Ohio Valley’s Greatest Games: 1983 — Tyler County Claims State Title in Backyard Rivalry
CHARLESTON — It doesn’t rise to the level of the Hatfields vs. McCoys.
But, in Tyler County sports, the 1983 football season would rank up there for backyard rivalry.
That’s the season the two country schools –Tyler County and Sistersville — played a second season game in the Super Six state finals at Laidley Field in Charleston. The two schools had played in regular season since 1915 but this season rematch on Dec. 3 was for “all the marbles”, the Mountain State’s Class A championship.
Both backyard rivals had recorded near-perfect regular seasons. Sistersville posted a 10-0 record including an 8-7 thriller over Tyler. That was the only blemish on Tyler’s 9-1 record which added to the rivalry when the two teams met in the Super Six final.
This would be the fourth straight of seven in-a-row title games for Sistersville but the first championship clash, and the first playoffs, for Tyler, which entered the eight-team playoffs seeded 7th and needing a regular season-ending 14-0 win over Bishop Donahue to make the field. Sistersville was top-seeded.
In the playoffs, Tyler needed a 90-yard TD pass play from quarterback John McGrew to Scott Holmes to defeat host Gilbert, 19-14, in the first round before blanking Mullens, 40-0 in the semifinals at Charleston. Sistersville had two easy home wins over Matewan, 57-6 and Morgantown St. Francis, 37-13 in the semis.
“It seemed like most of Tyler County (people) was in Charleston for that title game against Sistersville,” Red Raiders’ coach John Stender recalled. “It might have been a good day for a bank robber!” The crowd was estimated at over 7,500, one of the best turnouts for a Single-A final.
The defensive-minded Raiders, who allowed only seven regular season touchdowns and posted four shutouts, stymied the potent Tiger offense and took a 10-0 lead at halftime before stretching it to 16-0 early in the third period.
Tyler’s opportunistic defense broke the scoreless tie in the first period when Rick Thomas recovered a fumbled Tiger punt return in the end zone. Sistersville’s Scott Swisher fielded the kick on the 1-yard-line before racing into the end zone to elude tacklers.
Overall, the Raiders intercepted four passes plus the fumble recovery. Scott Lash had two picks in the first period before injuring an ankle in the second quarter. Sistersville displayed a reckless, devil-may-care attack.
Ultra-successful coach Lou Nocida had his team gamble eight times on fourth down situations including five times in its own territory.
After the game, Nocida — who won five state titles in seven straight finals, told reporters “I just felt we had to try and jump on them when we had the chance.”
The Red Raiders padded the lead to 10-0 with a rare field goal by Robbie Klem of 25 yards.
“I was really happy for Robbie because he had suffered a knee injury in the game against the Tigers the previous year.”
Tyler County then returned the second half kickoff and marched 67 yards in six plays to score and stretch the lead to 16-0. McGrew teamed up with Doug Lancaster on a 41-yard TD strike with a perfect pass to the wide receiver running in stride at the 15-yard-line and reaching the end zone unmolested. “That was big,” Stender recalled, “but we still had to stop them the rest of the way.”
The Raiders’ defense bent but didn’t break the rest of the way.
Prolific Tiger quarterback Matt Archer teamed up with rangy end Jeff Evans on two TD passes to close the gap to 16-14 with some 10 minutes left.
“My memory of the final minutes is blurred because we had to make so many defensive stops and big plays,” Stender noted. “But I recall a fourth-and-1 on our 30-yard-line when our inside linebacker Rick Thomas made a play behind the line against their fullback, Joel Wilson. That was big.”
A year later, Wilson would win the Kennedy Award as the state’s Player of the Year and earned a scholarship to Ball State.
With the school’s first, and only, state championship trophy in hand, the Red Raiders returned to Middlebourne and the party was on. The team was saluted with a community parade and a rally at Burgbacher Field.
For Stender, it was a family affair. His wife, Diana, was the long-time cheerleading advisor at the school where her husband was head coach from 1978-92 after six years as an aide. When the two schools were merged into the current Tyler Consolidated in 1993, Stender continued on the football sidelines and remained as coach until retiring after the 2003 season. His overall record was 160-92 with 12 state playoff berths and the state title plus a runner-up finish in 1986.
And, yes, that 1986 Super Six Class A final was also against Sistersville. The Tigers won that showdown, 14-8, but that’s another story.