First RHS state champs in football to be honored Friday
By Jim Turner

Posted on September 16, 2015 4:08 PM

A very special team in Russellville High School football history—the 1980 Panthers—is to be honored Friday at Rhea Stadium as part of the 2015 season being dedicated to outstanding teams whose last digit is a zero.

The 1990 state champion squad was honored at last week’s 41-6 win over Logan County in the Clash of the Cats. Future home games will fine the 1970 and 1950 squads as featured attractions.

The 1980 team holds a special place in RHS grid history. It was the first state championship squad wearing the Black and Gold. Coach Waymond Morris’ 1964 team and Coach Stumpy Baker’s 1966 team had been state runner-up. Coach Harold Hunter’s 1947 team and Coach Jimmy Haynes’ 1950 squads were tremendous, but there was no playoff system in those days.

With the 1980 team winning the state, the precedent was set. Coach Ken Barrett had two more teams win it all, and the 1987 team joined ’64 and ’66 as state finalists.

Now it’s difficult to comprehend the lack of success Russellville football had experienced during a long stretch in the 1970s. When the 1979 team went 7-6 and reached the district semifinals, it was the first winning season for RHS in nine years. There was optimism for this 1980 team, however, because of 1) the success of the ’79 team, 2) the return of several key players, 3) the team’s positive attitude and 4) the presence of 16 seniors on the roster. 

The season began with a 20-13 win at Murray, but next the Panthers lost 20-0 to a Franklin-Simpson team that was the defending Class AAA state champion. F-S quarterback Joe ‘Joker’ Phillips—who became the head coach at the University of Kentucky—ran for one touchdown, passed for a second, and set up the third on an 8-yard run on a fourth and seven. Coach James ‘Shadetree’ Matthews was building a dynasty in the adjoining county. Now the playing fields at Franklin and Russellville are named for the head coaches in this game, Matthews and Barrett.

 The Panthers responded by whipping Clarksville Northeast 38-6 and Todd Central 46-0. It was only the second time the team had started 3-1 in the 10 years since Coach Jim Gladden’s 1970 team had reached the state semifinals. After the two blowouts, RHS had risen to third in Class A in the Litratings, trailing only Owen County and defending state champion Bellevue. 

Fort Campbell handed the Panthers a lopsided loss and a reality check. Coach Marshall Patterson’s Fort Campbell Falcons, who were the defending Class AA state champions, led 38-0 before Bernard Bellamy scored the only RHS points on a 91-yard return of a fumble recovery. 

That was to be the last loss of the season for Barrett’s Bunch, and both of them had come to defending state champions under legendary coaches. Ken Barrett was beginning a new legend and dynasty in Pantherland. 

The first of nine straight wins came 51-20 over Crittenden County. Randy Smith, David McCormick and Bellamy each rushed for over 100 yards, and Keb Barrett passed for two touchdowns. The first district win was a 33-0 romp over Fulton City. 

As Queen Donna Robertson (Bryan) watched, the Panthers won 28-20 in homecoming over Ballard Memorial. Among the alumni coming home to see remodeled Rhea Stadium (new press box, metal seating, concrete ramps and improved lighting) were members of the 1949 and 1950 teams, which had combined for records of 19-1. Among them were two members of the 1980 coaching staff, Assistant Head Coach Howard Wren and Offensive Coordinator Buddy Linton.

 One of the closest games was against another former state champion, Trigg County. The Panthers won 14-7. Keb Barrett passed 22 yards to Tim Smith for one touchdown and Bellamy scored on a 4-yard run for the other. The two-point conversion came on a pass from Barrett to slotback Kevin Fruits. They were all seniors, as was another skilled player, Randy Smith. The regular season ended with a 28-3 win over Butler County. 

The first postseason game was at Tompkinsville. The first half was reminiscent of the scoreless tie in the 1969 regional finals, won by the Bears in overtime on a statistical tiebreaker.  The winning points came on a 33-yard field goal by Tim Smith.

McCormick, a sophomore, scored the lone touchdown on a 15-yard run, and Smith kicked that extra point in a 10-0 win. 

Starters listed for that game included five who went both ways, all-staters Tommy Wilkins and Bellamy along with Gregg Head, Keb Barrett and Fruits. Joining them were Eddie Hanks, Demosko Gordon, Michael Woods, Charles Hampton, Dickie Shifflett, Tim Williams, Randy Smith, Tim Smith, Brian Brown, Stewart Pillow, Jeff Smotherman and McCormick. 

A lot of other people saw extensive action, including seniors Thad ‘Fish’ Covington, Tim Allen, Scott Blythe, Robbie Camp, Stevie Farmer, Greg Wells, David Gray and Kelly Lee. 

The state semifinals were played in Owenton against the state’s top-ranked Class A team, Owen County. Covington did much of the quarterbacking when Barrett was injured. He and McCormick rushed for touchdowns. Head and Fruits picked off interceptions. Tim Smith kicked four extra points in the 28-13 win that sent a Russellville football team to the state finals for the first time since 1966.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28, the Panthers and hundreds—maybe thousands—of their fans found themselves at Cardinal Stadium  on the grounds of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. It was cold, snow-showery day, but the play of the Panthers warmed those in black and gold.

Russellville beat the defending state champs 16-0 with Defensive Coordinator Gwynne Gaddie’s defense pitching a shutout on the big stage. Now 35 years later, Gaddie is defensive coordinator of a John Myers-coached Panther team that is a favorite to return to the state finals for the first time in 25 years.

Bellamy ran for 84 yards, Randy Smith 73 and McCormick 58 in that 1980 championship game. Keb Barrett completed 7 of 13 passes for 84 yards. Five of those receptions, including a touchdown, were pulled in by Fruits. Tim Smith kicked a 32-yard field goal. Head and Randy Smith recovered fumbles. 

Captains Bernard Bellamy and Tom Wilkins, who were the team’s most honored players, accepted the state championship trophy. 

Denver Bell was a member of the coaching staff. Junior high coaches who helped out on the sidelines were Korlin Harrison, Steve Meredith and Ted Zikeli. 

Among the cheerleaders were Kelly Ashby, Kelly and Shelly Smith (Tim’s twin sisters), Robin Foster, Sally Boyd, Debbie Campbell, Sharlene Carnell, and Gina Ralls. Sally was on the field last year during the celebration of the first game ever played at Rhea Stadium in 1939, since her husband Clark is the grandson of the late Thomas S. Rhea, for whom the stadium is named. Kelly Ashby Paul attended the reunion of this team in 1980 but is busy helping her husband, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, as he seeks the Republican nomination for president. When this team was honored in 2010, four members were already decease: Robbie Camp, Kevin Katz, David McCormick and Scott Williamson.

Kickoff against visiting Todd Central is at 7 p.m. The 1980 team, cheerleaders and coaches will be honored at halftime. WRUS will carry the game at 610 AM and on the internet.


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