Cream of the Crop
Today, we celebrate the accomplishments of the 1969 Tazewell Bulldogs football team.
Don Necessary called the 1969 squad “The Cream of the Crop” when it came to Tazewell football. The team finished with a 9-0-1 regular season record, a record thus far that has been unequaled. They have the only undefeated regular season in the history of Tazewell High School football (the 1951 team won every game but they were forced to forfeit the Virginia High game for the use of an ineligible player).
In 1968, the Tazewell Bulldogs tied Marion for the Southwest District Championship. So as the 1969 season was about to begin, Dave Rider’s Bulldogs were the early favorite to capture the Southwest District Title. The main reason for so much regard for the ’69 team was the return of All-Area halfback John Rainey and the entire offensive line from the year before. All-Area tackle Robert Buchanan was set to anchor a line that included center Greg Bowman, guards Bill Strong and Dan Helmandollar, with Jimmy Kiser at the other tackle position.
Rainey entered the 1969 season with 169 points in two years of varsity football. He scored 11 touchdowns and one PAT for 67 points as a sophomore. During his junior season he scored 17 touchdowns for 102 points.
There was some concern as the season approached. Tazewell lost a pair of two-way standouts to graduation – Jack Crabtree signed to play football at Marshall and John Barrett enrolled at East Tennessee State on a basketball and football grant.
The Bulldogs opened the 1969 season on the road against the Princeton Tigers. Princeton was coming off an impressive 22-8 win over defending Double A State Champion, Hinton.
At the end of the first half in week one, Princeton held an 8-0 lead over the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs erupted for 42 unanswered points in the second half to capture a 42-8 victory over the Tigers. John Rainey scored four touchdowns, one on a 70-yard punt return, added a two-point conversion, recovered a fumble, intercepted a pass, to pace the Bulldogs. Charles Brooks added two touchdowns for the Dogs and Dan Helmandollar intercepted two passes for the Bulldogs’ defense.
John Rainey continued his assault on the record books in week two as the Bulldogs captured a 26-6 victory over John Battle. Rainey scored two touchdowns and rolled up 183 yards rushing on 36 carries. Brooks and Jeff Stanley added touchdowns for Tazewell. The Tazewell defense held John Battle to 22 yards rushing in the second half and 123 yards rushing for the game.
Tazewell was the favorite heading into their week three match-up with the Big Creek Owls. But the Big Creek defense held Rainey to negative 2 yards rushing in the contest. A Big Creek touchdown run by John Spraggins gave the Owls a 6-0 lead at the half. With six minutes left in the third quarter, Rainey found the endzone from 10-yards out to tie the score at six. The Owls defense managed to stop Rainey on the two-point try and the score remained tied at six. The Owls mounted a serious threat late in the game as the drove the ball to the Tazewell 17-yard line. The drive stalled and Big Creek called on kicker Ray Stanley to attempt a field goal. The kick sailed wide and the game ended in a 6-6 tie.
In week four, John Rainey scored four touchdowns, gained 170 yards on 21 carries, intercepted a pass, returned one punt 12 yards, and ran back a kickoff 19 yards as the Tazewell Bulldogs drilled the Graham G-Men 48-0 before about 6,000 fans at Mitchell Stadium. Sophomore Ritchie Thompson added a pair of touchdowns, one on a 24-yard pass from quarterback Bobby Edwards and another on a 10-yard run. Bill Harris added a touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Tazewell defense held Graham to eight yards rushing and 31 yards through the air. Meanwhile Tazewell’s offense racked up 22 first downs, 330 yards rushing, and completed four of five passes for 92 yards.
The 1969 version of the Backyard Brawl saw Tazewell narrowly defeat the upset minded Richlands Blue Tornadoes 15-6. Rainey scored two touchdowns and a two-point conversion and picked up 125 yards rushing in the victory. Once again the Bulldogs defense was outstanding in the win. Richlands was held to 95 yards rushing and eight yards passing. Tazewell’s offense rushed for 246 yards and gained another 27 yards through the air.
Week six featured a battle between the unbeaten 1968 Southwest District co-champions. Tazewell with a 4-0-1 record traveled to Marion to face the Scarlet Hurricanes who had won all five of their previous contests. The game got off to a bad start for Bulldog fans when one minute and forty-seven seconds into the game, Marion’s Tom Plummer picked up a blocked point and scored from five-yards out. Marion’s QB Greg Harvey ran in the two-point conversion to make the score 8-0. Rainey scored three second quarter touchdowns and returned a third quarter punt 80-yards for a touchdown as Tazewell pushed their lead to 27-8 before Marion pulled itself together. Marion scored late in the third quarter when Harvey ran the ball in from 9-yards out. Harvey added the two-point conversion and as the game headed to the fourth quarter Tazewell held a 27-16 lead. With 2:47 remaining in the game, Marion scored again. Harvey hit David Echols on a screen pass for a 34-yard touchdown. Harvey passed to Plummer for a successful two-point conversion to cut the Tazewell lead to 27-24. After the score, Tazewell was unable to move the ball and they were forced to punt the ball back to the Scarlet Hurricanes. Eight plays after the punt, Marion had the ball at the Tazewell 14-yard line with 50 seconds left. With a first and ten from the 14-yard line, Marion quarterback Greg Harvey dropped back and lofted a pass down field that was intercepted by Bulldogs defender Butch Lutz. The interception ended the scoring threat and the ball game. Tazewell improved their record to 5-0-1 and Marion fell to 5-1.
In week seven, the Bulldogs jumped on Pulaski early and often. On the third play of the game, quarterback Bob Edwards hit Charles Clements with a 56-yard scoring strike. Rainey passed to Clements for the two-point conversion to give the Bulldogs an 8-0 lead. In the second quarter, Edwards once again hooked up with Clements, this time for a 28-yard touchdown. Edwards hit Clements once again for the two-point conversion to give Tazewell a 16-0 lead at halftime. The final Bulldog touchdown of the game came on a Rainey 1-yard touchdown run. Edwards found Rainey in the end zone for the two-point conversion for the final 24-0 margin. Tazewell had a 145 yards rushing and gained another 157 yards through the air. The Tazewell defense held Pulaski to 94 yards rushing.
In week eight, Tazewell captured the Southwest District championship with a 16-0 victory over the Virginia High Bearcats. Rainey scored a touchdown, a pair of two-point conversions, and gained 147 yards on 31 carries. Tazewell’s other touchdown came when Bob Edwards connected with Charles Clemonts for a 53-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. That was more than enough points for this Tazewell defense. The Bulldogs held the Bearcats to 87 yards on the ground and 44 yards through the air. On offense, Tazewell rushed for 215 yards and gained another 123 yards through the air.
Against the Saltville Shakers in week nine, Rainey ran for nearly 100 yards and scored 20 points as the Bulldogs raced to a 32-8 win at home. Rainey scored two touchdowns and four two-point conversions to run his season total to 21 touchdowns and 11 two-point conversions for 148 points. That total broke what was the school record of 132 points in a season held by Don Barnes. Charles Brooks added an 8-yard touchdown run for the Bulldogs Bob Edwards connected with Ronald Dye for a 15-yard touchdown pass. The stingy Bulldog defense only allowed Saltville to gain 33 yards on the ground and 12 yards through the air.
At Grundy in week ten, two key defensive plays, one by Jimmy Kiser and the other by Danny Helmandollar, plus two short scoring runs by Rainey sparked Tazewell to a 20-0 over the Golden Wave, giving Tazewell their first and only undefeated regular season in the school’s history. Rainey who needed 28 points to tie the All-Time Virginia Group 1-A scoring record of 176 set by Mickey Riggs of Craddock in 1951, managed two touchdowns for 12 points and finished the regular season with 160 points, or 23 touchdowns and 11 two-point conversions. Charles Clements scored from five yards out and Bill Harris added a two-point conversion for Tazewell’s 20 points. Kiser’s fumble recovery setup Tazewell’s second score and Helmandollar’s interception setup the Bulldogs last score of the night.
Tazewell advanced to play Halifax in the Group 1-A regional football playoffs. Halifax had a record of 8-1. Halifax’s only setback was a 13-0 loss to William Fleming. The game was played on a Saturday afternoon at South Boston Park. Tazewell was trying to redeem itself from a poor showing in the 1968 playoffs. In 1968, Tazewell was thrashed 40-0 by eventual 1-A champion George Washington of Danville.
In the Virginia 1-A Regional playoff, Tazewell suffered their first loss of the season. The Bulldogs dropped a 30-7 decision to Halifax. Tazewell’s lone touchdown came on a 91-yard run with the opening kickoff by John Rainey.
After the season, several Tazewell players received individual recognition for their fine season. Bill Strong, Greg Bowman, and John Rainey were named First Team All-Area by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Charles Clements received Third Team Honors. Herbert Chapman, Jimmy Kiser, Danny Helmandollar, and Bob Edwards all received Honorable Mention honors.
Robert Buchanan averaged 12 tackles per game during the 1969 season and graded out at 87% blocking on offense. Buchanan made All District and All Region despite missing four games.
During this memorable season, John Rainey concluded his career with over 3,000 yards rushing to become Tazewell's All-time leading rusher. Rainey rushed for 1427 yards during his senior season. He scored 17 touchdowns during his junior season and rushed for 700 yards as a sophomore. Rainey became the second Tazewell Bulldog football player to be named to the All-American Team. He racked up 54 touchdowns and scored a total of 349 career points from 1967-69 with the Tazewell Bulldogs. At the time, his 349 points made him the Group 1-A career scoring leader.
In 1970, Rainey, along with Stan Land, Kent Merritt, and Harrison Davis became the first four African-Americans to integrate the University of Virginia football program.