By ANDREW NELSON and SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writers | Published September 19, 2019
ATLANTA—A quirky trick play in the second quarter called a “fumblerooski” helped seal the 1989 Marist War Eagles’ first state football championship.
Quarterback Sean Cotter took the snap from the center before setting the ball on the ground and darting to the right. The defense chased after him. Matt Post, the left guard, scooped up the ball and dashed to the left. He rumbled some 30 yards into the end zone.
“That was the one that sparked our team. It just kind of put a dagger in them and just shocked them and then we were able to kind of just slowly, slowly wear (them) down,” said Coach Alan Chadwick.
The Marist football team scored three unanswered touchdowns against the Worth County Rams the evening of Dec. 16 in Sylvester. Marist won the game 30-8 as the state title capped an undefeated season of 15-0. The win brought home the school’s first state football championship since its inaugural season in 1913.
The private Catholic school, with some 1,000 students, earned a second state championship in 2003. The football team has also brought home 15 regional titles in the past 30 years.
Marist School will recognize the championship seasons along with the players and coaches who brought home the trophy at the homecoming game on Friday, Oct. 4.
The men share common memories. Their history together is of tiresome practices, long bus rides, playing under the lights, and it binds them. Playing in the trenches on a football team left an imprint.
“I could see these guys in another thirty years and it would be like we were still great friends playing on a team together,” said Stewart Williams, one of the team captains.
The ambition to win the championship started long before the winning season. After a junior varsity game took an unsportsmanlike turn, the players of the future ‘89 team decided on a goal during a bus ride home.
“It was during our seventh and eighth grade team’s season, where Marist combined both grades for one junior high team, that we started talking about how we were going to win the state championship when we became the varsity team,” said Michael MacLane, 46, free safety and starting halfback rotation for the ‘89 team.
Then a string of defeats in the playoffs as sophomores and juniors fueled the desire. Their pursuit of a championship was a rematch of the state final from two years earlier. Worth County was the top-ranked team in the state, with Marist, the second.
“We really wanted to succeed for one another,” said Tim Winterstein, 48, an outside linebacker for the championship team.
Chadwick sits in a corner office in the school’s Centennial Center. His window overlooks the 4,500-seat Hughes Spalding Stadium. Memories of his 35 years of coaching cover the walls. There’s a picture of Rams coach Sean McVay as a young Marist player and a picture of his 2003 state championship ring. The deflated ‘89 game ball is there too.
The coach lights up at the memory of the ‘89 December game.
“After the game was just hysteria. Everybody was just so happy. You’re just hugging everybody. You’re hugging people you didn’t really like,” he said, with a loud laugh.
In his 35 years as head coach, Chadwick racked up an enviable record. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, his teams are 375-71.
The championship win ended a streak of five second-place finishes since 1979.
Chadwick said the game answered critics who said a Marist team could not deliver a victory at the year’s biggest game.
“It was huge. It was huge. We got a lot, a lot of statewide recognition for winning the state championship,” said Chadwick. “Undefeated. Seven shutouts. School spirit was unbelievable.”
The community embraced the new champions. Congratulation notes, including some from big-name college coaches like Lou Holtz of Notre Dame, flooded in after the win. The coach kept many of them to fill a scrapbook.
“The jinx is lifted,” is how now Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, put it in a handwritten note to Chadwick. At the time of the big win, the priest had just left for graduate school after serving at Marist as a teacher, admissions director, principal and president.
Some 50 young men dressed in the blue and gold uniforms of the Marist War Eagles for the ’89 season. Chadwick remembered about 37 seniors being the nucleus of the team.
Boyd Andrews was one of them. A team captain and an all-state lineman, he played both offensive and defensive tackle. He blocked a punt during the game, a key play to put the team in good field position. Andrews went on to be a four-time letter winner as a linebacker at Georgia Tech. Chadwick still calls him one of the best players he’s seen at Marist.
Andrews is now 47 and married with three sports-minded youngsters. He works as a CFO of a manufacturing company. His family attends Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.
He and teammates were on a quest in 1989.
“We gained confidence through the season. As we went through the season, we really began to realize how dominant we could be on defense,” he said.
The game itself is a blurred memory. He remembers the swarming crowds on the field as the clock wound down.
“For me, overall, the win was a feeling of absolute joy and relief of a very hard job … Well done … with great friends,” he said in an email.
Winterstein, 48, remembers being “fired up” on the field and staring down the Worth County Rams as a linebacker with his friend, Stewart Williams.
“I would give a year off my life to play another football game,” said Winterstein, a married father of two who works in marketing for a plumbing company. “I loved it, it was so much fun.”
Williams said the team faced doubters who didn’t believe the players could be a championship team. But everybody on the team loved playing football and we proved them wrong, said Williams. He was a hard-hitting linebacker for the ‘89 team and known for being tough.
“It all came together for all of us,” he said.
Williams, 47, owns a garage and outdoor living company and celebrates 15 years of marriage. He and his wife have three children.
Thirty years later, Williams believes team sports teach life skills not recognized at a young age but important in adulthood.
“Individual sports are good and teach you a lot. But I think team sports teach you how to get along with people that you like; but more importantly, it teaches you how to get along with people that you don’t like and that you don’t necessarily care for,” he said.
Franklin Cox III, 46, played halfback and free safety. He considers himself “super lucky to have been part of the team.”
Cox remembers looking into the “black December sky” and praying to God to win the game.
“We had a lot of fight in us,” said Cox.
He films Marist football games through his production company. He is entering his 17th season this fall.
“I’ve become Marist football. I’m a part of it, it’s a part of me,” said Cox.
High school football is different today. Athletes who played offense and defense during the ‘89 season would be out of place. Teammates today specialize in their positions, making it rare to play both sides of the ball, Chadwick said.
In the 1980s, passing was rare, said Chadwick. In fact, the War Eagles won the championship game in the dirt with its smash-mouth game and wishbone offense. The team never threw a pass. It racked up 317 yards with its grinding ground game as it found the end zone four times.
Today, the emphasis now is for teams to spread receivers across the width of the field. Quarterbacks with stronger arms can find the faster receivers to haul in passes, he said.
At the October reunion, players may see each other for the first time in a while. But Chadwick knows what the team accomplished will quickly shrink the passage of three decades. He thinks football—especially with a special team like the ‘89 boys—has a way to do that.
“These are your brothers in arms,” said the coach. “You are out there battling with each other, your sweat and your bleeding, your crying, laughing and rejoicing, you’re bonding and being on a football team, and being a part of something like that is real special.”