The Greatest Defensive Teams...
Sunday, 4th August 2019 - 3:39PM
When I was asked to write a column about the greatest defensive team I ever covered in Texas high school football, it didn�t take me long to think about the 1983 Daingerfield Tigers.

But, it also didn�t take me long to realize I had an impossible task of trying to mention every defense who deserved the spotlight in a state rich with great football tradition.

So, I hope this column helps some of you reflect back on the memories, while also sparking some friendly and passionate debate among the best high school fan base in America, Texas high school football.

In the long run, I�ll try and focus on these specific defensive teams, those I covered, those I studied a great deal as a sports broadcaster and website owner, and those I�ve heard about.

1973-1975 Big Sandy Wildcats:

Lovie Smith is as Texas as anyone I�ve ever known, and no matter if he was a head coach with the NFL Chicago Bears or an assistant coach at Tampa Bay or St. Louis, he never forgot where he came from, the little town of Big Sandy.

When I contacted Coach Smith about this column, he gave me two different perspectives, one as a player at Big Sandy High School from 1972-1975, and as a recruiter at Tulsa in 1983 when he witnessed the 1983 Daingerfield Tigers.

From 1971-1975, Big Sandy lost one game, to New Waverly in 1972, and went a combined 64-1-1, including three state championships in 1973, 1974, and 1975.

During that time, the Wildcats recorded 46 shutouts, including 11 in 1975, and they allowed only fifteen points during a 14-0 season.

And, despite every opposing team, coach and player or fan focusing on Big Sandy�s blue-chip running back David Overstreet and his mind-boggling stats, it was the Wildcats defense that dominated, led by middle linebacker Lovie Smith, �The foundation of what I�ve done throughout my coaching career began from what I learned under head coach Jim Norman and the 4-3 defense we ran in Big Sandy,� Smith continued, �We didn�t know any other way, but to dominate on defense, we fed off each other and we were locked in knowing a certain level was expected by us our community and those players before us.�

It�s unbelievable to think a team that scored 824-points in 14-games was led by their defense, but then again, Lovie Smith has always been about defense, �I�ve always had a little chip on my shoulder when people spend too much time talking about offense and points scored, and I just took it to heart that no one would score on us and when they did, I didn�t like it much, in fact I didn�t like it whatsoever.�

Although he also had the itch to coach and teach, if there was ever a week you would have a glimpse of Smith�s future, it was prior to the Wildcats game against district rival Sabine in 1974, �Coach (Jim) Norman�s father passed away and he missed the entire week of practice and the game and he never had to say a word, as the middle linebacker, I knew the defense was mine,� Smith added, �Our quarterback, Gary Chalk took over on offense and I ran the defense and we won a big game although our coaching staff, my teammates and I weren�t thrilled with giving up a touchdown to them.�

When you win 64 of 66 games and three consecutive state championships you develop a swagger, not cocky, but as Smith mentioned, �we were very confident knowing if we did what we were supposed to do, we would win the game,� Smith added, �when you dominate like we did for a long period of time a lot of football fans wanted to come watch us play, we knew that, and we also knew most of our opponents expected us to dominate too.�

On another note, Big Sandy capped off their first state championship game in 1973 when they shutout Rule, 25-0. Rule was led by a star of their own in quarterback Art Briles, now the head coach at Baylor, �Big Sandy was a really dominant football team with so much talent, but their defense was special with players like Bobby Mitchell, Lovie Smith and David Overstreet,� Briles reiterated his comment about Big Sandy�s defense, �We all know what Overstreet and Mitchell did on offense, but they were also great defensive players too.�

1980 Pittsburg Pirates:

Another team that dominated before my broadcasting career began, but one that I researched and admired was the 1980 Pittsburg Pirates who broke the state record with 12-shutouts during their 15-0 Class 3-A State Championship season.

According to Pirates Head Coach James Rust, the tone was set for the dominance in 1980 the years prior, �We allowed on 96-points during the 1978 season and just 56 the next season and we were primed for something special,� Rust added, �that 1980 team was a rare group of players because they were not only outstanding athletes but true students of the game, in fact I believe if they would have had Madden Football many would have been high scorers for competitive play!� Rust said his players were just special, �They would memorize the scouting report and when the opposition came to the line of scrimmage, they would be pointing and calling out the favorite tendencies that had been shown on the scouting report and upheld by film study.�

According the Coach Rust, the Pirates first game against arch-rival Mount Pleasant was their closest game during the 1980 season, �Our towns are only separated by 15-miles and those games were always just so close and physical,� Rust continued, �Mount Pleasant scored late in the game to go ahead of us, 14-12, and it appeared we were going to lose when a fourth-down pass deep in their territory fell incomplete, and the stands on their side went wild, but---here comes a flag for pass interference. And, after the referee cleared the field of their jubilant fans, Byron Linwood calmly kicked a field to give us a 15-14 victory with no time left on the clock.�

Well, what a way to literally kick-start the season and in dramatic fashion.

But, the dominance would start soon as the Pirates shutout 12 of their 15 opponents, including ten straight and allowed only 23-points the entire season, and Rust said while his defense fed off their success, opponents all but knew what was about to happen, �I do believe that some teams became intimidated only after a few series of plays when they discovered that the hype about the tenacity of our defense was true, Rust continued, �Coaches always do such an excellent job of convincing their team they can player with anyone on any given night, but, eventually, we would take control and more often than not, it didn�t take long.�

During Pittsburg�s ten-game shutout streak, the Pirates returned at least one interception for a touchdown in every one of those games. As a team, Pittsburg intercepted 33 passes, led by Troy Thomas and Byron Linwood. Linwood finished his high school career with a mind-boggling 32 interceptions, including 19 in 1980.

And, the Pirates defense caused 28 fumbles that season.

Rust also mentioned the returning players were fueled by their season-ending loss to eventual Class 3-A State Champion Van the year before, in 1979, when the Pirates lost 7-6, �We didn�t forget that heart-breaking one point loss to Van and especially knowing they eventually won the state championship,� Rust continued, �It was all but inevitable we would meet them again down the road, and after seeing them at various track meets and basketball games, our team vowed to work to get a rematch with them. We just wanted to make sure we were playing the week of Thanksgiving.�

Pittsburg would gain revenge, beating Van 24-0 the second round of the playoffs.

The Pirates shutout four of their five playoffs opponents, including Van, DeKalb,
Decatur and Stamford to setup a state championship showdown against Van Vleck and their blue-chip offensive and special teams weapon, Eric Martin, who would later play at L.S.U, and both the Saints and Chiefs in the NFL.

The Pirates defense knew they would be tested by Martin, but they also knew it was their time on a 21-degree brutally cold day at Kyle Field in College Station, �We won 13-2 and contained Martin and we held Van Vleck�s offense to 63-total yards, in fact, their only points came on a bad snap while we were punting,� Rust elaborated, �We were punting with a tremendous wind behind us and our deep-snapper put a little extra juice on the snap and it went into the end zone where we recovered.�

Those two points were the only points scored against Pittsburg by anyone in Class
3-A that season.

1983 Daingerfield Tigers:

One of the 12 shutout victims during Pittsburg�s 1980 state championship run was against one of their long-time rivals, Daingerfield, 21-0.

And, like so many stories in sports, many times, there�s a connection from past greatness to the next level.

How can anyone argue against Daingerfield being the greatest defensive high school football team in Texas history?

Then again, I�ll leave the debate up to you.

There is no doubt how dominant Big Sandy was from 1973-1975 or Pittsburg in 1980, but the 1983 Daingerfield Tigers just annihilated anyone in their path.

Daingerfield finished 1983 with a state record 14 shutouts in 16 games on their way to the Class 3-A State Championship where they shut out Sweeny, 42-0 at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco.

I�m still amazed Head Coach Dennis Alexander�s 1983 Daingerfield team allowed only 8-points total, in 16-games, and even more amazing are how those points were scored, both in non-district games against Class 4-A programs.

The Tigers gave up a safety against Kilgore in their season-opener when a snap sailed over punter Doug Pittman�s head into the end zone where he recovered it for a safety.

Daingerfield beat Kilgore, 35-2, but junior offensive tackle Willie Everett will never forget the post-game, �We just beat Kilgore soundly and Coach Alexander was furious with us, I remember we ran wind sprints right after the game on their field, and we had just dominated the game!�

After a 14-0 shutout of Gilmer, Daingerfield faced what would be their biggest challenge all season against Carthage.

Daingerfield won the game 10-6, and allowed what proved to be the only touchdown scored on them the entire season, and Dennis Alexander remembers it very well, �We had stopped Carthage and forced a punt, but we roughed the punter and they kept the ball, and then, on another fourth down, they threw a long touchdown pass,� Alexander continued, �little did anyone know at the time, we wouldn�t be scored on again.�

By the way, Carthage would eventually be a semifinalist in Class 4-A that same season.

16-games, 14-shutouts, and the Daingerfield defense ended the season with thirteen consecutive shutouts and didn�t allow a single point during seven district games and six playoff games.

And, according to Alexander, there was no doubt some bragging rights to defend from Pittsburg to Daingerfield that season, �You have to realize the mindset of Daingerfield and Pittsburg fans and the connection to Lone Star Steel back then,� Alexander continued, �You could sense there might have been a few bets going on back then between the two fan bases, I mean the folks in Pittsburg did not want their shutout record broken, and especially by an arch rival like Daingerfield.�

While the coaches just wanted to win games, the Daingerfield fan base smelled blood in the water, �when we were getting close to the end of the regular season, about the 8th or 9th game, and we were able to string a few shutouts together the streak so to speak became more and more of a topic around town,� Alexander also said, �But, as coaches and as a team, we were just wanting to win games, but there was almost a feeling that either we shut someone out of it would feel like a loss.�

Other than their 10-6 win against Carthage in Week 3 had anyone sniffed scoring a point against the Tigers defense, but there were a couple of moments during the playoffs when the streak was tested, �We played against a really good team from (Waco) Robinson, they had a great kicker, it was our closest playoff game, we won 22-0, but we watched their pregame routine and there was a fierce north wind that day in Rockwall and their kicker was making everything from 50-yards and sometimes longer�so we knew if they got good field position he would be a weapon,� Alexander added, �And, they did have one possession deep into our territory in the fourth quarter and settled for a field goal attempt from 30-yards away, and there was a high snap and they attempted a pass and it fell incomplete.�

Alexander also said it became obvious opponents just wanted to find a way to score any points to end their streak and during their 42-0 semifinal win against Post, the streak was in serious jeopardy right before halftime, �We were playing Post in Fort Worth and we threw a pass out in the flat and their player (Daniel Gonzalez) intercepted it and started running down the sideline and I thought he was going to score, but our running back, Tony Evans caught him at our 20-yard line.� And, the Daingerfield defense went to work, �I think they ran four plays and lost 10-yards and the shutout streak continued,� Alexander said.

Daingerfield�s record-setting defense was led by ten seniors and one junior, while the offense lit up the scoreboard for 631 points and they had ten juniors and one senior (QB Doug Pittman), and according to Everett, the toughest opponent they faced all season was against themselves, �We always had some trash-talking going on between the offense and defense,� Everett said, �We always said if we played each other in a game, the offense would have scored against our own defense, �because we would have run the ball at them.�

Needless to say, that would have been worth the price of admission, but Alexander said, it was like that every day at practice, �You know those were the hardest working players I�ve ever had before then and up until this day,� Alexander continued, �Those kids worked so hard, never a bad day of practice, three hours a day, 16-consecutive weeks, they never complained and believe me, we worked them very hard.�

The 1983 Daingerfield Tigers were led defensively by seniors Vic Edmonds, Guy Searcy, Eric Everett, Johnny Hendrix, Mark Rowe, Ladd Freeman, Rodney Mims, Mark Austin, Randy Woods and Tim Lipham.

And, Alexander, who has 332-career victories said the �83 Daingerfield defense would be just fine against today�s wide-open spread offenses, �Yes, things have changed, but that defense was led by a great front four, they were really quick, our secondary won Gold medals in the hurdles and relays in track and field so they had tremendous speed and they were a shutdown group, and our linebackers were just fearless and could also run to the ball, but hold up against any kind of running attack.�

Alexander went on to say, �I understand more big plays are made today, but what we also had was that offense that could run the ball against anyone, pound the ball, control the clock and we would have played keep away a lot too, no one could stop our running game, no one�well,� Alexander laughed, �except perhaps our own defense at times.�

Alexander wrapped-up our conversation by telling me he is still amazed at the dominance of that 1983 defense, �There was such a tremendous sense of pride in how we played the game, on both sides of the ball, but with what our town had been through with the economy and tough times and layoffs at Lone Star Steel, we had tough kids, they played that way, we expected them to play that way, and at one point during the season I remember us not talking about giving up feet, not points or yards, and we were very happy when anyone moved the ball.�

There�s a reason why the Daingerfield Tigers have played in nine state championship games, winning six times, including that memorable team in 1983.

Before I get to the next great defensive team, let�s all stop for a second and realize the term, �great,� not good or very good, not one of the best, we�re talking among the �greatest ever,� defensive teams, so, let me choose a couple of Class 5-A programs who have to be considered, although I only saw each team play twice during their championship season while covering other games or teams during my career.

1985 Houston Yates:

Santana Dotson was a really good football player at Jack Yates High School in Houston, Baylor University in college (consensus All-American in 1991) and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers in the NFL, before ending his career with the Washington Redskins.

But, the 1985 Houston Yates football team was so talented and deep, Dotson didn�t start until his senior year. He was a major part of the Lions ridiculous depth on defense, but he had to wait for his time as a starter on the defensive line behind James Goode who eventually went to Oklahoma and then to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL.

That�s what you had to deal with to play football as a Yates Lion for so many years, and perhaps none better than the �85 Lions defense that allowed only 84-points as the state�s highest classification, Class 5-A.

Legendary Yates head football coach Luther Booker demanded near perfection on defense, and if you didn�t give it, you didn�t play much.

Dotson said growing up, you learned the Yates way quickly, or else, �We always had a strong mentality of defense at Yates, Coach Booker�s defensive teams always played with passion and left everything they had on the field,� Dotson continued, �When I was a freshman, I watched the likes of Eugene Hall and John Roper and how they played the game and those guys were great players to look up to as a young athlete.�

Yates went 10-2 in 1984, losing twice to Houston Madison, but according to Dotson, the seed for the state championship run in 1985 was planted after the Lions 29-19 loss to Converse Judson in the Class 5-A semifinals two years earlier, �We pretty much had our jaws set to make up for being so close two years earlier and we knew we had some young playmakers who would make a difference in running back Johnny Bailey and linebacker Melvin Foster,� Dotson added, �If I remember correctly, Bailey and Foster were the first two sophomores to start at Yates in over a decade, that�s how special they were.�

Dotson said even though Foster was an underclassman, he was a tremendous leader, �Melvin made it very clear were not going to be denied, he just let the entire team know we were not going to fall short, no matter what, we would play defense as one and doing everything we had to do to dominate.�

Yates dominated alright, becoming the first Class 5-A team to win 16 games in a season, and outscoring their opponents, 657-84.

But, let�s not forget, this is about the great defensive teams.

The 1985 Yates Lions have to be in the conversation and some would say leading the way, �We had a weekly goal of not allowing more than 17-points a game because we knew our offense would handle the rest, but then we started adding one shutout after another and we had a feeding frenzy,� Dotson added, �We just refused to let anyone into our end zone, within reason since we were playing at such a high-level against some really good teams like Jones, Madison, and West Orange-Stark.�

Yates beat Jones twice, 13-6 in district and again in the quarterfinals, 21-15.

Dotson said Coach Booker worked the defense harder than anyone, �It was all about conditioning, schemes, contact and Coach Booker was old school, there were many times we had our 1�s and 1�s and there wasn�t much of a drop off at all when we went 2�s against 2�s either.�

When asked what the �85 Yates team meant to the city, Dotson said, �I look back, I remember such pride we had throughout our campus, the community and city support, we had been so close so many times, and like Melvin (Foster) said from the beginning of our workouts in August, we refused to be denied and we finished the job in style.�

And, finish the season in style they did, the Lions completely overwhelmed Odessa Permian in the state championship game, �We hadn�t seen Permian, but we heard all about the Mojo and their great tradition and the media hype,� Dotson continued, �we didn�t know what to expect, we just knew we weren�t going to make mistakes, it wasn�t about them, it was about what we could and would do, and it became very obvious after the first 2-3 series, we figured out they weren�t going to do very much.�

Yates won that game, 37-0, their eighth and final shutout of that memorable season.

And, as the late-great Hall of Fame Coach Booker would be known to say many times, that 1985 Yates Lions defense was just, �fantastic.�

1988 Dallas Carter:

Freddie James became an assistant football coach at Dallas Carter High School in 1971, and just over a decade later he took over as the Cowboys head coach and immediately took the program to the semifinals before losing to L.D. Bell, 21-13 in 1982.

From as far back as I can remember, Carter could always play some defense, and the 1988 Carter Cowboys had as James told me, �The mentality to be known as the best defensive team not only in Carter history, but Texas football history.�

Carter�s 1988 defense didn�t have all the glitz and glamour of stats and an inordinate amount of shutouts, but you would remember them the rest of the week if you played them, �We were fast and physical, if we were playing against a passing team, we would just load up the box and we were going to get to the quarterback before he could throw it,� James continued, �And, if they wanted to run the ball, we were in the backfield sometimes before they could hand the ball to the running back.�

I was at Texas Stadium on that December day in 1988, when �linebacker� Jessie Armstead caught a game-winning touchdown pass at the goal-line to beat Marshall with 3-seconds left in the game, 22-18. Although 40-points were scored in that game, I left Texas Stadium knowing I�d seen a great defensive game.

Armstead, who was the unquestioned leader of the Carter defense in 1988, hadn�t taken a snap at tight end all year, but Coach James sent him in on offense with the game on the line, and the decision paid off.

Armstead, along with future NFL stars, Clifton Abraham, Le�Shai Maston, and Joe Burch were the core of that defense, and there were others stars, Derric Evans, Calvin Calhoun and Darius Smith, among others.

But, according the Coach James, the success of the Carter defense started with their love of the game as freshman on the Carter junior varsity team three years earlier, �One of my assistant coaches and a parent kept telling me about this group of freshman and how special they were, so I finally left a practice early enough to go watch them play,� James continued, �I watched from the stands and every one of them were tackling, jumping all around with excitement and passion and they appeared to just love playing the game.�

James said watching those young athletes gave him a spark, �It really gave me an adrenalin rush, they always had fun and they always played full-throttle,� and James added, �they were going to hit you, pick you back off the ground and then the whistle blew and they were going to hit you again.�

Most anyone who has ever followed Texas high school football knows the story of the 1988 Carter Cowboys and how off the field issues nearly derailed their championship run, and eventually stripped them of their state championship victory against Converse Judson, but when we talk about the great defensive teams in Texas, 1988 Dallas Carter has to be in the conversation.

1989 Chapel Hill Bulldogs:

In my opinion, to be considered in the greatest defensive team discussion, you had to win a state championship first and foremost.

And, most of the teams I�ve mentioned went basically unchallenged, and then there were the Chapel Hill Bulldogs of 1989.

But, this team is among my favorites because they did it the hard way, and their story was almost lost in the shuffle as they entered the final week of the regular season with a 5-4 record and playing rival Whitehouse to clinch a playoff berth.

Chapel Hill had played tremendous defense throughout most of the season, allowing on average, a touchdown per game while recording five shutouts. But, the offense needed a kick-start and first-year head coach Dickey Meeks decided to make a change moving Kendrick Price from safety to quarterback. Price would remain on defense as well because he was too good not to play both sides of the ball.

And, during Price�s first start at quarterback, Chapel Hill crushed Whitehouse 63-0, and clinched a playoff berth and no one could have imagined what was about to happen next, surely not even their head coach, �We knew we had a championship caliber defense with Kendrick (Price), Michael Everhart, Willie Mitchell, Elvin Massenburg, Lamond Dean and others,� Meeks said somewhat jokingly, �We were really good on defense, but we weren�t that good where we could rely on the defense to also score all of our points!�

Well, the �Dog Pound� defense was inspired by the offensive spark, and the Bulldogs let the dogs out over a six-week run that included four shutouts.

Meeks, now the head coach at Pittsburg could sense his team was gaining confidence, �Our defense gained even more confidence knowing the offense could score some points, and the mentality went from happy to be in the playoffs to, we can beat anyone.�

Chapel Hill opened the playoffs with a lot to prove to another team too, Terrell, who had beaten them 19-7 earlier in the year. Chapel Hill recorded their sixth shutout and gained revenge, beating Terrell 17-0, while holding them to minus-13 yards rushing.

Shutout number seven came against Lancaster, 25-0 at Texas Stadium before two knock down, blood and guts wins against Denison, 16-13, and Mount Pleasant, 13-0.

The Mount Pleasant shutout was Chapel Hill�s seventh of the season and it came on a cold and windy day at Homer B. Johnson Stadium in Garland. The shutout also included and it included a four-down stand inside the Bulldogs 10-yard line and two blocked field goal attempts.

Big Spring was next in the semifinals and on a day with the temperatures below 20-degrees, it was all Chapel Hill, and Meeks was worried about the weather being a distraction, �I was very concerned our players would be too cold to play, but in the end, I think this was the one game when our opponent was very intimidated by our defense and team speed,� and he was right, Chapel Hill coasted, 59-6 and clinched a spot in the Class 4-A State Championship Game against A&M Consolidated.

So, a team once 5-4 and on the verge of starting the basketball season early was now a win away from a state championship, and I�ll never forget what junior defensive tackle Lamond Dean told me the week of the game, �A&M Consolidated known as the elite program in Class 4-A, but we were okay with that because we wanted to play and beat the best team available.�

Meeks also knew his football team was in overdrive and playing with supreme confidence, �We got on a roll, and we started playing with such confidence and once we got rolling, there was no stopping us.�

Chapel Hill defensive coordinator Barry Anderson, now the defensive coordinator at John Tyler had the perfect game plan and even better, the players to carry out the mission statement against A&M Consolidated�s blue-chip quarterback, Tommy Preston.

A&M Consolidated was shutout victim number nine as the Bulldogs beat the Tigers 14-0 in the Astrodome to win the Class 4-A State Championship and end a truly magic carpet ride that was once grounded.

Chapel Hill won their last seven games, five of them shutouts and nine shutouts overall during a season or perseverance.

On a final note, a Chapel Hill defensive player won the Statewide �Defensive Player of the Year� Award for three consecutive years, Willie Mitchell in 1989, Chad Boyd in 1990 and Delithro Bell in 1991.

They also won a state championship again in 2011, this time in Class 3-A, Division I.

Thank you.

David Smoak
Program Director-ESPN Central Texas
[email protected]

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