The upcoming game this Friday night between Bunkie and Jonesboro-Hodge brings to mind one of the greatest and most incredible games ever played in JHHS athletic history.
The year was 1988 and Jonesboro-Hodge High School was in Bunkie in an attempt to reach a second straight Class AA state championship game. JHHS was the defending state champion and odds on favorite to repeat but had just gotten a scare from Springhill the week prior before sneaking away with a 6-0 overtime victory.
Bunkie had visions of their own of making it to the Superdome having won 12 of their 13 games and at one time had been ranked #1 in the state. The Panthers featured one of the best running attacks in the state from their wishbone set with all three backs going over 1000 yards for the season.
Prognosticators, sports writers, coaches and fans alike had absolutely no idea whether it would be a high scoring or low scoring contest. Best that could be figured is it would be a close matchup. Both had good defenses. Both had powerful offenses with J-H relying more on their strength and power and Bunkie utilizing their speed and trickery out of the wishbone offense.
“I don’t know whether this will be a high scoring game or low scoring,” stated JHHS head coach Walter Causey before the contest. “I don’t want to get in a game where we’re going up and down the field.”
That is exactly what took place! After Jonesboro-Hodge had taken a 19-7 halftime lead, neither team was able to stop the other in the second half that saw more insane and crazy actions in the final two minutes than in an entire season of games. Wait! That doesn’t do it justice. Make it a decade of games. Heck, since nothing like that has happened since make it for a lifetime.
The craziness started with JHHS up 25-21 with just a few minutes left in the fourth quarter. Bunkie stormed down the field as they had the entire second half to take a 28-25 lead. JHHS simply couldn’t stop them as they chewed up large chunks of yardage on each play. The good news for Tiger fans was that Bunkie couldn’t stop the Tigers either and it was obvious that who ever had the ball last would most likely win.
Down by three the Tigers marched from their own 36 to the Panthers 10 yard line but now there was just 18 second left and it was fourth down. Causey and stafff pondered going for the win or kicking a field goal to tie but they took so long that the Tigers got hit with a delay of game penalty. Now it really looked bleak as certainly JHHS had to attempt a field goal but 33 yards was a little out of normal kicker Henrik Fritsche’s range so Causey called on Cartrel Calahan to tie the game up with his first attempt all season.
It is hard to imagine what must have been going through Calahan’s mind. Think about it. All year you have been on the sidelines, having not attempted even the first field goal. Suddenly you are being summoned to m ake the longest kick you have ever tried in one of the most pressure packed situations you will ever be in and you are doing all this in enemy territoty where there are thousands of fans screaming at you.
The ball was snapped, the kick went up and OHHHH, is it going to get there?? GET UP! GET UP! YEAH! YEAH! – IT’S GOOD!!!! IT’S GOOD!!!
When the kick went up, you knew immediately that it was going to be very close as to whether it would make it to the crossbar. You could hear a pin drop as everyone held their breath. As it neared the goalpost the crescendo from the Tiger fans began to build. OHHHH!! GET UP! GET UP! YEAH! YEAH! IT’S GONNA GET THERE!! IT’S GOOD!!!! IT’S GOOD!!!
As elated as Tiger fans were, you could feel the air go out of the stadium on the Bunkie side.
“It barely made it,” droned Bunkie defensive coordinator Paul Smith who stared hollow eyed at the ground after the game. “Barely made it…. Barely made it…” the disconsolent coach muttered as he walked off.
The game was now tied with just 14 seconds to play and everyone and their brother assumed that Bunkie would simply take a knee after receiving the kickoff and the game would go into overtime. It was easily the correct call for Bunkie head coach Gene Britton to make. His Panther rushing attack had accounted for 181 yards, 11 first downs and three touchdowns in the second half alone and JHHS showed no ability to stop it. Now they would be lining up from the ten yard line with four cracks at trying to score.
Unbelievably from their own 25 yard line Britton decided to take a chance by attempting a screen pass that almost got picked off but went through the hands of a Tiger player. JHHS fans were distraught over the missed opportunity as it seemed certain that if the interception would have been made the Tigers would have scored as there was not a single Bunkie player around to make a tackle.
Now Bunkie would certainly settle to go into overtime, right? Who knows what the Bunkie coach was thinking but in one of the most fateful calls in the history of high school football Britton dialed up a hook and ladder play hoping for some final play magic.
It turned out magical all right but for JHHS as from his defensive back position Brandon Bradley saw the Bunkie back coming out of the backfield, jumped the route and stepped in front of the Bunkie receiver before racing 33 yards down the left sideline as time ticked off the clock.
JHHS fans mobbed the field in stunned disbelief that not only did the Tigers steall the game but that the Bunkie coach basically gave it away through his ill advised decision to pass the ball instead of just kneel down and take their chances in overtime.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think they would pass the ball,” exulted a stunned and shocked JHHS fan. “Thank God they passed the ball.”
“I was surprised, very surprised,” said JHHS coach Walter Causey when asked what his reaction was to seeing Bunkie passing on the final play. “With the back they have I would have put the ball on the 10 yard line everytime and took my chances.”
On the Bunkie side the scene was totally different. Stunned fans stared blankly, some with tears streaming down their cheeks, as the silently filed out. Suddenly an older man screamed “Why did they throw?”
“All I am going to say is it was my fault,” said Bunkie coach Britton who for a long time sat staring at the wall in the locker room with a towel wrapped around his head after the game.
The “snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory” as it was labled had a long lasting effect as Britton was fired the next year and the Tigers went on to win their third straight state championship. It also will forever be remembered as the most exciting game ever played in JHHS history.
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