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Best of the Suwannee Valley Pick 'Em Tournament
‘They had it all’

Balanced, talented Hornets named ‘Best of the Suwannee Valley’

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The 1981 state champion Lafayette Hornets won the 'Best of the Suwannee Valley' pick 'em tournament.

MAYO, Fla. — To children growing up in Lafayette County, the 1981 Lafayette Hornets were larger than life.

LHS athletic director Joey Pearson was an All-State player for the Hornets before becoming a Hall of Fame coach at the school.

But in 1981, Pearson was “in awe” of the Hornets.

“They were just a bunch of great athletes and I just remember, it was unbelievable,” he said. “They just dominated.”

After all, Lafayette steamrolled through the opposition on the way to the Class A state championship that year, finishing 13-0 and outscoring its opponents 561-53.

Those Hornets’ winning ways continued this spring as it blitzed through the “Best of the Suwannee Valley” pick ‘em tournament, adding that title to their collection. In the championship round, LHS received 77.6% of the votes to dispatch of Suwannee High’s 1999 state runner-up team.

It was another dominant win for a team that had a knack for that: winning all but one game by double digits, scoring 60 or more points three times, 50 or more two other times with three more games scoring at least 40 points.

“Offensively, we were really a juggernaut as far as scoring,” said Kerwin Bell, who was the Hornets’ junior All-State quarterback in 1981. “Seemed like we scored pretty much every time we got the ball.

“That offense, it’s funny when you get sort of the perfect personnel. We had great receivers, a quarterback who could make plays in the passing game and an unbelievable tailback and a great offensive line.

“It’s something where you were blessed to be a part of.”

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Kerwin Bell was Lafayette's All-State quarterback in 1981.

In addition to Bell, who threw 27 touchdowns, those Hornets had Joseph Edwards at running back as well as Ben Travis and Willie Powe at wide receiver. Edwards had 27 touchdowns rushing and was the lynchpin to the Hornets’ offensive success, Bell said.

“Joseph Edwards was our star,” he said. “I went on and played college ball, but Joseph Edwards was a senior and the guy that we sort of leaned on. And then we were able to throw off the run game.”

The only time that didn’t work was the semifinal win against Baker. There, Edwards carried the load for the Hornets with Bell sick with the flu.

Without much success in the passing game, Lafayette won 13-10 in overtime. Bell said the field goal in the extra period from Baker was the only time the Hornets trailed the entire season.

That game also provided the best chance a team had to slow down those Hornets.

“That may have been the only way to slow us down was to get us sick,” Bell said laughing.

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The coaches of the 1981 Hornets were, from left, Taylor McGrew, head coach Dale Richter and Jim Garland.

Even that didn’t work, though, with Lafayette’s defense continuing its dominant ways and Edwards picking up the slack offensively.

It was more evidence that those Hornets were different.

“We weren’t a traditional 1A school that year,” Bell said. “A lot of years we were and you could see a big difference between a 1A team like Mayo, even if they were successful, and maybe a 3A or 4A school. You could see definitely big differences as fas as numbers and number of athletes and things like that.

“I don’t know that you could have seen that. That was the No. 1 thing. That one year, for some reason, for a 1A school, we just had a lot of athletes. Especially the senior class in front of me. That senior class was loaded with talented players.”

Pearson added: “One thing I realized after coaching 20 years is how hard it is to put together a team as complete as the ’81 team. They had it all. It’s hard to get it all together in the same year like they did. It was incredible to watch.”

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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