By Charles Rogers
The 1949 football season turned out to be the beginning of the heated rivalry between Moore County High School and Huntland High School that still exists today, 70 years later.
In 1949, Homer Laws, the Huntland High principal, was looking for a football coach to build a good program at his school. Mrs. Nell Laws Tipps, the MCHS Home Economics Teacher and Mr. Laws’ sister, introduced her brother to the coach he was seeking, Mr. Laws hired Lynchburg native Shirley Majors in the summer of 1949 to coach the Huntland High football team. Mr. Majors’ wife, four sons and a daughter continued to live in Lynchburg and he commuted to his coaching job in Huntland. Mr. Majors’ oldest son John was a MCHS freshman classmate, teammate and friend of mine.
Our 1949 football season at MCHS was a disaster by most any measure, except for one game, the MCHS-Huntland game.
Huntland took an early lead and looked as if it would be another blowout loss for MCHS. In desperation, the MCHS coach replaced the starting senior tailback with freshman tailback (John Majors) in the fourth quarter. Trailing by two touchdowns John scored on three spectacular long runs on MCHS’ next three possessions, overcoming the deficit and winning the game for MCHS. It was evident a superstar was born.
Coach Majors was quite upset at the loss and was overheard saying after the game “This will be the last time a son of mine beats me.” He moved his entire family to Huntland the following summer. This upset the diehard MCHS supporters, since the Majors family had been Moore County residents for generations. Many considered Shirley Majors a traitor to his hometown and county.
MCHS’ football fortunes began to improve in the 1950 season when new coach Carl Rushing focused intensely on conditioning and basics. I don’t remember what our record was but do remember that John Majors ran all over us and we lost to Huntland. Coach Rushing left coaching after one year to go to work at Jack Daniel Distillery.
The rivalry started
Joe Nunley took over as coach in 1951. He was an excellent coach and was very successful in motivating his players to perform at levels they didn’t know they were capable of. We improved substantially from the prior year, yet we lost to Huntland again. MCHS had led most of the game and it appeared we would win. It just wasn’t meant to be. As time was running out John Majors scored their winning touchdown on a long run.
The rivalry intensified
An air of optimism existed when Coach Nunley started fall practices in August 1952. There was a strong feeling this could be a really outstanding season. Nine of us starters on offense were seniors who had been playing together as a unit since we were sophomores. The other two starters, the fullback and right tackle, were juniors. Most of the offensive players also played on defense.
While the 1952 fall practices were going on, Dan Masters, the MCHS principal, received a call from the principal at McMinnville High School. He suggested the two schools schedule and play a game in McMinnville since both schools had open dates on the Friday night when most Tennessee high schools start the season. Masters was cool to the idea as was Guy Ervin, the school superintendent. McMinnville’s school was probably four to five times the size of MCHS and their football program had historically fielded powerhouse teams. Coach Nunley, who was from McMinnville, stepped in and told Masters and Ervin to schedule the game and our boys will beat them.
The press and most of the public in both Moore and Warren counties gave MCHS little chance of being able to compete with McMinnville. Coach Nunley spent considerable time getting into the heads of the players to the point we became convinced that no one could beat us, not even McMinnville. It worked “big time” and against all odds MCHS won the game by two touchdowns.
The win against McMinnville was the impetuous the team needed to begin believing that no one on our schedule, including Huntland, will beat us this season. We plowed through the schedule, winning all the games with relative ease until finally, the Huntland game was next. We were undefeated and untied and Huntland was on a 20-plus game winning streak. John Majors was leading the state in scoring, yardage gained, etc. The Nashville Banner and Tennessean newspapers had built this game up to be one of the “the games of the season” in Middle Tennessee. The game was scheduled to be a home game in Lynchburg. Attendance was expected to be very high. The very limited bleacher seats and even with the available standing room, MCHS couldn’t begin to accommodate the anticipated crowd. The decision was made to give up the home field advantage and play the game in Shelbyville.
I don’t know the exact size of the crowd but it was in the thousands. All available seats were filled and hundreds more were standing around the playing field. Our team was tuned up to a point we were functioning like a well oiled machine and our confidence was sky high. Our defense was awesome and our offense, led by featured tailback Buck Rolman scored the points needed to win. I have been unable to locate the official game statistics but from memory I believe John Majors wound up with minus 15 yards rushing. MCHS won the game 13-0.
Payback for MCHS
After the 1949 season loss to MCHS Huntland won 70 of its next 71 – most with John or one of his three brothers leading the way (the only loss being to MCHS in 1952).
Moore County High School ended its season 10-0 and became the first MCHS team in its history to go undefeated and untied. So far as I can determine (I could be wrong) it still is the only undefeated and untied team in its history.
There was no high school playoff system in 1952. MCHS played Manchester in the 1952 postseason Crimson Clover Bowl in Winchester in 15 degrees and a snow storm. The game ended tied 6-6.
1952 was the inaugural season of the Duck River Valley Conference and MCHS was its first champion.
Rivalries come and go and some never end. This one has gone on for almost 70 years, so who knows whether or not this one will.
John Majors and I are now both 84 years old and have remained friends over the years. I can’t help myself and often remind him of the outcome of the 1952 MCHS-Huntland game.
Charles J. Rogers played right end and defensive end for Moore County High and is a 1953 graduate of MCHS. He now lives in Tullahoma and is a regular columnist for The News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org