Once — and only once — upon a time there was no business like slow business.
Johnny Bailey scored all of Montcalm’s points, singlehandedly cutting the opposing team’s lead in half on a free throw with :31 left in the fourth quarter. Bill Murphy had all the points for Pocahontas, however, and his second-quarter bucket —the ONLY basket of the contest was enough to give the Indians a 2-1 victory over the Generals on a blustery, snowy Tuesday, January 19, 1965, at the Brushfork National Guard Armory.
General coach Carmen Stauffer (who is still coaching the girls team at Princeton Middle School) laughs, “We didn’t come up with that stall idea until about half an hour before the game started. My assistant coach, Norman Wall, said ‘Carmen, you know Pocahontas has a strong offense and they score a lot, so why don’t we try to slow it down against them since that might be our best chance to win this game?’”
The idea made sense. At the time, the Mercer County Generals were 5-6 overall in the midst of a demanding schedule that included eventual state champion Rocky Gap — which Montcalm defeated. Tazewell County’s Pocahontas came in at 9-0, averaging more than 70 points per game and had beaten MHS 77-52 at Poca a few weeks earlier.
So, the more Stauffer thought about it, the better he liked the chances and recalls, “I agreed that we’d try it. Tommy (the late PHS coach Tommy Lucas) always played that 1-2-2 zone defense and we thought they (Pocahontas) might come out of it but they didn’t. We got the tip, I think, every quarter, and we held on to the ball most of the time.”
In fact, Montcalm had possession more than 30 of the actual 32 minutes – Pocahontas only had the ball on offense for about a minute and a half — but the Tribe was able to run out the last :31 seconds after Bailey’s free throw.
Many people questioned whether the game was legal but Stauffer has no doubt, saying “There was a line where you had to advance or pass the ball down toward the basket and we did that. Our referees agreed with that. Some didn’t, but I’m absolutely sure we played by the rules. Several people checked on it, but we played it fairly.”
“We got the tip at the start of every quarter,” recalls Simpson, now retired after 37 years of work for Norfolk-Southern. “I could out-jump (6-4) Slater is what I tell people,” laughs the former Montcalm pivot player.
The first quarter ended 0-0, although three shots were taken and missed. Montcalm’s Bailey and Jim Miles and Pocahontas’ Sammy Caldwell each attempted to score in the opening stanza.
Early in the second quarter following a jump ball, Pocahontas Randy Slater was called for a foul which sent Montcalm’s Perry “Butch” Simpson to the foul line. Simpson misfired, but the Generals rebounded and took the ball back out front.
The Indians’ Robert Wallace stole a cross-court pass by the Generals, and zipped the ball to Caldwell whose shot bounded off the rim and into Murphy’s hands. The lanky forward jumped up under the bucket from the left side for the put-back, his shot bouncing once, twice, and dropping into the net with 4:15 left in the half. Pocahontas led, 2-0.
“I got the rebound and put it up. The ball bounced a little and went in. Caldwell shot from the right side so it (miss) came down to me, and I was just glad to score and put us ahead. I never thought that would be the only basket,” grinned Murphy, one of five brothers who eventually played at PHS. Stauffer kept his patience and waited until 6 seconds before the break to call time. Bailey shot, missed, and Poca rebounded as the halftime buzzer sounded.
Montcalm kept the basketball for all 8 minutes of the third quarter as Lucas instructed his defenders to hold their positions while the Generals patiently passed the ball across court, inside and back out time after time. In the closing seconds of the period, Bailey and Simpson tried to score for MHS but missed and after three quarters the Generals remained only a basket behind but still scoreless.
Bailey fouled Poca’s Eddie Goss after a steal with 4:30 left, but Goss missed the free throw and Montcalm held the ball until the 2:08 mark. Bailey tried another shot, but could not connect and when the ball was batted out of bounds, there was another jump call. Pocahontas got the basketball back and Lucas then ordered the Indians to play keep away in the final minute but Bailey stole the ball back for Montcalm.
He raced back down court, missed a lay-up attempt and the follow by another General was also off the mark. Bailey and Goss battled for the rebound, Goss fouled him and Bailey got a shot with just over half a minute to play. He made his only attempt, cutting the lead to 2-1.
Pocahontas got possession, and Slater’s attempt at a basket was off the mark but Montcalm knocked the ball out of bounds and the Indians ‘weaved’ their way through the final seconds.
Only about 200 fans were on hand for the game and just 10 players participated — there were no substitutions. Simpson, Bailey, Ronnie Mabe, Bill Brady, and Miles made the Montcalm lineup. Murphy, Slater, Goss, Wallace, and Caldwell played for Pocahontas.
It was indeed a game for the record books and both coaches received calls from as far away as Boston and Chicago for information about the classic contest. According to the Urbana, Illinois, Daily Courier of March 7, 1930, the all-time lowest scoring prep game in American sports history occurred when Georgetown High defeated Homer High 1-0, with the only point being recorded on a first period foul shot.
Such an event is uniquely demanding and those present in ’65 felt the pressure.
The Tribe’s Don Hodock, a 6-4 center who did not take the court, remembers, “That was not a fun game. I didn’t want to play in it because it was apparent that there were going to be a very few points scored and nobody wanted to make the mistake that might lose it. All the players on both teams wanted to win but everybody was a little nervous under those conditions.”
Nerves were frayed after the tense, tightly-played struggle ended.
“Yes, there was a little fight,” recalls Stauffer. “I think one of the girls from Pocahontas came out of the stands and hit one of our players and then were was something going on back in the locker room.”
Hodock added, “A Montcalm player said something to one of our players and he hit him but it only lasted a minute – a coach, Chester Sword – broke it up real quick and got everybody in the locker rooms on both sides. Feelings were running high for a few minutes because the game was so close and so out of the ordinary.”
Stauffer remember that Lucas, known for a fiery temper, was none too happy.
“Tommy came up to me after the game and ‘What in the world were you trying to do out there?’ and I can tell you he didn’t care much for that stall,” notes the veteran coach who has spent almost five decades in the coaching ranks.
Stauffer concludes, “I just smiled and said, Tommy, it almost won the game for us, though, didn’t it?”
Indeed, as Hodock said, “That game was a masterful performance by two coaches who were at their very best and neither one was outdone by the
other. I salute them both.”
After 48 years, generations of fans would still agree.
Indians-Generals made history with 2-1 game 48 years ago
Once — and only once — upon a time there was no business like slow business.
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