Deshler football is always a popular topic of conversation in Tuscumbia.
Fans of all ages take great pride in the school’s football tradition that dates back to the 1920s. The Tigers own three state championships and have advanced to eight championship games in the past 21 years.
“You still hear a lot of talk about the 1998 and 1999 state championship teams because they are the most recent,” said Keith Coates, a former Deshler player and lifelong fan.
“But there are not many times when you hear those two teams talked about that the 1990 team doesn’t come up. That team is the one that got it all started.”
The 1990 squad won Deshler’s first state football championship and was the only one of the three to finish with an undefeated record. It won the Class 4A title by beating T.R. Miller 28-27 in overtime at Howard Chappell Stadium.
The architect of the 1990 team was head coach Tandy Geralds, who came to Deshler in 1984 from Woodlawn High School, a Birmingham power in the early 1970s, One of the first things Geralds did as head coach was install the Wing-T offense.
After one losing season, the program began to turn around under Geralds. The Tigers reached the Class 4A semifinals in 1987 and were coming off an 8-4 season in 1989.
The Tigers returned the bulk of their lineup for the 1990 season and expectations were high. The players were expecting big things for the upcoming season.
“We had just five seniors and over 20 juniors the year before, so we pretty much had everybody back from a team that made it to the third round of the playoffs,” said Scott Thompson, the team’s quarterback.
In addition to the talent, Deshler also had good chemistry and a work ethic.
“That 1990 group set the bar for work ethic,” recalled current Deshler coach John Mothershed, then the Tigers’ defensive coordinator. “Wade Gann was our strength coach at the time and he was doing some cutting edge things with our weight program.
“You couldn’t make it mandatory in the summer at that time, but we stressed it and nobody was going to out-work those kids. It really paid off for us, especially in the fourth quarter. Our guys got stronger as the games went on. That’s what set us apart.”
While summer workout programs were not widely used back then, Deshler’s players worked hard during the summer in preparation for the upcoming season. Most of the workouts were conducted at Gann’s gym, known as ‘The Dungeon.’
“Coach Gann’s gym had equipment that you didn’t see in high school weight rooms in those days,” said running back Patrick Smith, now the school’s athletic director. “We enjoyed going there to work out together. Having the opportunity to work out at a place like that was big for us.”
Deshler’s offense set a state record for points that season. The Tigers had no shortage of weapons, beginning with Thompson. The 6-foot-5 quarterback had an outstanding arm, although Geralds wasn’t that fond of using it.
“The Wing-T was not a hard offense to run, but Coach Gerald’s didn’t like to throw very much,” Thompson said. “He adapted more my senior year and let me throw the ball a little more. We knew that offense so well we could run it in our sleep.”
Thompson had a big-time playmaker at wide receiver in Corey Donley, who was named all-state that season. The offense featured two 1,000-yard rushers in Smith at fullback and Anthony Morris at tailback.
Dorrell Hankins gave Deshler another threat at wingback, while Doug Garrett was the tight end. The offensive line was not big, but quick with players such as Shug Russell, Tim Gautney, Daniel Pate, Bill Parker and Ike Long.
Several offensive starters also played defense. Outside linebacker Thomas Counts was the leader of the defense, along with Russell at middle linebacker. The defensive line featured Garrett, Joe Shirley and Derrick Cooper.
Gerald’s coaching staff included Mothershed, Hal Mills, Wayne Bracy and Phil Bates.
Mothershed describes Geralds as a coach that simply believed in working hard and doing things right.
“Tandy’s secret was his work ethic,” Mothershed said. “He always wanted to outwork his opponent and that didn’t mean just the players, that meant himself. He was obsessed with X’s and O’s and scheming.
“Tandy never talked about winning. His theory was that if you worked hard and did the things you were supposed to do, then winning would take care of itself.”
Deshler and T.R. Miller seemed destined for a collision course as each raced through the regular season unbeaten.
Deshler continued to roll in the playoffs. The Tigers trailed North Jackson in the quarterfinals and Munford in the semifinals, but in each game they poured in on in the second half to win going away.
That left only T.R. Miller in the way of the school’s first state championship.
“T.R. Miller was the only team I watched on film and thought might have a chance to beat us,” Thompson said. “And when we got on the field they were even better than they looked on film.”
It was a cold night on Dec. 14 as the two unbeaten teams met in front of a packed house at Howard Chappell Stadium. The game did not start well for Deshler, which limped into halftime trailing 14-0.
Deshler trailed 21-7 early in the fourth quarter when Donley hauled in a pass from Thompson and outran the defense for an 83-yard TD that cut the margin to 21-13.
T.R. Miller had a chance to run out the clock after stopping Deshler on downs in the final minutes. Cooper made the big play for the defense, forcing a running back out of bounds to stop the clock and forcing a punt.
A nice punt return by Donley gave the Tigers a chance to tie it. Deshler quickly got the ball to the T.R. Miller 3, but then faced fourth-and-goal with just seconds remaining.
“We had called timeout and Doug told coach Geralds that they were not covering him,” Thompson said. “So coach Geralds told us to run the power pass to Doug Garrett.”
Thompson was pressured and had to throw sooner than he wanted, but Garrett was wide open at the back of the end zone and made the catch for the touchdown as time expired. Deshler then went for the 2-point conversion to try to force overtime.
“We had no timeouts left after the touchdown and we were going to run another pass play for the conversion,” Smith said. “But T.R. Miller then called timeout and we told coach Geralds that we could run it in, so he changed the play to a fullback quick pitch.”
Smith scored to force the overtime. Deshler got the ball first in overtime and on third down Smith scored again on the fullback quick pitch and the extra point put Deshler up 28-21.
The Deshler celebration was short-lived as T.R. Miller scored on the first play of its overtime possession and it appeared a second overtime would be needed.
“I was thinking, ‘Here we go again.’” Smith said “They had a good kicker, but on the extra point I could see Tyrell Goodloe coming up the middle and I thought there is no way they are going to make it.
“Tyrell didn’t block it, but I think the pressure made the kicker shank it. Tyrell never even looked back. He started running toward midfield holding up his finger as No. 1 and we met him at the center of the field.”
The missed extra point set off a huge celebration on the field as most of the home stands emptied onto the field.
As the fans poured onto the field to celebrate, Mothershed said Geralds said something that has always stuck with him.
“Some of the fans really blistered us as we walked to the fieldhouse at halftime,” Mothershed said. “One fan yelled, ‘Hey Geralds, I knew you would find a way to lose it!’
“When everyone was on the field celebrating Tandy looked at me with a blank stare and said, ‘John, don’t ever forget that the guy screaming at us at halftime is patting us on the back right now.’ He was telling me not to get too high or too low, but just do your job. That has stuck with me throughout my coaching career.”
For the players and coaches, winning the state championship on their home field made it even sweeter.
“It was great to win it in Tuscumbia, where we had been playing all those years,” Thompson said. “You can’t win it at home any more because they have the Super Six all at one site. Winning it at home was something special.”
Coates said the state championship was a great source of pride for the school and Tuscumbia.
“When you win a state championship, especially in a game like that, it does so much for the spirit of the school and the whole town,” he said. “You can be in another part of the state and when people talk football and Deshler is mentioned, people know who Deshler is.”
Smith said he often thinks about that 1990 season and how special it was.
“It was years later before I could really sit back and think about how special it was,” Smith said. “It was such a thrill to be on a team that went 15-0. There is something special in saying that you went undefeated and won the state championship.
“It was such a unique experience winning it at home. There were fans lined up six and seven deep around the track and many of those people probably would not have been able to go to Birmingham for the game. It’s great because every time I walk on that field I have those memories that I can cherish.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@timesDaily.com.