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Grid iron glory

Thursday, September 29, 2011

(Photo)
The 1971 Missouri Class AA football state champion Monett Cubs are pictured above. In the front row, from left, are: Terry Jack, Dan Fulbright, Rod Kelley, Mike Arnold, Drew Sims, Mark Costley, Jesse Reed, Roger Jarvis, Rick Lillegard, Stan Fellwock, David Goodman, Gary Springston and John Hegi. Second row: Billy Slater, John Heese, Gerald Isbell, Willie Harrell, Bob Power, Steve McClure, Ted Norris, Ron Martin, Steve Martin, Charles Glaser, Kenny Washburn, Mark Morgan and Mark Sippy. Third row: Jimmy Jack, Jerry Fowler, Biff Jones, Randy Masters, Kenny Roetto, Bobby Harrell, Kevin Avondet, Jeff Flattem, John McClure, Dennis Heim, Billy Medlin, Kevin Bean and Jack Eden. Fourth row: Billy Cook, Tommy Douthitt, Lee Baty, Doug Avondet, Rick Tate, Ray Eubanks, Jen Henbest, Bill Brown, Rick Henry, Chris Ginther, Doug Tudor, Carl McLaughlin and Mitch Norris. Fifth row: coaches Benny Lawson, Burl Fowler, Tim Kelley, Ronnie Knott, Chuck Ramsey and J.L. Phillips.
On the back of the press box at Burl Fowler Stadium are two sets of four-digit numbers that help tell a tale of a sport that has earned the loyalty of the community of Monett.

The first set of numbers reads "1971" and the second "1977." Those years represent the two state football titles the Cubs have won in their tradition-rich history that dates back over 100 years.

On Friday, Monett High School will honor the 40th anniversary of the undefeated 1971 Big 10 Conference and Class AA Cubs championship football team.

"Wow, has it been that long?" asked Benny Lawson. Monett's assistant coach in 1971. "I can tell you right now that those boys were a special group. They worked hard in the summer and were the epitome of what a team should be."

The story of the 1971 championship begins in 1967 with the hiring of two successful coaches from Seneca: Burl Fowler and Benny Lawson.

"David Sippy and I were looking for a football coach with a proven track record and an individual who could instill discipline and leadership," said Dr. Ralph Scott, former Monett superintendent. "We had admired the Seneca program for a few years and the job Burl and Benny had done with the Indians.

"David and I drove to Seneca to meet with Burl," continued Scott. "Burl agreed to take the job, and a couple of weeks later Benny accepted our offer."

After a seven-year stint at the helm of Seneca's football program, Fowler had compiled a recored of 43-24-2.

"We were both Seneca boys," said Lawson. "We both graduated from and played for Seneca. While the decision to leave was hard, after much thought and prayer, it was the right call."

Immediate impact

In the decade that preceded Fowler's arrival at Monett, the Cubs posted a 33-62-8 mark and had only two winning seasons.

Fowler's rules were simple: it was his way or no way.

"The first thing Burl did was make the kids get hair cuts," said Lawson. "It was Burl's way of starting to impress upon the young men that he was the leader of this team and they were going to conform. We didn't always have the best athletes in the school playing on the football team, but we had the boys who wanted to play the most."

Fowler was known for the high standards he set for his teams. He encouraged his players to become involved in the community and to become responsible citizens.

"It just wasn't the kids that got hair cuts, it was the coaching staff too," said J.L. Phillips, assistant coach. "Burl also made the boys wear a coat and tie to every game.

"The Monett Quarterback Club was very instrumental in making sure each player was fitted with the proper attire," Phillips added.

He cared

"Burl Fowler cared about his players," said Tom Hodge, Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame (MFCA) inductee who played for Fowler at Seneca. "You knew who was in charge at practice, and he knew how to get the most out of you."

Fowler's players knew what the coach expected out of them.

"You always knew where you stood with Burl," said Hodge. "He enjoyed coaching. He had a firm hand on his teams, but it was a fair hand. He would do anything in the world to help you. Come game time you needed to execute."

Setting the stage

The 1970 Monett Cubs battled injuries to key players and started the campaign 1-4.

Once healthy, the Cubs rattled off five straight win to conclude the season 6-4.

"We knew we were better than our record showed," said Lawson. "The kids on that team knew the meaning of work and discipline. It would be fair to say that a lot of people underestimated the Cubs heading into 1971."

Monett opened two-a-day practices in August, 1971 with 12 seniors, 18 juniors, 21 sophomores and 32 freshmen.

"Most of our starters returned from 1970," said Lawson. "Our backfield and secondary remained intact from the previous year. Our offensive line only had one new face. We really came together and gelled quickly."

The Cubs also employed a new two platoon system with players specializing on offense and defense.

"We played 22 kids," said Lawson. "Of course we cross-trained them, but we didn't have guys going both ways. With starters scrimmaging starters, it pushed us to become better. This style created some spirited practices. It also kept our players from running out of steam before our opponents."

Another facet that the Monett coaching staff stressed was an emphasis on team accomplishment.

"On offense, we didn't care who scored the touchdown. It was more important that Monett scored," explained Lawson. "We didn't even keep stats on defense, because our goal was to shut the opponent down as a team."

Monett ran an option attack on offense that was predicated on ball control and misdirection. On defense, the Cubs like to pin their ears back and cut loose.

The regular season

Monett faced a tough regular season in 1971. The Cubs opened with Bolivar, a tradition that would span 40 years from 1965 to 2005. Then the Cubs would enter Big 10 Conference play with Carthage, Nevada, Carl Junction, Aurora, Mt, Vernon, Lamar, Webb City, Neosho and Cassville.

Bolivar

Since the Cubs only had one non-conference game each season, it was imperative for Monett to win against the Liberators to get a jump in the playoff point race.

Winning in all three phases of the game, Monett dispatched Bolivar 29-0.

The Cubs' defense yielded only 18 total yards of offense to the Liberators, while the special teams flipped field position for the Cubs with two blocked punts, one of which resulted in two points for Monett.

On offense, the Cubs ran the ball 43 times for 207 yards. Touchdowns by Roger Jarvis, Rod Kelley and Willie Harrell helped ice the win.

Carthage

In week two, the Cubs started slow and trailed the Tigers 6-0 after one quarter of play. A turnover by Carthage in the second period proved to be the turning point, allowing Monett to score on a short field.

The Cubs led 7-6 at halftime and controlled the tempo in the second half. Three Carthage interceptions led to two Monett touchdowns in the fourth quarter by Mike Arnold and Ted Norris, giving the Cubs a 20-6 victory.

Nevada

In the third week of the season, Monett traveled north to Nevada seeking the Cubs' third win of the season and eighth consecutive victory overall.

On a rain soaked and muddy field, the Cubs used big plays and smothering defense to secure a 22-0 victory.

The Tigers were limited to 23 yards of total offense, while Monett used a 71-yard touchdown run by Norris to score its initial touchdown. A 74-yard reception by Kelley set up an Arnold three-yard plunge. Monett capped the scoring for the evening when Norris took a fake punt 50 yards to pay dirt.

Carl Junction

Monett opened the game against Carl Junction driving the ball 80 yards in 14 plays for a touchdown enroute to a 27-0 win over the Bulldogs.

The Cubs dominated every statistical category and ran nearly twice as many plays as the Bulldogs. Monett outgained Carl Junction 343 to 89 in total yardage.

Aurora

The fifth week of the 1971 season featured a game between the Cubs and the unbeaten and Class AA top-ranked Aurora Houn' Dawgs.

A crowd of nearly 4,000 crammed into MHS Stadium to witness the Cubs come from behind twice to win 27-16.

Trailing 10-6 with three seconds left in the first half, Monett took the lead for good on Kelley's 32-yard reception before halftime. Monett built a 27-10 lead and coasted to the victory.

"I will never forget that game," said Phillips. "The crowd and energy that was in the air. Our community was firmly behind us and nothing was going to stop our momentum."

Over the course of the next five weeks, Monett dispatched Mt. Vernon, Lamar, Webb City, Neosho and Cassville, outscoring its five opponents 170-12.

Semi-finalist

For the first time since 1950, the Cubs were undefeated in the regular season and in conference play.

The Cubs reached number three in the state rankings and were the only undefeated team in District 2's 20-team pod.

Monett was selected as the semi-finalist and was slated to host Smithville.

The City of Monett rolled out the red carpet for the visiting Warriors and their fans.

The Monett Chamber of Commerce offered assistance in securing lodging for all Smithville fans. Welcome banners were hung at every major intersection around Monett and soft drinks were provided for both teams.

Excitement reached a fever pitch with a rousing pep rally a day before the semi-final game. The event included the pep club sporting 244 new uniforms made especially for the football game.

Smithville

Over 4,100 fans squeezed into MHS stadium to witness Monett prevail 33-0 over Smithfield. True to their form, the Cubs used a team effort to shut down the Warriors.

"We just flat got beat by a real fine football team," said Smithville coach Bill Olinger.

On offense, the Cubs used balance, gaining 171 yards on the ground and 151 yards in the air. Ken Roetto, Jarvis and Norris all scored touchdowns for the Cubs.

Defensively, Monett allowed 102 rushing yards. Smithville was zero of six in passing attempts with one interception.

State Championship

The Cubs earned a trip to the state AA championship game against South Shelby Cardinals, the defending state champs.

The Cardinals entered the contest riding a 23-game winning streak. South Shelby featured a potent offense that averaged 38.5 points per game. Defensively, the Cardinals only yielded 6.4 points per game. If Monett was to have success, it would have to be earned.

The Cubs were the honored guest at the Monett Kiwanis meeting. While there, Fowler introduced his team.

"This is a great bunch of Christian kids, and we have never worked with a closer or better group of boys," said Fowler. "This has been the high point of my coaching career. We have put Monett back on the football map."

There was much debate in the community about whether or not the Cubs could slow down the high flying Cardinals.

Monett answered their critics quickly.

After the opening kickoff, there was very little drama.

Monett's stout defense forced the Cardinals to punt on its first drive of the game.

Monett's opening drive began on its own 20. Three plays and 80 yards later, Monett led 7-0 on an Arnold 44-yard run. Arnold finished the game with 260 rushing yards on 18 carries.

The Cubs raced to a 29-6 halftime advantage, scoring touchdowns on all four of its first half possesions, and cruised to 37-8 win.

Monett's offense racked up 516 total yards while limiting the Cardinals offensive machine to 154 total yards.

"I believe what made Burl and Benny such good coaches was that they were good educators in the classroom," said Scott. "They knew how to communicate with their pupils, and it translated into the sports they coached.

"Burl ushered in one of the best eras of football in Monett history," continued Scott. "Benny carried on that tradition. They are both, the ideal coaches in my opinion."

Fowler succumbed to cancer during the 1974 football season, two weeks after he was honored for 100 career coaching victories. In 1975, MHS Stadium was renamed in Fowler's honor, and in 1999, Fowler was named to the MFCA Hall of Fame.

Lawson led the Cubs to the 1977 state football title. He was also inducted into the MFCA Hall of Fame in 1996.

Fowler compiled a 59-22 record at Monett. His 72.8 winning percentage is the greatest of any Monett coaching era.

In the 12-year span that Fowler and Lawson coached the Cubs, Monett went 89-33-1.

Editor's note: More information about Burl Fowler and the 1971 team can be found at www.monett-times.com.



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