Lions champs in ’66


*This article was originally published as part of The Messenger Top-15 football teams of all-time from Etowah County, 1950-1986.

 By Joshua Price/Sports Editor

The Sardis Lions finished with a 2-7-1 record in 1965. Ben Perkins found himself without a coaching position with the consolidation of his former school, Altoona, with Walnut Grove. Sardis officials quickly snatched the Altoona veteran coach to steer the Lions back to its winning tradition.

Perkins had a good reputation as a head coach. The Choctaws won 29 games under his command, including an undefeated, untied campaign in ’62. The mild mannered coach was good at exploiting talent, and found it in abundance at Sardis in 1966.

Perkins was not the only Choctaw to make the move to Sardis prior to the ’66 football season. Mike Nichols, former Altoona quarterback, followed Perkins to Sardis to don the crimson.

Perkins’ preparation skills were tested early as Sardis opened the ’66 football season against Blount County powerhouse Oneonta. The Lions ran rough shod over the Redskins, compiling nearly 300 yards rushing in a 21-0 rout. Godfrey, Nichols and Kenny Gilbreath balanced the offensive attack while a host of Lions feasted on the ‘Skins defensively.

The Lions continued their prowl through Blount County by whipping the Susan Moore Bulldogs 32-0. The Lions used a balanced attack, notching 160 yards on the ground and 131 through the air. Godfrey and Nichols tallied the majority of the Lion points, each scoring a pair of touchdowns. Nichols also connected with Randy Smith for a 53-yard score.

The much larger Boaz Pirates were no match for the Lions in Week 3. Sardis piled up over 300-yards of offense to pound the Pirates 26-7, improving their record to 3-0.

The Lions continued to roar as they defeated county rival Gaston 26-13, Marshall County powerhouse Guntersville 35-0, Cullman County’s Fairview 27-7 and Geraldine 35-12, tallying a 7-0 record.

Sardis found themselves tied with county rival West End at the top of the Class 2A, Region 6 standings when the Week 8 polls were released. Both teams reached the maximum of points (80) on the season, but were not scheduled to play each other.

The first gut-check for the Lions came in Week 8 when they visited cross-county rival Glencoe.

The Yellow Jackets drove 63 yards in only six plays on the opening drive of the game to take a 7-0 lead. The Lions answered with a drive of their own, and fullback Godfrey found the end zone from the 14-yard line, and the score was knotted at 7.

Godfrey found pay-dirt again early in the second quarter, plowing 10 yards to give the Lions a 13-7 lead.

Glencoe was forced to punt on the following possession and speedy Nichols extended the Sardis lead to 20-7 with a 65-yard touchdown return.

The Jackets scored their final points of the game in the fourth quarter, finalizing the score at 20-13. The Sardis defense took over and smothered Glencoe in the final quarter.

Sardis extended its record to 9-0 with a victory over DeKalb County neighbor Crossville 38-6. Sardis made quick work of the visiting Lions, amassing 363 yards on the ground and 107 in the air.

Perkins’ undefeated crew visited the Hokes Bluff Eagles to finalize their perfect 10-0 season.

The Lions trailed the Eagles early in the game 7-0. By halftime, the Lions led 14-7 behind the speed of Nichols and Gilbreath and the grinding of Godfrey. The Lions scored twice in the final stanza and the Eagles once, ending the scoring at 28-14 and the season at 10-0.

Winning was nothing new to Perkins. The win against Hokes Bluff was the 21st consecutive for the coach, dating back to his Altoona days in November 1964. The undefeated season in ’66 was the third for Perkins out of five seasons, the previous being ’62 and ’65.

Perkins interviewed for the Guntersville position before accepting the job at Sardis. It was rumored at the time that the Wildcats denied Perkins’ application because only someone with “big school” experience would be successful in a school as large as Guntersville. Perkins’ Lions whipped the “big” Guntersville Wildcats 35-0 in Week 5.

Perkins’ boys averaged 28.8 points per game while allowing opponents only 7.2 points per game in ’66. A stingy, hard-hitting defense complimented by an unstoppable, balanced offense made for an unbeatable football team.

The Lions’ Hallmark, Nichols, Godfrey and Holderfield landed spots on the All-County squad. Godfrey was given All-State honors at the fullback slot.

Most importantly, the Lions were named the Class 2A, Region 6 state champions in 1966. Because there was not a playoff system for the smaller class schools in Alabama, the Lions did not play the powerful Patriots of West End that season, who also finished the season at 10-0.

Nevertheless, the ’66 Lions were arguably the most powerful team to represent Sardis High School. Later teams were successful with many wins, but none dominated their opponents as did the squad of ’66.

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