BLUEFIELD – Half a century has dimmed neither the memories nor the legend.
Stubby Currence called them the “high flying Bluefield Beavers” and legendary coach Merrill Gainer guided the 1967 football squad to an unbeaten (11-0) record in his ninth and final season at BHS.
Led offensively by Parade All-American running back Pete Wood and honorable mention Parade All-American Ron “Goose” Goodwin, Bluefield swept unblemished through its season schedule with a rock-ribbed defense that notched six shutouts in 10 games.
There were few close calls for the champs. Graham came within two feet of denying the Beavers a last-minute game-winning touchdown in one of the most dramatic BHS wins of the year. Unbeaten Big Creek, only one year removed from ending a 32-game Bluefield winning streak, battled for another upset victory at rain-drenched Mitchell Stadium in what many recalled as the single hardest battle of the entire campaign.
The Beavers had streaks of glory along the way, outscoring Gary and Welch by a combined 85-0 in mid-season and then tuning up for the playoff by roaring past Roanoke teams Jefferson and Patrick Henry, followed by Parkersburg South by a total score of 119—6.
“We had some good numbers, but the conditions were different,” recalls Goodwin, whose fearsome fullback/linebacker skills were crucial to the team’s success. “Remember, there were no artificial turf fields around here. Late in the season, Mitchell Stadium was mostly mud between the 30-yard lines and no doubt that affected the way the game was played.”
It may have upset the opposition, too, since the Beavers allowed a meagre 32 points in 10 games (3.2 average). In the regular season, nine of the teams Bluefield played scored 7 points or fewer. Only Richlands (13) was able to score twice and even in the state championship game, Stonewall Jackson managed only a single touchdown.
Meanwhile, the powerful line and outstanding running game powered Bluefield to 305 points during the regular season (30.5 average). Ironically, the Beavers did not kick any extra points but ran for all of them in the era when a run after a touchdown counted one point.
Bill Albert, who earned his way into the lineup as well as becoming a Bluefield High letterman for the first time that year, says with a grin, “We thought that a couple of teams watered the field down before games with us. They knew that Ronnie and Pete and Jimmy Beckett were good runners and everybody was looking for ways to slow them down. We got a lot of mud on our shoes at some of those places.”
Nevertheless, statistics compiled by sports numbers experts Tim Kish and Rick Baker reveal just how well Bluefield almost always overcame those obstacles.
Kish says, “From 1960-67, the Beavers were 76-6-1. They had four unbeaten teams during that time with three state championships.”
One player who played on a pair of unbeaten squads including ’67 (11-0) and ’68 (9-0) was Nick Colobro, who made a host of big plays from his defensive end position.
He recalls, “We did pretty well. Part of the reason for that was that it was expected of us. Our coaches set standards, results they wanted us to achieve. We worked toward that. We thought we were supposed to play well, play hard, win.”
There was an outstanding run of players during this era but quarterback Pete Sarver, who played in 20 consecutive Beaver wins, gives immense credit to a group which never made a tackle nor scored a point.
“We felt like we almost had an unfair advantage against every team we played,” recalls Sarver. “We were so fortunate to be coached by the greatest high school coaching staff in America.”
Colobro echoes that, adding, “When you have three hall of famers (Gainer, Chmara, Carlock) on the same staff, you have to learn something. And Coach Chuck Lambert was excellent – when he took over basketball, he did a fine job there, too.”
Colobro, whose father, Tony, was a standout coach in high school and later a nationally-known mentor at Concord (College) University, has been around top-notch talent during his entire career including both coaches and players including his own playing career at Virginia Tech.
He observed, “Pete Wood and Ron Goodwin were outstanding – every bit as talented as people say. They were great teammates on and off the field. Because those two guys were so terrific, sometimes people do not remember Jimmy Beckett as much. He was a gifted all-around athlete and put up some big numbers, too, and he continued to play real well in college. Wood, Goodwin, and Beckett were three big reasons that our team had success.”
Goodwin, whose power often overshadowed his quickness, remembers that Bluefield did well in large part because of their practices.
“I think Coach Gainer’s favorite word was ‘again’ because he used it so much,” recalls No. 22. “We practiced plays at walking speed, half-speed, real time, you name it. By the time we were done, I think we could have done it in our sleep. We were really well prepared.”
Bill Albert, who played on the ’67 champions, is still working as a volunteer assistant half a century later and is still making memories although he has some fond recollections of the ‘good old days.’
He says, “Speaking of those days, somebody told me that our (’67) team being on the field for the first game here in 2017 would have been like the 1917 Beavers coming out when we were seniors. I had not thought of that. It sure does not seem like it has been 50 seasons since we played. I was looking at our team picture and thinking about the 33 players that dressed to go on away trips.
We must have had 75 players altogether but it was a real battle to see who would make the final group. We took a test every Friday, and we had to know the opposition players. There were so many things that made it special to be a Beaver and get to wear that uniform. Nobody ever took it for granted – and I mean nobody.”
Baker, who has researched BHS football extensively, noting that the Beavers recently played their 1,000th game in the school’s 100th year of competition, adds, “A number that today’s fans need to remember is ‘one’ because there was only one playoff game at the end of the season. Bluefield had to be no lower than second in the state at the end of the regular season to even get into the championship game. That was a lot of pressure.”
Branham was tremendously impressed by the legendary backfield runners and says another player – Sarver – was instrumental in the Beaver title.
“Pete didn’t make many mistakes. He knew the plays, the formations, where we were all supposed to be. He was a real leader out there and we relied on that,” says Branham.
Branham also remembers the importance of having a good record for the entire season.
“Oh, yes, you didn’t have a guarantee until the very last minute,” notes Branham. “We practiced that last week – we had a bye week after 10 straight games – not really knowing what might happen. We were pretty sure we would get in (title game) since we were second in the points but we had to wait and see.”
Once the waiting was over, the 1967 Bluefield Beavers had something, as Daily Telegraph sports editor Johnny Mayo wrote, “for all of West Virginia to see
(Due to space issues, the remainder of this article didn't run in Sunday's print edition)
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GAME 1 – A two-touchdown performance by Pete Wood and a score by Ron Goodwin, combined with Pete Sarver’s six-pointer and aided by Frank Rogerson’s two fumble recoveries carried the Beavers to a 26-0 season-opening triumph over Elkins. The Tigers were coached by Bob Irwin. Bluefield piled up 337 yards rushing on the Mitchell Stadium field and limited Elkins to only 43, prompting Coach Merrill Gainer to praise the BHS defense. In a crisp effort, Bluefield finished the game without a single penalty. It was a rare opening game against a team other than the crosstown Virginia-side Graham G-Men. (Elkins went on to compile a 4-5-1 record).
GAME 2 – The area’s first big rivalry game of the season featured teams with a combined 13 consecutive wins in Graham (6) and Bluefield (7). In the expected close encounter, Wood finished a 77-yard drive by scoring the decisive touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with only 1:31 to play and the Beavers earned a hard-fought 13-6 victory. The first touchdown came on a 41-yard pass from Pete Sarver to Butch Poe. Kyle Workman scored the Graham six pointer.
BHS again sparkled defensively, allowing the G-Men, coached by Lawrence “Burrhead” Bradley, just one yard rushing and one first down in the second half. Goodwin, David Brown and Bill Tracy were among the key defenders for Bluefield while Stanley Kiser and Robert Wolford led the Graham defensive effort. The Beavers’ Rick Harmon, however, made a crucial stop on an extra point to help aid the victory. (The G-Men finished 5-5 for the season).
GAME 3 – Ronnie Goodwin sparkled and ignited the Bluefield attack with a stellar 4-touchdown night as the Beavers rolled past Richlands 33-13. The game was billed as a “teacher (Gainer)—pupil (Richlands coach Jim Hammond, who played for Gainer at Big Creek battle” but it was Goodwin who taught the Blue Tornado a lesson. Nick Colobro had a fumble recovery to set up one of the scores while Jimmy Beckett piled up 96 yards rushing on 13 carries and Wood added 92 more in 12 attempts despite suffering an ankle injury. (The Blue Tornado had a 7-4 season, including a playoff game).
GAME 4 – A pair of unbeaten (3-0) teams squared off and Beaver gained a hard-fought revenge verdict over Big Creek with a 7-0 triumph. A year earlier, homestanding Creek’s 19-0 win halted a 32-game Bluefield winning streak. On the Mitchell Stadium turf, however, it was Wood who barreled on a 4-yard score with 9:20 to play and Goodwin added the extra point run. Wood finished with 82 yards rushing and Beckett added 76 more. Goodwin and Rogerson were the leading tacklers with outstanding defensive games also from Colobro, Donald Myers and Tracy. (Big Creek, coached by Joel Hicks, finished 9-1 in ’67, losing only to the Beavers and allowed 7 points or fewer in 8 games).
GAME 5 – Coach Sid Cure’s defending “AA” state champion Gary Coaldiggers were no match for the surging Beavers, who ran roughshod with 396 yards on the ground over the McDowell Countians with a 52-0 triumph. Seven different Bluefield players scored including Ronnie Goodwin (two TDs), Pete Wood, Bill Tracy, Pete Sarver, Jimmy Beckett, David Parks, and Butch Poe. In the first half, Gary ran 36 plays to Bluefield’s 12 but on four of the touchdowns the polished Beavers took 3 plays, 1 play, 5 plays, and 3 plays to score. Bluefield improved to 5-0 with the win. (The Coaldiggers compiled a 1-9 mark for the season).
GAME 6 – Pete Wood scored three touchdowns and Pete Sarver’s passing – seven completions -- was a key to Bluefield’s 33-0 shutout over the Welch Maroon Wave. Bluefield overcame 130 penalty yards with aid from Jimmy Beckett, who had an 80-yard punt return for the undefeated Beavers. One of Wood’s scores came on a third effort after touchdowns had been called back on the previous two downs. Gainer noted he was especially pleased with Nick Colobro’s defensive play. (The Maroon Wave, coached by Wayne Hicks, finished 5-5 for the season).
GAME 7 – It was a happy Homecoming on Friday the 13th in the 13th consecutive BHS victory when the Beavers made their own luck in an 18-7 win over Beckley, coached by Ken Wheeler. The Flying Eagles, who returned a fumble for a score, led 7-6 at halftime. Ron Goodwin’s two touchdowns keyed the win. David Brown deflected a field goal attempt, Nick Colobro recovered it and that led to another Bluefield score. Beaver defenders Colobro, Goodwin, Brown and Donald Myers were very effective. Goodwin led the offense with 93 yards, Wood added 72 and Beckett gained 53. Bluefield held Beckley to only two first downs in the hard-fought struggle. (The Flying Eagles finished with a 7-3 record).
GAME 8 – Two touchdowns in just :13 ignited a Beaver burst as Bluefield raced past Roanoke (Va.) Jefferson 34-6. Bluefield, staring with Jimmy Beckett’s 15-yard scoring run, raced to a 20-0 lead and never looked back. The two scores to break the game open came on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Pete Sarver to Bill McCue and on the kickoff, Donald Myers kicked and recovered a Jefferson fumble which he returned for a touchdown seconds later. Bluefield’s rugged defense limited Jefferson to just two rushing yards in the opening half. Goodwin retook the area scoring lead (74-66) over Wood in the contest. (Roanoke—Jefferson, coached by Hank Hambrick, completed a 5-5 season).
GAME 9 – In another Virginia-side game, the Beavers shut out Patrick Henry of Roanoke 34-0 and move up to second in the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC) rankings. Bluefield only led 7-0 at halftime on Pete Wood’s 14-yard score. Wood put Bluefield ahead with a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter. Key plays leading to the win included a 43-yard scoring run by Jimmy Beckett and a touchdown pass to Nick Colobro from Pete Sarver, who had 98 yards passing. Steve Bourne had a touchdown run. Bluefield rolled up 300 yards on the ground. The Beaver move in the state rankings was aided by Steubenville’s (OH) 32-19 win over former second-ranked Weirton. (Patrick Henry, coached by Al McClearn, had an 0-10 record for the year).
GAME 10 – Rolling now, the Beavers completed a 10-0 regular season with a Saturday afternoon romp over Parkersburg South, 55—0. Pete Wood piled up 193 yards rushing on just five carries in the first half including scoring runs of 32, 89 and 72 yards. The Bluefield defense shone brightly, recovering four fumbles and blocking two punts against the overmatched Patriots’ machine. Goodwin had a punt block as did David Brown. Led by Wood and Goodwin the BHS gridders had 303 yards rushing and Sarver passed for two scores including a touchdown to Rick Harmon and a 26-yard six pointer to Butch Poe. Harry Hull added a touchdown. (Parkersburg, coached by Steve McMillion, posted a 3-6-1 season record).
POST SEASON -- Bluefield had the bye week off after 10 consecutive games, waiting to learn who would be the championship opponent. Charleston—Stonewall Jackson (9-1) upset No. 1 Charleston High and the WVSSAC named Stonewall as number one to play Bluefield, which held its position in the rankings. Like the Beavers, Stonewall Jackson --coached by Bill Jarrett –finished the season with six shutouts in 10 games. In a compromise, the site of the game was not in the traditional Charleston Laidley Field site nor in Mitchell Stadium but at Stadium Field in Parkersburg.
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME – Bluefield (11-0) won its fourth AAA state championship with a 27-7 triumph over Stonewall Jackson. Goodwin (77 yards), who opened the scoring for Bluefield with a touchdown and Woods (74 yards) led the way offensively as the Beavers grabbed a 13-0 first quarter lead. The vaunted Beaver defense held Stonewall (9-2) to 8 first downs and the only SJ score came on a run by Harry “Sugar Bear” Lyles.
Entering the game, Stonewall Jackson had not allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Max Branham recovered a fumble to set up one Bluefield touchdown. Ron “Goose” Goodwin had two touchdowns -- a 12-yard score in the first quarter (Sarver XP pass to Butch Poe) and a 5-yard run in the fourth stanza (Wood XP run). Pete Sarver passed to Pete Wood for a 26-yard touchdown (Goodwin XP run). Nick Colobro returned a punt blocked by Gary Lawson for a 31-yard touchdown for the Beavers. Bluefield won its 17th straight game and 49th out of the previous 50 contests.
The Beavers led 157—110 in rushing yardage. The victory gave Gainer a career record of 87-6-1 in nine seasons at Bluefield High School.
At Smith Stadium November 18, 1967
BLUEFIELD 13 7 0 7 27
STONEWALL JACKSON 0 0 7 0 7
HONORS – Seven Bluefield Beavers made the 1967 All Area Team including Pete Wood, Ron Goodwin, Nick Colobro, Larry McBride, Bill Tracy, Mark Arrington and Clyde Hutchinson. Colobro was the only junior and the other six were seniors.
Wood topped the area players in scoring with 104 points including 16 touchdowns while Goodwin was close behind with 96 points and a host of outstanding defensive plays from his middle linebacker position. They led Bluefield to the Area Division A championship.
COACHES POST SCRIPT – Merrill Gainer would retire from his position not long after the ’67 season ended. He finished with an 87-6-1 record, four state championships (1959, ‘62, ‘65, ‘67), and undefeated teams in ’59, ’60, ’62, ’65 and ’67. He went on to win another state championship at Roanoke-Patrick Henry before he hung up his coaching whistle for good after the 1973 season. Veteran assistant coach and offensive coordinator John Chmara took the BHS head coaching reins for the ’68 campaign and guided the Beavers to a 9-0 record.
For the second time in a decade, however, Bluefield went undefeated but missed the playoffs due to lack of WVSSAC points. Logan had to be dropped from the ’68 schedule due to penalty and BHS was not able to replace the game. Previously, in 1960, Bluefield was also unbeaten (10-0) but did have enough official points to make the playoffs in the era when only the top two teams qualified.
Chmara, whose teams won several Area and Mercer County titles, went on to coach the 1975 and 1984 state championship Beavers and later had a successful career at Faquier (Va.) High. Bluefield defensive coordinator Glynn Carlock became Graham head coach in 1973. Carlock led the G-Men to AA Virginia state championships in 1989 and 1995, as well as winning many Southwest District and Tazewell County championships.
Gainer, Chmara and Carlock are each enshrined in coaching halls of fame and often regarded as the best coaching staff in West Virginia history.
(Note: Special thanks for composition of this article go to team members Bill Albert, Max Branham, Ron Goodwin, Nick Colobro, Pete Sarver, statisticians Tim Kish and Rick Baker.)