Editor’s note: The following article was originally published in the Nov. 18, 2001 edition of The Messenger.
By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
The 1961 Altoona High School Choctaw football team posted a magnificent season. The Chocs won eight games that year and lost one. The team whipped “Little Seven” Etowah County rivals Sardis, Gaston, Walnut Grove and Southside by a total margin of 133-7. Southside managed the only county points that season against the powerful Altoona squad.
Head coach Ray Campbell’s Choctaws were awarded the Etowah County Championship in 1961 after defeating rival Walnut Grove for the second time that season, a decisive 51-0 thrashing.
The momentum did not slow down in the 1962 football season.
In Ben Perkins’ first season as head coach, the Choctaws punished their opponents with a nifty offense and hard-hitting defense. Altoona spent most of the ’62 season ranked in the top three in the state Class B rankings. The Choctaws played five Class A schools and five smaller Class B schools.
Size meant nothing to Perkins’ team, as Altoona blasted every opponent to post a perfect 10-0 record in 1962. Led by powerful fullback Jerry Battles, running backs Ronnie Loggins, Philip Bynum and Bill Vandiver and quarterbacks Ernie Payne and Eddie McArthur, the Altoona offense scored 255 points in 10 games.
The Choctaw offensive line bullied its way over all the opposition. Center Troy Jacobs, guards Bug Cagle and Jerry Davenport and tackles Roger Fulenwider and Ronnie Blanton dominated all defensive fronts that season. The Altoona running attack accumulated an average of 395 yards per game on the ground.
McArthur and Payne’s favorite target was tight end Bruce McAfee. The 6’5 junior end bruised cornerbacks, linebackers and safeties on catches and was considered an excellent blocker. McAfee earned an All-State award in 1963 was a standout basketball player. In 1964, McAfee earned the prestigious Foot-Skeen Award, given to the most talented overall athlete in Etowah County. He played tight end at Auburn University and is perhaps most famous for coaching all sports at Susan Moore High School for over three decades.
Even more impressive were the efforts of the Choctaw defense. The “Head Hunters,” as they were dubbed across the county, allowed only seven points the entire 1962 season and posted nine shutouts. The only points allowed that season was a touchdown pass by Southside with less than a minute left in the game against the second-team Altoona players who had replaced the starters in the third quarter.
The defensive backfield and linebackers, led by Jerry Battles, Jerry Davenport, Eddie McArthur, Fulenwider, Vandiver and Payne, accounted for 27 interceptions, six of which were returned for touchdowns.
The Choctaw defensive line was as stingy as any in the county in 1962. Ends McAfee and Cagle flanked tackles Blanton and Danny Chaviers. Troy Jacobs covered the center. Special teams were also relentless, blocking five attempted punts.
Altoona shutout Sardis, 19-0; Susan Moore, 21-0; J.B. Pennington, 27-0); Gaston, 18-0; Ragland, 34-0; Springville, 42-0); Walnut Grove, 38-0; Cherokee County, 23-0; and Geraldine, 6-0.
A strong defense saved the undefeated season for the Choctaws in the 10th game of the season. Altoona visited a tough and determined Geraldine football team in a very highly publicized and anticipated match.
The Choctaws and Bulldogs were scoreless midway through the fourth quarter. The ‘Dogs drove to the Altoona 20-yard line with only minutes left. A Geraldine pass attempt was deflected by McAfee and fell into the arms of speedy Ernie Hutchins, who ran the interception back 76 yards for the game’s only points. The 6-0 victory sealed the first undefeated season in Altoona High history.
The struggling offensive play against Geraldine hurt the Choctaws’ statistics in 1962. Why did the Altoona offense get shutout against the Bulldogs?
“The game was played on a Saturday night because of rain,” Cagle recalled. “Hunting season opened that weekend, and most of us got into the woods before daybreak that morning. I hate to make excuses, but we were very tired when game time rolled around.”
Most of the players agree that the stubborn Altoona defense was the key to the undefeated season. Fulenwider and Cagle earned All-State honors for their rugged play on the line and Vandiver was given Honorable Mention. The three players also were named to the All-Etowah County team along with McAfee and Ernie Payne.
High school football did not instill a playoff system until 1967. From 1920 to 1966, state champions were selected by newspapers such as The Birmingham News and dubbed “Mythical State Champions.” Rather than play out the games, sportswriters used a point-scale theory (and popularity) to determine which teams were named champions from each class. The theory opened the doors to many debates, including one in 1962.
In 1962, Class B Cedar Bluff was indeed a powerhouse, fielding three All-State football players. The Tigers, who completed their second consecutive undefeated season, were awarded the Mythical State Championship without a challenge from the western Etowah County powerhouse. The title was Cedar Bluff’s third in four years, winning it in 1959 and 1961.
Altoona’s records from 1961 and 1962 were quite similar to those of Cedar Bluff. The Choctaws posted an 18-1-1 record during that time compared to Cedar Bluff’s 20-0. It can be argued that the teams were of equal talent. Altoona fielded one of the most dominant defenses in the state and Cedar Bluff had a very potent offense.
A championship match between the Tigers and the Choctaws most definitely would have highlighted the 1962 high school football season. Unfortunately, that game is left to nostalgia.
I would have bet on the Choctaws.
Editor’s note: Joshua Price is a former Messenger sports editor and current teacher and coach at Susan Moore High School.