LIVE OAK — There weren’t many expectations around the 1975 Hamilton County Trojans.
The same can’t be said for the 1995 Suwannee Bulldogs.
In reaching the Class 2A state championship game, the ‘Cinderella’ Trojans earned their berth in the “Best of the Suwannee Valley’ pick ‘em tournament as the No. 9 seed where they open with the 1995 Bulldogs, arguably the most talented team Mike Pittman had at SHS.
“If ever there was a Cinderella group, it was us,” said Rex Mitchell, currently the Superintendent of Hamilton County Schools who was a kicker on the 1975 team. “The year before we went 2-8 and weren’t very good. Coach (Coy) Whitener did a great job.”
That great job included Hamilton flipping that record around, finishing the regular season 8-2. The Trojans followed up a Week 2 loss to Wakulla by ripping off six straight wins. Then, following a 1-0 overtime loss to Santa Fe on the penetration rule, HCHS finished off the regular season with a win against Madison.
Among Hamilton’s top players were Harold Oliver, who became an All-American at Florida A&M and Ellis Singletary, who played at Florida State. The Trojans were quarterbacked by Kevin Anderson
Who would win?
In the playoffs, Hamilton edged Union County by 2 before winning close against Wildwood and then blanking Port St. Joe.
The 11-3 Trojans, who outscored their foes 351-150, then fell 13-11 to Palmetto in the title game. They lined up for a game-winning field at the end of regulation, but a botched snap didn’t allow Mitchell to attempt the kick.
“Everything came together that year,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t have the most talent, but we got the most out of everyone.”
For the 1995 Bulldogs, talent wasn’t an issue.
Led by quarterback Willie Gardner, Suwannee had ability in spades. In fact, the Bulldogs were nationally ranked to open the season and later downed national No. 1 Sarasota Riverside, Pittman said.
“They probably had more talent than I had since I was there,” he said. “Willie Gardner was the real deal, buddy. He was the real deal.
“That team could score at will and score in a hurry.”
Led by Gardner and wide receiver David Lee behind offensive linemen Lee Corbin and Frank Yanossy, those explosive Bulldogs scored 333 points. Suwannee also recorded three shutouts with a great defense led by Thaddeus Bullard and Andra Davis.
Despite the talent, though, the Bulldogs had the misfortune of being edged by Bolles early in the season and then running into Bolles again in the playoffs.
“They had the complete package,” Pittman said. “We just couldn’t beat Bolles and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Editor Jamie Wachter contributed to this story.