Everyone surrounding the Henry County High School football team had a pretty good feeling that the Patriots were primed to make a big move forward in the 1985 football season.
The team had battled to a 4-5 record in James Counce’s first season as head coach, but the young squad had a lot of pieces in place. There was size on the offensive line with players like John Hudson, Richard Kinley, Donnie Webb, David Crawford and Andy Patterson ready to play. Steve Summers looked ready to lead an option-based offense at quarterback with runners like Ron Harrison, Barry Glisson and Terry Tharpe showing promise. Chris Hudgins gave Summers a dependable receiving option and Anthony Dickson could both block and catch at tight end.
The defense was led by linebackers like Eddie Sanders and Tharpe. Glisson was a hard-hitting defensive back. Hudson and Kinley led the defensive line.
There was promise of a playoff run getting started at Patriot Stadium. Then disaster struck in the early morning hours Aug. 30, the Friday the Patriots were set to open the season at Waverly. The field house at HCHS burned to the ground. It took with it all the team’s footballs, uniforms, helmets and pads. It destroyed the weight room equipment and all the film the coaches had stored to help prepare the team.
I remember the scene well as school officials and media poked around the few pieces of the structure that remained standing with a single weight bench here and there still on the concrete floor.
It was a total shock to look at but not nearly as numbing as trying to figure out how to play the game at Waverly. It became apparent quickly that they couldn’t play on Friday, but after some phone calls by school officials and Quarterback Club officers, equipment was located. The game was rescheduled for Saturday night in Waverly.
PATS NEEDED EQUIPMENT FAST
It seemed the entire Henry County community mobilized in a matter of minutes. Quarterback Club president Larry Crawford and Doug Summers jumped in businessman Bill Dyer’s airplane to fly to Knoxville to pick up helmets and shoulder and hip pads. They rented a truck to get it back to Paris.
Terry Harrison and HCHS assistant principal Bill Hudson drove to Cookeville to acquire duffle bags and knee and thigh pads. Jerry Smith and Don Webb met an airplane in Paducah to pick up knee braces that were flown in from Chicago.
The University of Tennessee at Martin provided some of its practice jerseys to get the team on the field.
The commons area at HCHS was a madhouse of energy when the equipment arrived with many people sizing up players and handing it out. Somehow, the Patriots played football that Saturday night.
FOG COVERED OPENER AT WAVERLY
Through all the uncertainty and shuffling that had to be done, the Patriots took the field to take on a Waverly team that always played HCHS tough. The Tigers didn’t disappoint as they hung with the Patriots throughout the game.
When the sun went down, a fog covered the field at Waverly and gave it an eerie feeling especially after the field house fire. The Patriots found themselves locked into a 27-27 tie in the fourth quarter.
Late in the game, Summers led the offense downfield and pulled out the win with just seconds left to play by passing to a diving Glisson who made the catch in the corner of the end zone.
WIN WAS FIRST OF 10 IN REGULAR SEASON
I guess the Patriots figured if they could survive that first week, then they could take on anything and they defeated everything they faced in the regular season. It was the HCHS program’s first undefeated regular season.
Highlights included a a 21-0 shutout win over longtime rival Jackson Central-Merry and a 42-0 shellacking of heated rival Dickson County. The Patriots roared to a 19-0 win over Dyersburg on homecoming and whipped Covington 49-7 when Summers threw a school record four touchdown passes. That is still the school mark, although Will Parrish tied it in 2018.
When the season ended, Harrison had set career marks for carries at 374 and yards gained rushing at 1,842. Hudgins established marks for receptions and receiving yardage while also setting another record for career field goals. All those marks have fallen over time, but showed what a special season it was.
Hudson and Hudgins made the All-State team. Hudson was District 10-AAA’s Offensive Player of the Year. Summers, Harrison, Glisson, Kinley, Crawford and Sanders were all named to the All-District team.
PATRIOTS WIN FIRST PLAYOFF GAME
Henry County ran its record to 11-0 by blasting Franklin 32-10 to open the playoffs at a packed Patriot Stadium. Harrison ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns in that contest. Hudgins kicked two field goals and caught a touchdown pass.
DEFENSIVE BATTLE BREAKS OUT
The Patriot defense in 1985 is largely overlooked when the season is remembered, but it was just as important to the team’s success as the explosive offense. The Patriots set a school record by allowing only 67 points in the regular season. That is still the fewest points an HCHS team has allowed.
So it was no surprise that a defensive battle broke out when the Patriots traveled to Nashville to play at Whites Creek in the second round of the playoffs. Neither offense could get going with the Cobras scoring the game’s first touchdown midway through the second quarter on a 78-yard punt return that every Patriot fan that was in attendance will tell you should have been called back for multiple clipping penalties.
Late in the game, the Patriots mounted a potential scoring drive that I will never forget. Three times on the drive, Henry County faced fourth-down-and-long calls with a pitch going to Harrison behind the blocking of Hudson and Kinley. They picked up the first down every time to get deep into Whites Creek’s territory before a deflected pass was intercepted to end the drive.
The teams would swap punts later with Whites Creek fumbling a kick by Hudgins and Danny Hassell recovering near midfield. The Patriots drove down to the Cobras’ 19-yard line and faced another fourth-down call. They put all their receivers on the right side and swung a pass back to the fullback on the left side to get the ball to the Whites Creek 2-yard line, but a fumble kept the Patriots from scoring.
Whites Creek star running back David Sadler showed off his speed when he broke through the line of Patriots trying to strip the ball away and ran 98 yards to seal the Cobras’ 14-0 victory.
STILL A HEROIC SEASON
No matter what happened in that last playoff game, the 1985 season was filled with heroes both on and off the field. I will never forget the community coming together to get that team on the field after the field house fire.
I will also never forget Summers’ no-look pitches to Harrison and Glisson or Hudgins’ sticky fingers when Summers passed. Hudson and Kinley could rate with the top blocking duos ever to play in this state. They were simply road graders up front.
Glisson may have been the hardest hitter ever to play for the Patriots and Sanders was a tackling machine. There were just so many Patriots that made contributions that year.
The HCHS program had always been solid, but the 1985 season showed that it could be special, and special it has been to all of us since then. Go Big Red!
TOMMY PRIDDY is a Paris native who has been sports editor at The Post-Intelligencer since 1985. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.