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Tony Branch, who was a part of all four state championship teams, was an All-State performer as a senior in 1990

LIVE OAK — Despite a wealth of experience, things didn’t always come easy for the 1990 Suwannee Bulldogs.

Facing a challenging schedule, the Bulldogs dropped more games than any of their three previous championship counterparts. Add in three forfeits and Suwannee was just 4-6 entering the playoffs.

The 1999 Bulldogs, seeded 12th in the “Best of the Suwannee Valley” pick ‘em tournament, can relate, taking a 6-4 mark in the playoffs and needing a shootout win just to qualify.

 “We kind of struggled,” then-Suwannee coach Mike Pittman said about his 1990 team, the fourth straight title team from SHS.

While those Bulldogs had experience, they were having to replace John Palmer at quarterback. And with both Billy Plummer and Marcus Nelson returning in the backfield, Pittman made the call early to feature both heavily.

“I got him right before spring training and I said, ‘Marcus, I’m going to move you to fullback,’” Pittman said. “He just kind of looked at me. I said, ‘We’re going to put Billy at tailback.’ And I said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to get just as many carries as Billy is.’”

That took a lot of the pressure off quarterback Alex Noda, although Pittman noted Noda “made himself a quarterback. That was a hard working kid.”

Helping their case was a great offensive line that included first-team All-State players Chad Hale and Tony Branch.

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“They carried us a long way,” Pittman said. “Once we got in the playoffs…our running game carried us.”

The 1999 Suwannee team had star players, and a lot of resilience. The Bulldogs lost four of their last five regular-season games, but made it to the playoffs by winning a shootout for the district runner-up spot and then advanced all the way to the state title game.

“We were all confident, even in the midst of the struggles,” said current SHS coach Kyler Hall, a standout on the ’99 team and one of four players from the squad that later played Division 1 football. “So many good players — tough, hard-nosed physical players. We only had about 32-35 kids and everyone played both sides of the ball.”

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Suwannee's Kyler Hall wraps up a Glades Central ballcarrier during the state championship game in 1999.

Joining Hall (Florida State) to form a formidable secondary was Matt Jackson (University of Florida), Jennings (University of Miami) and Jarvis Herring (University of Florida). At quarterback, Pete Hahn spread the ball around to some talented receivers, which included Jackson and Jennings. Hahn also played at nose guard, a part of a physical defense that included linebackers Devin Allen and Charles Jones.

Suwannee won a third-round playoff game 48-47 against Sante Fe in double overtime at Paul Langford Stadium.

“That was one of the better games ever played at home,” said Hall. “It was packed, loud. It was the third time we faced Sante Fe that season, we had played them in the regular season and the shootout.”

Correspondent Mike Jones contributed to this story.

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

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