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Editor’s note: This is the third and final story in the series about West Brunswick’s championship football teams in the early 1990s.
After winning the Class 2A state championship in 1992, the West Brunswick Trojans entered the ’93 season with great expectations. However, things became more complicated when West’s enrollment forced it to become a class 3A school.
No team in North Carolina High School Athletic Association history had moved up an entire classification and won the state title in the following campaign.
The ’93 squad, perhaps enduring a bit of a hangover from the dramatic championship in ’92, began the season poorly. The Trojans dropped a 25-21 contest against Conway, S.C., in the season opener before falling to Purnell Sweat in week two.
Slow start in 1993
The first title defense couldn’t have started more ominously, but as the ’92 club had done so many times after facing adversity, the ’93 team began to win.
West was now playing with a quarterback who was starting behind center for the first time in his young career. Fans would quickly find out just how special their signal-caller was.
Once Johnson became comfortable in the quarterback position and the job was his alone, the offense took off. West reeled off more than 40 points in five of its next games following the 0-2 start during a six-game winning streak.
The offense hit a roadblock against West Columbus in the ninth game of the season as the Vikings knocked off the Trojans 7-6.
West Brunswick handed South Brunswick a 29-20 loss in the regular season’s final game after dominating Lumberton in an endowment game.
Heading into the playoffs, the West squad faced several challenges. Most notably is the increased difficulty in the 3A playoff bracket compared to the 2A bracket, which West had solved a year earlier. Several coaches noted the difference in depth between the two postseasons, saying there were several times in the 2A playoff runs the Trojans would face low-quality opponents in the first round, or in some cases the first two rounds, but in the 3-A classification, you could lose “in any round.”
In the first round of playoffs, the Trojans knocked off Northeast Guilford 48-16. Steve Holmes, the offensive MVP of the state championship game in ’92, starred in a 43-12 blowout of Eastern Randolph in the second round. The tailback, who eventually played his collegiate football at Bowling Green, amassed 162 yards on the ground while accounting for three Trojan touchdowns. Fellow backfield mate Michael Lance added 122 rushing yards.
The third-round game pitted West against a previously unbeaten and perennial powerhouse Reidsville. The Trojans held Reidsville to three points on their way a convincing 21-3 triumph, setting up a date in the eastern championship with head coach Jim Brett’s former team, Tarboro. Brett led Tarboro to a state championship in 1984 before accepting the job at West Brunswick before the ’92 season.
Much like the playoff run in ’92, West simply found a way in yet another struggle. Brett guided his team to a 21-13 victory over Tarboro in the eastern championship and moved on to face High Point Andrews in the 1993 3A state championship game.
State foe Andrews a power
Unlike West, Andrews employed a heavier passing attack, using the pass for 40 percent of its offense. Quarterback Larry Patterson completed 60 percent of his passes during the ’93 season while tossing 15 touchdown passes. Big-play wide receiver James Cotton hauled in 38 catches for 800 yards and 12 scoring receptions during the regular season. Stephon Smith led the Red Raiders on the ground as he compiled 900 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 10 regular season contests.
Andrews won the 3A title in 1991 by defeating A.L. Brown 24-14. The victory gave Andrews’ its third state championship. Andrews also captured the crown in 1972 and 1976.
Making matters more difficult for the Trojans was the Red Raiders hadn’t lost a conference game since 1990. They did face several tests during the ’93 season, which included a loss to class 4A Greensboro Page. Glenn led Andrews 17-0 in the third round of the playoffs before the Red Raiders responded by outscoring their opponents 41-14 the rest of the way for a 41-31 victory in the western semifinals.
The championship game was 7:30 p.m. Dec 10, a Friday, at Kenan Stadium on the UNC campus. Many experts picked High Point Andrews to win the game.
“All we heard in ’93 was how powerful High Point Andrews was,” said Mike Alderson, a West assistant coach. “They had 50, 60 head of young’n’s.”
Alderson is not exaggerating. The roster in the NCHSAA program lists 52 players for the Red Raiders. West’s roster had 29 players, and 12 of them were seniors.
“I’ll never forget in Chapel Hill when we played High Point Andrews,” Alderson said, “they came rolling out there with 13 coaches—I stood there and counted them. We came rolling out there with four coaches and 28 players—playing both ways. It was a like a David and Goliath game.”
“It was the football version of ‘Hoosiers,’” assistant coach Joe Noble said.
Punt return sparks comeback
Andrews had controlled the game for the better part of three quarters and held a 14-6 lead late in the game. West’s first score came on a 5-yard run by Lance, the final play of a 10-play, 72-yard drive.
But two plays made the difference for West Brunswick in winning the ’93 state championship game.
Alderson said a punt return by Holmes completely changed the game’s outlook.
“Our defense forced a three-and-out in their territory and they had to punt,” he recalled. “Steve gets the punt and returns it (61 yards) to the one-yard line. We punched it in and (that play) just ignited the whole team.”
The critical return and subsequent touchdown cut the Trojans’ deficit to 14-13 and West got the ball back late in the fourth quarter deep in its own territory. The Green and Gold faced a third-and-11 at their own 31 and called a timeout to set up a play that would go down as perhaps the greatest in the annals of West Brunswick football history.
The “fumblerooski” is a play in which the center snaps the ball and the quarterback places it on the ground, effectively a fumble, to be picked up by the offensive guard. The play is designed for the guard to pick up the ball and sprint in the opposite direction of the rest of the offense, which flows the other way. Nebraska made the play famous after head coach Tom Osborne used it in the 1984 Orange Bowl against Miami. The Cornhuskers successfully executed the play for a touchdown.
As for the Trojans, Brett and the rest of the coaching staff felt there was no better time for such a play.
“When you run a trick play,” Alderson said, “you’re supposed to let the officials know before the game.
“And that’s what we did. When (Brett) called timeout, he gave the officials the signal to let them know the play was coming. We called the fumblerooski, and guard Phillip Johnson went for 28 yards, a first down, and we continued the drive.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound guard, advanced the ball into Andrews’ territory, yet West still had to finish the drive to capture the second of back-to-back state championships. After the fumblerooski though, the outcome seemed inevitable.
Later in the drive, Eric Johnson tossed a 37-yard pass to Timothy Daniels that set up a one-yard touchdown plunge by Lance for the go-ahead score.
The Trojans held on for a 19-14 victory and the ’93 3A state championship. Holmes was awarded for offensive MVP while teammate Kwabena Green captured the defensive award. Green went on to start at East Carolina University after graduating from West in 1995.
Statistical leaders for the Trojans during the season were Holmes (1,361 rushing yards, 20 touchdowns; 10 receptions, 129 yards, one touchdown) and Lance (911 rushing yards, 13 scores). Eric Johnson completed 35-of-72 passes for 613 yards and 10 touchdowns. Daniels led all Trojan receivers with 12 receptions for 294 yards and five touchdowns.
West finished the season 13-3 while Brett improved his career record with the Trojans to 25-6.
The championship game would mark Brett’s final game as the chief of the West Brunswick sidelines as he accepted the head coaching job at class 4A Northern Nash before the 1994 season.
Eric Johnson stars at WCU
Eric Johnson, one of the most successful athletes in West Brunswick history, spent the ’92 season taking snaps here and there as Bryan Flemming saw most of the action at the position. Johnson’s athleticism propelled him to a successful high school career. After Johnson’s 1994 season at West Brunswick, he attended Western Carolina University, where he became a standout athlete in football and baseball. Johnson became a two-time first-team All-Southern Conference selection as a defensive back in football while earning All-American accolades in ’97 and ’98. Johnson also garnered first-team plaudits in baseball. He remains one of five athletes in Southern Conference history to gain first-team recognition in two sports during the same academic calendar year.
In 1999, he scored 83 runs for the Catamounts, a mark that stands as the school record. The clip also ranks fifth all-time in the SoCon. He is also tied for sixth in league history with 46 stolen bases in a single season.
His achievements on the baseball field led the Cleveland Indians to select Johnson in the third round of the 1999 Major League Baseball Draft. Johnson never advanced past Class A ball with the Indians but later played in the Red Sox organization, where he made it to Class AA with the Portland Sea Dogs of the Eastern League.
He made the practice squad with the Chicago Bears as a defensive back in 2001.
Johnson will be inducted into the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame later this fall.
Below are the West Brunswick rosters during the championship seasons of 1991-93. Unfortunately, not every player can be accounted for, but these are the rosters from the 1991, 1992 and 1993 NCHSSA programs.
The roster of the 1991 West Brunswick football team that played in NCHSAA Class 2A state championship game, as listed in the NCHSAA official program:
Brian Alderson, Chad Allman, Ronnie Bradley, Matt Bozeman, Shaun Bowen, Wayne Branch, Steve Brooks, Aaron Butler, Cleon Butler, Geoff Byrd, Tony Caison, Timmy Daniels, Travis Dixon, Wayne Gore, Jim Grissett, Steve Holmes, Heath Hankins, Phillip Johnson, Adam Johnson, Eric Johnson, Aldwin Lance, Michael Lance, Bobby Lovette, Chris Mintz, Lonnie Mitchell, Charlie Peel, Jerry Reeves, Daniel Russ, Kevin Seay, William Stanley, Donnie Warren, Neil Warren, Kelly Wooten, Kip Young.
The roster of the 1992 West Brunswick football team, as listed in the playoff programs:
Wayne Branch, Eric Johnson, Bryan Flemming, Steve Holmes, Joe Hawes, Timmy Daniels, Michael Johnson, Marty Earwood, William Stanley, Greg Mott, Michael Lance, Shawn Stevenson, Aaron Butler, Ty Brown, Calvin Reeves, Neil Warren, Chris Brown, James Morgan, Kwabena Green, David Helms, Brian McDowell, Daniel Johnson, Max Crawford, Heath Inman, Blake Hobbs, Kelly Wooten, Kip Young, Phillip Johnson, Steve Brooks, Charlie Peel, Geoff Byrd, Terrell Thomas, Willie Gore, Sherrell Lance, Lonnie Mitchell.
The roster of 1993 West Brunswick football team that played in NCHSAA Class 3A state championship game, as listed in the NCHSAA official program:
Dexter Bass, Wayne Branch, Steve Brooks, Ty Brown, Chris Brown, Timothy Daniels, Jonathan Faulk, Derek Frink, Greg Gause, Brian Gore, Kwabena Green, Corey Hill, Blake Hobbs, Steve Holmes, Heath Inman, Eric Johnson, Michael Johnson, Phillip Johnson, Michael Lance, Marcus McCray, Brian McDowell, James Morgan, Charlie Peele, John Robinson, William Stanley, Terrell Thomas, Neil Warren, Kelly Wooten, Kip Young.