MAYO — Lopsided wins are nothing new to the 1981 Lafayette Hornets or its 2005 counterpart.
Those winning ways have continued through the first two rounds of the “Best of the Suwannee Valley” pick ‘em tournament, leading the ’81 Hornets and ’05 Hornets into a semifinal clash.
And with offenses filled with dynamic playmakers to tough-nosed defenses that were hard to score upon, there are a lot of similarities between the two semifinalists.
But to Jerry Thomas, a defensive end on that 1981 state championship team, there is one big difference between the impressive numbers: the old-school Hornets did it in much less time.
“We only played half the game,” Thomas said.
On the way to winning the program’s lone state championship, the 1981 Hornets averaged 43 points per game (48 in the regular season) while allowing just 4.1 points per game (2.9 in the regular season.
With only one regular season game decided by fewer than 30 points — a 32-8 win against St. Johns Lutheran — the stars on that ’81 team rarely played after halftime. Still, quarterback Kerwin Bell threw for 1,486 yards with 27 touchdowns. Running back Joseph Edwards ran for 27 touchdowns and 1,594 yards. Also making All-State from that offense were Ben Travis (wide receiver), Willie Powe (tight end) and linemen Lloyd Powe, Clark Hendrick and Tommy Pearson.
“We had some pretty tough guys on there,” said Thomas, who was also an All-State performer on the defensive side.
Also earning All-State honors from Lafayette’s defense that pitched six shutouts and gave up double digits just once — the 13-10 semifinal win against Baker — were linebackers Bruce Branche, Michael Jackson and Timmy Lee.
“We were in top condition,” Thomas added about that defense’s strength. “Coach (Taylor) McGrew made sure that if we lost it wasn’t because we weren’t in shape.
“We were definitely in shape and we had some fierce guys on there. Everybody wanted to be the best and that turned out to work in our favor.”
Twenty-four years later, the Hornets similarly had a tough defense filled with hard-nosed players. Aaron Gresham, a junior All-State linebacker, led that unit that gave up more than one score just three times — 18 points to top-ranked Hilliard, 14 to Trenton and 13 to Baldwin. The 2005 Hornets allowed just 6.6 points per game, including nine points total in the playoffs.
“We had a group of guys that really played good together,” Gresham said. “We had a bunch of guys who played real hard.
“We had a really strong defensive line that year that really took the pressure off … It was kind of different, we ran a 3-5 defense that year. Coach (Joey) Pearson and the coaches came up with that and we ran that. It worked. It worked really well.”
Who would win?
That LHS offense was spearheaded by fullback Morgan Rutherford, who ran for 1,368 yards, and running back Eric McIntyre. Sophomore quarterback Chad Hempstead threw for 1,406 yards with Jamal Reid his favorite target. Offensive lineman Shawn Jones was also an All-State player as LHS averaged nearly 30 points per game.
“Morgan was probably one of the toughest fullbacks we had,” Gresham added. “He was a hoss. And then Eric, Eric was just a jam-up running back. Had a lot of speed and loved to carry the ball.”
So who would win between the two similar teams?
“It’s funny, you always talk and wish you could always take the best of the best and see what would happen with it,” Gresham said. “Big gap in the years. It’s really hard to say.
“But everybody used to talk about, the older guys, that the older you go back, the tougher they were. It would have been fun to take that team and square it off when everybody was in their prime.”
Thomas added: “Well, we’re the only one to win the state championship.”