The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on Nov. 7, 2001.
Perhaps the most fitting aspect of Friday night’s final Lincoln-Thomas Jefferson football game is that something beyond pride and last-time bragging rights is at stake. To the winner goes at least a share of the District 20-4A championship.
Lincoln, of course, has added incentive. The Bumblebees, who look very much like a team capable of going deep into the playoffs, may not get the chance if they don’t defeat the Yellow Jackets. A Lincoln loss, combined with victories by West Orange-Stark and Nederland, would put the Bees on the sidelines.
Oddly enough, there have been few times in this sometimes heated cross-town rivalry when implications extended beyond the city limits. In addition, you can almost count on one hand the number of instances when the outcome was in doubt late in the game. And, almost always, the team which was supposed to win did win.
The names more than the games are what lingers.
From Joe Washington to ShanDerrick Charles, with the likes of Ken Washington, Chuck Baker, Tank Bryant, Bobby Leopold, Tim McKyer and Ronnie Halliburton in between, Lincoln has fielded some of the greatest athletes ever to step on a Southeast Texas gridiron. It’s an elite group that should also include Michael Green, Reggie Lewis and Shockmain Davis.
TJ can’t match Lincoln for NFL alumni during the span of the rivalry, but the Yellow Jackets also have trotted out their share of outstanding players. With them, you start with the D&D duo — Todd Dodge and Brent Duhon — that took the Jackets to the 1980 state finals.
Lendon Henry and Elijah Burkins were record breakers. Current offensive coordinator Kenny Harrison was a remarkable receiver. So was Shea Walker. And you can’t overlook Kevin Everett. Gary Hammond and Larry Mayer were headline makers for the Jackets in the early days.
The list of blue chip players is lengthy from both schools and is a major reason why Division 1 recruiters flocked to Port Arthur. Pick an all-star team of players from Lincoln and TJ since the series began in 1967 and you’d have something really special.
Or you’d have something like Memorial High School’s future talent pool to salivate over.
TJ, meanwhile, has dominated Lincoln overall, piling up an 18-8-1 edge in a series that was put on hold from 1982-88.
The Bees best run came from 1971-75, when Little Joe Washington and his brother Ken were the catalysts in wining four and tying one over the five-year stretch. Since then, Lincoln has been unable to win in consecutive years.
Surprisingly, only seven of the 27 games between the two schools were decided by a touchdown or less. Five of those seven were played in the 1970s. Included was the memorable 1971 clash of titans that was far and away the signature game of the rivalry.
Both teams came in 8-0. Smitty Hill’s TJ club, which had gone 13-1 in reaching the state semifinals the previous year, was ranked No. 1 in the state. Lincoln was ranked No. 5 and had already knocked off previously unbeaten, No. 6 ranked Port Neches-Groves. But its head coach, Joe Washington, was lying in a hospital as the result of an auto accident.
The eyes of Texas were truly on Port Arthur for the sold out, Nov. 5 rumble at Memorial Stadium. According to wire service reports, there had never been a city Port Arthur’s size with two teams so highly ranked at the same time.
Lincoln, sparked by the incomparable Little Joe, built a 22-0 lead in the third quarter, but lost its All-America standout when he fractured a bone in his foot scoring his third touchdown. TJ took advantage of Washington’s absence to rally within 22-14, but a late drive fizzled 15 yards from the potential tying touchdown.
Ironically, the second best game in the rivalry was probably the one played the next year.
Lincoln, headed to the second of three consecutive titles, fell behind Doug Ethridge’s first and only TJ team 20-8 in the third quarter. Ken Washington and Chuck Baker rallied the Bees to a 28-20 lead, but TJ scored late to make it 28-26. That’s the way it ended when the Jackets’ two-point conversion attempt failed.
The biggest upset in the series came in 1974. Lincoln seemingly was on the way to a fourth consecutive playoff berth when it met the 6-3 Yellow Jackets in the season’s final game. TJ, behind 35 and 45-yard field goals from John Saenz, took a 13-7 lead into the final minutes. Lincoln tied the score with 1:06 to play but missed the extra point and settled for a 13-13 tie.
Instead of sharing the district title with a PN-G team it had defeated, the Bees dropped to second place. Back then, of course, only the district champ qualified for the playoffs.
Two other games produced memorable finishes.
In 1979, the year before TJ roared to the state finals, Todd Dodge rallied the Jackets from a 14-3 halftime deficit. Dodge threw a 19-yard TD pass to Steve Durso with 2:55 left for a 17-14 TJ victory.
In 1993, with the teams meeting in the third game, a Lincoln outfit that would win only one game led 28-21 as the clock wound down. But, with Elijah Burkins and Lendon Henry carrying the load, TJ drove 70 yards and scored with 1:20 left.
Jacket coach Mike Owens disdained playing for a tie and opted to roll the dice for a victory. Damon West hit Trey Storey for a two-point conversion and a 29-28 decision. The Jackets used it as the springboard to an 8-3 season and a spot in the 5A playoffs.
With so much at stake Friday night, let’s hope the Bees and the Jackets treat us to one final classic.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com.