MHS game day

Bobby Jefferson, right, quarterbacked a state-ranked 1973 Roughers team which faced a top-ranked Booker T. Washington squad. Barring an unexpected late twist, backup quarterback Jameel Owens, left, will lead another ranked Roughers team against No. 1 BTW and an anticipated sellout crowd tonight at Indian Bowl.

The scenario is similar.

But the Muskogee Roughers, along with their chief administrator, no doubt hope it’s a different result.

When No. 3 Muskogee and top-ranked Booker T. Washington hook up tonight at Indian Bowl, it will be one of several decades’ worth of memorable clashes. For MHS athletic director Bobby Jefferson, 1973 stands out in particular.

Jefferson was the quarterback of that team, which entered the game ranked No. 4 in the state according to The Associated Press. Washington was No. 1. What is believed to be the biggest modern day attendance in Indian Bowl history, 12,000 according to published accounts of the game, ended in heartbreak for Muskogee.

Seven yards from a win. No closer. Final, 14-13 after trailing 14-0 at the half.

“We didn’t even look at the tape afterward,” Jefferson said.

With 1:50 to play, Jefferson had found Mike Collier for 38 yards to the Washington 25. Two runs by halfback Henry Clemons off the wishbone attack took the ball to the 7.

After having missed an extra point and a field goal earlier in the game, it looked like all would be well. But a handoff went awry and rolled into the end zone, where Washington’s Ken Davis fell on it for a touchback.

Ball game.

“We were running a basic blast play with a fullback/halfback lead and I had to reverse out on that, gave it to Clemons coming in and I think the bad exchange between me and him, the ball may have hit him on the thigh,” Jefferson said.

“We had physically whipped them so bad, Henry could have walked backwards into the end zone. That bothers me more than anything. The ball just seemed to sit there forever. Being handed off two yards deep in the backfield and goes into the end zone without anybody touching it. That tells you all you need to know about how physical it was.”

Former athletic director John Leafer remembers two things about it while serving as an assistant to then head coach Frank Tillery.

“The crowd, obviously,” he said. “We didn’t have temporary bleachers. But what people did was stand on the track, six to eight people deep. In addition to that, there were people standing across the corners of the end zones, which takes in more than just the track. The islands beyond the end zones were filled with people.

“I remember turning around and looking on our sidelines at people I had never seen before, standing on our bench. From about 1962 on, I can’t ever recall anything like that crowd.”

But he remembers how fellow assistant Curtis Brackeen broke down the Washington defense to the point that he called everyone together, including Jefferson, on Thursday night to use those signals to stop Washington’s offense, which came in averaging 38 points per game.

“We didn’t have but about 20-30 plays on both sides of the ball to worry about, so it wasn’t as complicated a formula as we’d have today,” Leafer said.

“We'd been watching Washington every week with most of their games being Thursdays,’ Brackeen said. “Their defensive coordinator (Bob Mayes) would signal the play. He was a big man and wore an orange windbreaker, so he was easy to spot. They picked up on it though by halftime and had other coaches signaling the second half, to where we didn't know who was sending the real signal.”

Ironically, Muskogee didn't score until the second half, even though they outgained Washington 305-161 for the contest. Washington quarterback Melvan Barren hit Reggie Midget for two first-half touchdown passes and the 14-0 lead.

The Roughers struck on the first drive of the second half, marching 73 yards in six plays with Terry Van Beber going the final 2 yards. Then Clemons scored on another 2-yard run with 3:28 left in the quarter, but Ron Maples’ PAT was blocked. Maples would later have a field goal attempt hit the post.

Ironically, the AP moved Muskogee up one spot to No. 3 in the rankings following the game, but the loss stung the Roughers, which wound up losing their next two games, to Enid in a non-district game then McClain — on a fumbled pitchout — and missed the playoffs at 6-3.

“I don’t know why we didn’t recoup,” Jefferson said. “We definitely had a team that was capable of making a run at state. But that was a period of several good teams and good games with them. The ‘70 team beat BTW then gets got beat by Memorial on first downs in the semifinals.”

The ’73 game also came on the heels of a controversial season in 1972. Muskogee, which lost to Booker T. 27-14, wound up as the district representative in the playoffs because two teams ahead of them — Washington and Central — were disqualified because of ineligible players. In a scene similar to last year’s Class 5A playoffs, Washington appealed their case to a Federal Appeals Court, the playoffs were delayed a week during the legal process and in the end, on Dec. 1, Muskogee took on took on Tulsa Hale and lost 14-7, with Hale turning a fumble into the winning touchdown.

Tillery, 74, coached 19 years, seven at MHS after winning a state title at Sand Springs. He left MHS after the 1973 season to return to Rogers, Ark., where his coaching career began and he now lives in retirement. He was among the first class of inductees into the Muskogee Athletic Hall of Fame.

“I think those accounts are pretty accurate,” he said. “None of it sticks out in my mind like the court deal in 1972. Word got around that I was trying to rush things along to get to quail season. That wasn’t true.”

Brackeen was part of the rivalry that dates back to the days of Manual Training hooking up with Washington in the pre-integration days. The two teams played every regular season at Thanksgiving. Brackeen played on the 1951 Manual team that beat Washington for the state championship among black schools.

“We played all our games at Athletic Park and that was the only time in my career I played at Indian Bowl,” Brackeen said. “We beat them 2-0 on a tackle in the end zone on the opening kickoff.

“The next year I think we won 13-12 and that was Seymore Williams' last game at Washington. It sure is a storied rivalry.”

And one that’s set up to tell another story tonight.

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