They had some intense rivalry games over the years – games that often came down to who had the ball last. The success of one spurred the other. However, in 1971, no team in South Carolina could touch the Lockhart Red Devils and in 1990 there was none better than the Wildcats of Jonesville.
“We took the rivalry between Jonesville and Lockhart serious,” said Lockhart’s 1971 Championship Head Coach Lawrence “Monk” Vanderford. “But I took every game serious. I wanted to beat Jonesville, but again, I wanted to beat every team we played.”
In 1971, his Red Devils did just that, ending a perfect season with a 42-16 win over Blackville in the State Championship game.
“We got down to the State Championship game in Orangeburg and they had us down 16-0,” recalled Vanderford. “Our running back, Lawrence Wilson, broke his ankle so we had to makeshift and we beat them 46-16.
“We had been together several years, the boys had played together. Back at that time we had Roger Vanderford at quarterback, Jimmy Stroud at running back, Lawrence Wilson at running back, Ronnie Crocker as an end, Wayne Grady as an end, Micky Sims at tackle, Willie Garner at tackle, Charlie Howell was center, Butch Carter was a guard and Jerry Gibson was a guard. That was the offensive team. We were as good passing as we were running. It was just boys that had gelled together and they had a lot of capabilities.”
Twenty one years later, on the other side of Union County, Jonesville sprouted a State Championship team although Head Coach Pat Littlejohn said it probably should have come a year earlier.
“We really thought that our best shot at a State Championship was the year before,” Littlejohn explained. “We had a bunch of seniors on our ‘89 team and we ended up losing two games that year. The last game we lost was in the Upper State finals at Lewisville. I remember getting together with our juniors right before we loaded the bus and saying ‘You see those guys, the seniors, walking around here crying? If you don’t want that to happen next year, you better get in the weight room and you better get to work.’”
The result the head coach got was a 1990 Wildcat team with a chip on its shoulder, physical, determined and hungry for a championship.
“One thing that happened was that we won the first game of the season and then in the second game we were up 14-7 against Chesnee with about 4:00 to go in the game and ended up losing,” he said. “We pointed to that game for the rest of the year and never eased up until the final gun. We felt like the loss to Chesnee probably helped us win the State Championship.
“That 1990 team was very quick, very strong,” he added. “We took a lot of pride in our conditioning and our strength. Our kids would play until they just about had to crawl off the field. I mean, they absolutely loved playing football.”
Vanderford said his ‘71 team at Lockhart was also driven by a desire to be the best. Theirs was a confident club that knew what it was capable of and would do whatever was necessary to win. This is what sets championship teams apart.
“They wanted to win,” Vanderford declared. “The main thing was they wanted to win. There was no doubt that the confidence was there. There was no bragging or nothing, it was just the camaraderie between us coaches and those players and when we left the locker room everybody just felt like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna win. Period. That’s it. No if’s, ands, or buts about it.’”