1970 Panthers came ever-so-close to state
By Jim Turner

Posted on September 22, 2015 4:30 PM

Considered by many to be the best Russellville football team not to make it to the state finals during the playoff era, the 1970 Panthers are to be honored Friday night at halftime of the currently undefeated team’s battle against highly regarded Murray.

Most of the players on this squad had been part of the 1969 team which was eliminated statistically in a scoreless tie at Tompkinsville the year before in the regional championship game.

Jim Gladden came to Pantherland from Paducah Tilghman where he had been an assistant coach. He stayed in Russellville two seasons and then took the job at Springfield, Tenn. He spent most of his coaching career as an assistant coach at Florida State University, rising to the position of associate head coach under the legendary Bobby Bowden.

Coach Stumpy Baker had left the Panthers well-stocked with veterans from the previous district champions when he went to WKU as a graduate assistant coach. They were talented ball players and adjusted well to the new coach’s philosophy as well as that of new assistant Vic Aeby. Back from the past staff were offensive coordinator Buddy Linton and line coach Tom Kirkpatrick to give continuity.

The team was basically a senior unit. On offense, seniors Bob Flowers and Scot Neill were at end while classmates Barry Parrish, Mark Sasson and Billy Costello comprised three-fourth of the interior line. Virgil Benton was the quarterback with Bob Tattitch and Randy Cowan at halfbacks and Carl Grinter the fullback.

The only underclassmen to start on offense were tackle Don Averitt and center Dennis Cabbage.

Senior starters on defense were Flowers at end, Barry and Ralph Parrish at tackles, Sasson at guard, Grinter at linebacker, and Tony Stokes and Keith Northern in the secondary.

Cowan punted and Neill consistently boomed kickoffs into the end zone. Underclassman Roland Cox kicked extra points.

Underclass starters were John Paul Hughes at defensive end, Averitt as a down lineman, Cabbage at linebacker, and either junior Donald Bell or sophomore Michael Gough in the secondary.

After pounding Franklin-Simpson 27-0, old nemesis Tompkinsville reappeared to win 27-14 at Rhea Stadium. Four straight Panther wins followed, the most memorable of which was against Fort Campbell in the Tobacco Bowl, which have been renamed the Mud Bowl.

Coach Marshall Patterson’s Falcons came in undefeated and top-ranked with a backfield led by Mike Cassidy, who later starred at the University of Kentucky and is now an assistant coach at Western Kentucky University. Gubernatorial aspirant Wendell Ford joined a hearty crowd who sat through a cold rain to see Benton hide behind a patented punt return wall in the fourth quarter and flee 71 yards along the north side ledge for the game’s only touchdown.

It was a win that Fort Campbell held a grudge over for many years.

After back-to-back 32-0 wins over Crittenden County and Daviess County, the Panthers suffered a 6-0 loss at Glasgow that they and their fans could never accept as justice. Russellville was assessed 105 yards in penalties and the home team none.

The Panthers scored 21 points in less than six minutes to start the game against Trigg County as Benton and Gough scored after Wildcat fumbles and Cowan took a blocked punt back for a 35-yard score. Trigg, which won the next two state championships, came back and Gladden’s team had to hang on for a 27-18 win.

It’s appropriate that the ’70 team is being honored this week, since they won the district championship with a 14-8 decision over Murray, the same school which is coming to Rhea Stadium Friday. Tattich and Grinter combined for 219 yards rushing, and Neill made three straight catches, including the winning touchdown on a Benton pass.

As a warm-up for the playoffs, the Panthers blitzed Bowling Green 28-6. That meant Gladden’s forces had gone 3-0 against Franklin, Murray and BGH, each always a tough test, by a combined total of 69-14.

Campbellsville came to Rhea Stadium for the regional championship game, and Gladden had the entire school ready. A great believer in intensive scouting, he had every player take a test on the Eagles. By game time, the entire student body knew the Campbellsville lineup by name and number. Two of those names were Roger Cook and Leon Smith, who have been the last two superintendents of the Russellville Independent School District.

The Panthers had their number, too. In a game that was supposed to be even, Russellville won 34-0.

Tattitch ran for 148 yards and Grinter 109 in the game. Tattitch scored twice, including a 70-yard gallop on his long legs. Bell scored on a 78-yard punt return than featured a reverse from Benton. Neill connected on a touchdown pass from Benton, and Cowan ran in a touchdown.

Bardstown then came to Rhea Stadium for the state semifinals. Coach Garnis Martin went on to be one of the winningest coaches in Kentucky High School football history. The chance to return to state slipped away from RHS, as the Tigers won 7-6. Neill caught a pass from Benton for the home team’s only score. The Tigers’ winning drive came after they recovered an RHS fumble at midfield, needing eight plays to score. They won when their extra point was good and the Panthers’ PAT failed.

Bardstown advanced to the championship game for the third time in four years. The Tigers beat Lynch 13-6 for the title.

Honors poured in for the players. Benton, who is a member of Russellville Alumni Association Athletic Hall of Fame, was honorable mention Prep All-American. He was honorable mention all-state and was All-WKC overall and All-WKC Classs A.

The Panthers went 9-3, including pitching six shutouts and holding three other opponents to one touchdown.

Costello was third team all-state overall, first-team Class A all-state, a member of the West squad in the East-West game, all-WKC overall, All-WKC Class A, and All-SKY. Tattich joined him as first team all-state Class A, All-Class A overall, All-WKC Class A, and also on the West squad. Tattitch was a full-scholarship member of the Georgia Tech team for five seasons.

Cowan, Grinter, Neill and Barry Parrish were All-SKY while Flowers, Grinter and Parrish were on both WKC teams and were honorable mention all-state.

Cowan was the only Panther to have started on both offense and defense for the Panthers when coaches Baker and Jim Michaels ran a platoon system on that 1969 team which ‘lost’ the infamous scoreless tie in the regional finals the year before. Neill, both Parrishes, Costello, Sasson, Benton, Tattich, Flowers, Grinter, Hughes, Bell and Cowan had also been starters on that team. Gough was the kicker as a freshman. Costello was All-WKC Class A. Flowers was All-SKY.

Hughes, Cabbage, Averitt and Bell were key players in 1972 as were 1970  reserves Kevin McKenzie, David Costello, Bob Statton, William ‘Brother’ Todd, Bobby Kees, Andy Guion, Rodney Silvey, and sophomore Kenny Hancock, who went on to become a high school All-American two years later.

Also members of this team when the photo was named were Robin Russell, John Morgan, David Humphries, Charlie Griffith, Ricky Walker, Ronnie Matar, Jimmy Morrow, Johnny Hankins, David Settle, Garfield Arnold, Barry Westbrook, Joe Emberger, Steve Williamson, Mark and Mike Wilson, David Sanford, John Faenza, Wayne Carter, Winford Taylor, Mike Barton, and Steve Hindman.

No longer living are Scott Neil, Ralph Parrish, Mark Sasson, John Paul Hughes and Winford ‘Bobo’ Taylor.

This team holds a special place in my own heart. The seniors were sophomores when I returned home to teach at RHS, and since my specialty was sophomore English, most of them were in class the first day I ever taught school. Many of the freshmen in 1970-71 were in my homeroom.

They also are very important to Greg Owens, who plans and coordinates most RHS Alumni activities involving athletics. He was a sophomore that year and had grown up playing sandlot sports with many of them in the Brookhaven subdivision.

Owens says that Gladden and his wife Patti plan to be here Friday along with at least 18 members of that team from 45 years ago.

Robert Stuart, a great photographer who captured some great moments in RHS history, was also a member of that Class of 1971 and a member of Hazel Carver’s band which kept us entertained at halftimes.

The cheerleaders that year were Mary Crit Threlkeld, Beth McCutchen, Belinda Humphrey, Helen Todd, Jill Kemp and Sharon Griffith.

Copyright © The Logan Journal 2009 - 2024