverse but Landrum dragged him down from behind for a 3 yard loss. A delay of game penalty moved the Panthers back to their own 43 yard line. Montgomery picked up 4 yards to the 47 as Nall made the tackle. Miller fired a pass to his tight end over the middle but Moore jarred it loose and it was fourth down. Andy's nose guard Vinson broke through the line and blocked the Wellborn punter Britten's kick and Andalusia took over at the Wellborn's  44 yard line.

      Henderson picked up 3 yards to the 41. Short fired a pass to tight end Bill Anthony but it fell incomplete. Henderson picked up 5 yards to the 36 and it was fourth and two. The Dogs went for it and Henderson dived for five yards to the 31 yard line. Henderson ripped off 7 more yards to the 24 yard line and the quarter ended with the score 0-0.

      Henderson gained 2 yards to the 22 of Wellborn. It was third and a yard! Short faked it up the middle and snuck around the end and gained 10 yards to the 12 yard line. It is a first down for Andalusia. Henderson carried for 6 yards to the six yard line. Ball burrowed his way in the line to the 4. On third down Henderson took the handoff from Short and blasted his way into the end zone for a touchdown with 9:49 to go in the half. Leon Hattaway kicked the extra point through and Andy led 7-0 as the Andy crowd was roaring and jumping up and down on their side of the field.

      Cunningham returned the Andy kick-off to his own 40 yard line. Here come the Panthers. Cunningham gets two as Landrum drags him down from behind again. It was Cunningham again as he picked up 7 yards to the 49 with Nall and Vinson in on the stop. Cunningham again carried for 3 yards into Bulldog territory and a first down. He was stopped by Landrum and Blackwell.

      Montgomery picked up 5 yards to the Andy 43 as he was tackled by Landrum. Cunningham got a couple of yards and Miller ran a quarterback sneak to get a first down at the 38. It looked like that Wellborn offense was going to get untracked, but the Andy defense was making it very tough. Cunningham rushed for 3 yards as Landrum again dragged him down from behind at the 35 yard line. The Wellborn crowd was standing and roaring as Cunningham fought for yards at the 30 yard line on the next play, but Grace and Nall had hard hits that knocked the ball loose and Blair recovered at the 29 with 4:58 left in the half. The Panthers had been in Andy territory twice, but no points.

      A holding penalty backed the ball up to their own 15 yard line and the Dogs decided to be conservative with the lead. Ball got nothing up the middle and then picked up 5 yards to the 20 yard line and gained 4 more yards on third down to the 24 yard line. Starnes punted and Wellborn took over on their own 37 yard line.

      Cunningham picked up a couple of yards on first down as Blackwell and Nall made the tackle. Miller kept for two as Blair and Nall made great tackles. Wellborn jumped off-sides and were backed up five yards. Nall broke up an attempted screen pass and it was fourth down. Wellborn punted to the Andy 23 and there were just 38 seconds left in the half.

      The Bulldogs try to surprise Wellborn with a halfback pass, but the Panthers were ready and picked off the pass thrown by Grace at their own 41 yard line. The Panthers tried a screen pass, but Landrum dragged Cunningham down from behind for a two yard gain and the half ended. Andy led 7-0 and the Wellborn offense had been frustrated in the first half against the smaller but lightning quick Bulldog defense.

      Wellborn took the second half kick-off by Hattaway and Cunningham returned the ball to the 33 where he was leveled by Ball and knocked out of the game. Montgomery gained 7 yards to the 40 with Blackwell and Blair making the stop. Britten picked up 5 yards to the 45 and a first down with Blackwell making the stop. Britten gains a yard as Blackwell, Vinson and Nall make the stop.

      Britten then exploded into the secondary for 30 yards and the Panthers were at the Andalusia 24 yard line as the Wellborn crowd was celebrating wildly. Montgomery battled for a 2 yard gain and then Britten carried to the 17 as Landrum made the tackle. Montgomery tried the middle for no gain as Blair, Landrum and Nall made the stop. It was 4th and 2 and the Panthers went for it. Miller ran a quick pitch to Geno English and he ripped off twelve yards for a first down at the 5 yard line.

      On first down Doug Collins broke through the line and knocked Britten down for a 5 yard loss. Miller ran a keeper and got 3 yards to the 7. On third down Odom broke up a pass attempt by Miller. It was fourth and goal. The Panthers went for the touchdown and a Miller pass was broken up in the end zone by Blackwell and the Wellborn drive ended at the Andy 7 yard line. That Bulldog defense received another standing ovation as they left the field with 7 minutes left in the third quarter.

      The Dogs were pinned deep and they did not want to turn the ball over to Wellborn so they had to play conservatively on offense. Henderson picked up 6 to the 13 yard line and picked up 5 more on the next play to pick up a first down at the 18 yard line. Ball gained 4 to the 22 and Henderson gained 2 to the 24 yard line, but when Trent Taylor could only pick up one yard the Dogs had to punt. Starnes got off a booming 47 yard punt and Wellborn took over at their own 46 yard line.

      The Panthers went three and out as carries by Britten and Montgomery were smothered by the swarming Bulldog defense. Vinson, Landrum and Nall were everywhere for the Bulldogs on defense. Punter Britten nailed a nice punt and pinned Andy back on their own 19 yard line.

      Henderson carried 3 straight times to grind out 13 yards and a first down at the 32 yard line as the quarter ended. The Dogs had managed to shut down the Wellborn offense for 3 quarters as they led 7-0.

      Nall started the fourth quarter with a 3 yard gain. Ball picked up 4 to the 39. Ball slipped inside for 6 yards and a first down. The Dogs were chewing up the clock. A holding penalty pushed Andy back to the 26 yard line. Ball went inside for 3 yards and gained 3 more yards on second down. Dorsey picked up 5 yards to the 37 yard line and it was 4th down. Starnes got off a 25 yard punt and Wellborn took over at their own 38 yard line.

      Time was beginning to wane as Montgomery picked up a yard to the 39 as Blair and Vinson were there for the stop. Miller through a long pass that was incomplete. Montgomery was dragged down from behind by Landrum at the 42 on the next play and the Bulldog defense left the field with the Andy crowd cheering wildly.

      The Clemson scout in the press box looked at me and said, "Wellborn isn't going to score are they? I think we can sit here all night and they won't score. That is the fastest defense I have ever seen." I said , " We will see."

      Wellborn was not through as Britten nailed a punt and pinned the Bulldogs at the 3 yard line with 6 minutes to go. The Dogs ran three plays into the line and could only manage 5 yards and were forced to punt from their own 8 yard line.

      Starnes got off a 29 yard punt and Wellborn had it at the Andy 37 yard line with 4:30 to go. Montgomery got a yard and was tackled for a 1 yard gain. Little then busted through the line to knock English down for a 1 yard loss. The Panthers tried a reverse and Landrum and Nall dragged down Britten for no gain. On fourth down Miller tried a long pass and it was intercepted by Gary Odom at the 7. On the return there was a clipping penalty that pushed the ball back to the Andy 12 yard line.

      Again Andy coach Don Sharpe called three safe plays into the line as Ball picked up 4 yards, Short gained a yard and Ball picked up 3 to the 18 yard line. Starnes punted it out to the 37 yard line and with 1:56 to go Wellborn had one more shot at it.

      On first down Miller tried a pass and Nall batted it down. Two more passes fell incomplete and it was fourth down. On fourth down Miller completed a screen pass and Collins and Nall converged to make the stop at the 36 yard line. The Dogs took over and Wellborn had no more time outs.

      Short fell on the snap twice and the Bulldogs had come to north Alabama and had taken their back-to-back state championship. Two unbeatens had clashed and the defense of Andalusia had won out over the offense of Walter Wellborn.

      At the time of this writing in 2014, 37 years have passed and neither team has been back. The Andalusia 58 game winning streak would end the next fall and so would their playoff run.          

The statistics were:

7 First Downs 6
153  Rushing Yards 136
4 Passing Yards 0
157 Total Yards 136
2-6-0 Passing 0-2-1
Defensive Stats    
Landrum 14 tackles , 4 assists
Vinson 5 tackles, 5 assists, blocked punt
Blair 6 tackles, 3 assists
Nall 8 tackles, 3 assists
Blackwell 5 tackles, 4 assists

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