Foster first Shrine bowler

Published 9:13 am Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ronnie Foster was introduced to football as a Davie freshman in 1962, and it was immediately obvious that Foster had talent.

That year he played Wednesdays for the freshman team, Thursdays for the JV and Fridays for the varsity. Coach Jack Ward required you to appear in at least 20 quarters to earn a letter, and Foster had his letter quickly.

So, yes, it was an entirely different world back then.

“My sophomore year, it was JV on Thursday and varsity on Friday,” said Foster, who played end on both sides of the ball. “I got in about half the time. I got plenty of playing time my sophomore year (while backing up Clay Eaton and Kenneth Boger).”

Foster would develop into an all-state performer, a Shrine Bowler and earn a scholarship to Appalachian State Teachers College. He helped lead a legendary team in 1965, and he will take his place among Davie’s legends on Sept. 22, when Foster (Class of 1966), Roger Pierce (1964), Bill Evans (1962), Debbie Evans (1990) and Seth Grooms (2002) will be inducted in the Davie High Athletic Hall of Fame. The 17th HOF class will be honored before the Davie football game and at halftime.

The 1965 Rebels (the nickname was changed to War Eagles in 1970) blew the doors off the competition, but Ward offered no apologies after experiencing moderate success in the first nine years of the school. A 3-7 nosedive in 1963 ended a string of four winning seasons. Despite the failure to win a championship between 1956-64, Ward was regarded as a coaching titan because of his 45-5 Cooleemee empire from 1951-55.

The 1964 Rebels closed with five straight wins, good for 7-3 overall and North Piedmont Conference runner-up, to fill everyone with confidence going into 1965. Nineteen of 31 players were seniors in ‘65. They went 10-0 in the regular season, winning by an average of 37-6. They achieved a 15-game winning streak dating to ‘64, the longest streak in Davie’s 61-year history.

In the ‘65 opener, Davie torched Belmont 33-0. Fullback David Robertson churned for two touchdowns, Garland Allen scored from 35 yards out and Donald Beck added another.

The Rebels won tough tossup games in weeks two and three. They traveled to Forest City to face Chase in the second nonconference game, and halfback Ronald Beck’s 20-yard, first-quarter TD stood up in a 6-0 victory. Davie was nearly sunk by a Chase drive in the third quarter, but a goal-line stand at the one-foot line preserved the lead.

Davie was tested again at Mooresville. The NPC opener was rained out on Friday and pushed to Saturday night. Both teams were 2-0. Davie pulled out a riveting game, 13-7. On fourth-and-goal at the 1, quarterback Earl Shoaf dove across the goal line, then added the extra point (a pass, run or kick counted for one point in those days) for a 7-0 lead. Mooresville tied it in the third quarter. Davie got a fourth-down stop at the six-inch line. Later, Mooresville reached the Davie 20, but a third-down pass was batted down by Shoaf. When it was 7-7 with 13 seconds remaining, with Davie 42 yards from the end zone, fans were expecting the game to end in a tie. Instead, Davie staged one of the most remarkable finishes ever, the hook-and-lateral working to perfection. Shoaf completed a pass to end Ronald Beck, who flipped it to twin brother Donald Beck, and D. Beck was gone, scoring with zeroes on the clock.

“Jack was versatile,” Foster said recently. “He was an offensive coach. He just knew what to call. Jack Ward and Bill Peeler are two of the best things to ever happen to Davie County – period. It was Good Cop and Bad Cop. Jack would come up and kick you in the butt, and Bill would come up and rub it for you and tell you it’s OK.”

Ward’s excitement over the 13-7 win, though, was tempered by a season-ending injury to senior Nayrex Barnhardt, a 6-2, 210-pound stud who played fullback and defensive back. He suffered a broken arm in the third quarter. “I don’t know if it’s worth it,” a teary-eyed Ward said. “We lost one of the best men I have ever coached.” Players signed the game ball and presented it to Barnhardt at the hospital.

The audience was deprived of what might have been with Barnhardt, but Davie was able to overcome the devastating injury because Robertson was waiting in the shadows.

Rain pushed the Monroe game to Saturday night. Punt returner Robertson lit the fuse for a 40-6 rout, faking a handoff to a teammate, hiding the ball on his hip and accelerating down the sideline for a 70-yard TD. Later in the first quarter, Robertson dashed 40 yards to paydirt. The other TDs: Shoaf’s 20-yard pass to D. Beck, Allen’s 10-yard run, Randall Ward’s 75-yard run and Lester Beauchamp’s 10-yard run. Monroe’s only points were on a pick-6 against Davie reserves.

On a rainy homecoming, Davie pounded West Rowan to a bloody pulp, 63-6. Davie registered four first-quarter TDs on the way to a 50-point half. On a punt return, Robertson faked a handoff to Ward and sped 70 yards. Shoaf threw two TDs to D. Beck and one to Foster. Jack Keller blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a TD. Ward returned a punt 80 yards. Robertson scored on another punt return, this one 35 yards. Mike Branham dashed 65 yards. West’s only score came on a pick-6. At 3-0, Davie was the only unbeaten team in the NPC or SPC, and it climbed to top-five status in 3-A in polls by the Greensboro Daily News and Charlotte Observer.

Davie steamrolled Troutman 59-6. Foster scooped and scored on a blocked punt. D. Beck scored on a 72-yard run and a pick-6. Jerry Hendrix scored on a 55-yard run. Branham broke a 20-yard TD. The Bobcats’ only score was a kickoff return.

Now Davie was the No. 1 team in 3-A in the Charlotte Observer poll. “You’re in pretty good company when people mention you with teams like Hickory, Thomasville and Asheboro,” coach Ward said then. “We just want to try not to be cocky and hope the rating holds up. Our problem from here on out will be keeping the team in a good mental frame of mind. I think mental attitude will be about 90 percent of the game for us.”

Davie took a break from NPC action and played an October nonconference game against visiting West Forsyth. The buildup was immense.

“They were ranked No. 1 in 4-A when they came to Davie County,” Foster said recently. “That was the first year they brought the cameras out and filmed the whole game. We were not allowed to watch the interviews from the night before.”

The Rebels became frighteningly good on this night. After a scoreless first half, they floored the gas pedal, won 33-0 and celebrated a landmark victory. This was perhaps the defining game of Foster’s monster senior season. He was everywhere on defense and he scored three times as Davie forced six second-half turnovers. Foster ignited the explosion in the third quarter, grabbing a Davie fumble and racing 35 yards to the end zone. The second TD was a trick play: Shoaf handed to Branham, who ran to his left before completing a 35-yarder to Foster. Later in the third, Robertson scored from the West 10. In the fourth, Allen ran for a score and Phil Deadmon fired a 32-yard TD to Foster.

Shoaf, D. Beck. R. Ward and Robertson were running wild behind tackles Charles Eaton and Tony Steele; guards Keller, Ronnie Spry and Ronnie Riddle; and ends Foster and R. Beck.

Before Davie traveled to Children’s Home for a 3:30 afternoon game, the Rebels were 0-4 at Alspaugh Field, losing in ‘57, ‘59, ‘61 and ‘63. But the Methodist had no chance in this one. Davie rolled 39-6 despite four fumbles and 117 penalty yards. Branham scored on a 10-yard run. R. Ward’s 90-yard punt return was called back, but D. Beck went 57 yards moments later. Shoaf intercepted a pass and went 40 yards. Children Home’s TD was the first against Davie’s defense in five games.

“Baling hay was how we got our strength,” Foster said. “They started a little bit (of weight lifting) my senior year. It wasn’t a whole lot. We had some barbells in there and some guys horsed around with it.”

When East Rowan hosted Davie, the Mustangs were tied for second with one NPC loss. But the Davie freight train rolled on, 25-0. R. Ward, D. Beck and Robertson took turns carrying the ball during an 18-play, 87-yard TD drive. R. Ward capped a 14-play scoring drive. Shoaf’s 16-yard pass to Foster moved Davie to the one-foot line. Another trick play worked as Shoaf pitched out to R. Ward, who found R. Beck for a TD. Foster, Charles Eaton, Steele, Edgar Osborne, Keller, Spry and R. Beck were recognized for outstanding defense and blocking.

In the final regular-season game in drizzling rain, Davie pummeled visiting North Rowan 54-6 with a flurry of big plays in a 41-point first half. Among the TDs: R. Ward’s 33-yard run, Foster’s 29-yard fumble return, D. Beck’s 27-yard run, Deadmon’s 30-yarder to Allen and Shoaf’s 50-yard pass to Foster, who reeled it in with one hand and streaked home.

Then came the Piedmont Conference title game – NPC champion Davie against SPC winner Asheboro in a dream matchup. A crowd of 6,500 gathered at Kannapolis. The Blue Comets prevailed 33-19 to end Davie’s quest for perfection. The next week, perennially dominant Asheboro tore through East Rutherford 34-7 to claim its third Western North Carolina High School Activities Association title in eight years.

In the Davie-Asheboro game, there were twisting turns all night. In the first quarter, Shoaf’s pass to Foster transported Davie to the Asheboro 21. That set up a flea-flicker that worked beautifully, with Shoaf handing off to Ward, who flipped it back to Shoaf. D. Beck caught the pass for a TD and 6-0 lead. After Davie fumbled at its 20, Asheboro star quarterback Darrell Moody, who signed with N.C. State, completed a TD pass to give the Comets a 7-6 halftime lead. Moody’s next TD pass made it 14-6, but Davie roared 79 yards in five plays, with Shoaf’s pass to R. Ward setting up Shoaf’s QB sneak. Davie was within 14-13 with 5:14 left in the third. In the fourth, Davie fumbled at midfield and Moody made it hurt with a TD pass. Davie coughed it up for the third time at its 40. Moody’s completion put Asheboro at the Davie 1, and the subsequent TD widened the gap to 27-13. With 1:50 to go, Davie had a glimmer of hope when D. Beck responded with a 90-yard kickoff return. But the extra point failed, leaving Davie eight points behind, and Asheboro recovered the onside kick. Moody threw his fourth TD with eight seconds to go. Moody was 15 of 24 for 161 yards, while Shoaf was 8 of 12 for 113 yards.

“We were give out. We were done (in the fourth quarter),” Foster said. “They had about 70 players and we had 13 players that played in that game.”

Although Foster and the Rebels didn’t get their Hollywood ending, it was an amazing ride. And Foster left his imprint on the program. He was among nine Rebels named to the all-NPC team. The others were QB Shoaf; runners Ward, D. Beck and Robertson; tackles Eaton and Steele; guard Spry; and center Osborne.

Foster and 32 others were named to the WBTV All-State team. All four classifications and 24 schools were represented. Foster was a “near unanimous choice,” according to the Enterprise.

And Foster was selected to the North Carolina Shrine Bowl team, the only NPC player to receive the honor in ‘65. Davie has produced 13 Shrine Bowlers in 61 years, and Foster was the first.

“I guess I was dumb as a rock and didn’t understand what it meant,” Foster said. “I didn’t realize it carried the prestige that it did. I didn’t care about that stuff. It was 11 players out there; it wasn’t just me. It set me aside from the rest of the players, and it wasn’t like that. We had a team. It wasn’t about one player. I might could run fast and I might could catch. But somebody had to throw it to me and somebody had to block while Earl threw it.”

The 6-1, 190-pound Foster played defensive end in the Shrine Bowl, which resulted in a 31-27 win for South Carolina.

“I didn’t really enjoy playing in it, because back in those days you weren’t allowed to tackle the quarterback,” he said. “You couldn’t hit him. Well, that just wasn’t a game. The way I was used to playing ball, you were aiming to knock the quarterback down.”

Three Rebels signed grant-in-aids with Appalachian St. – Foster, Shoaf and Barnhardt. “We all promised we’d go to the same school,” Foster said.

The unforgettable ‘65 Rebels (10-1) blasted regular-season opponents 365-37. They gave up six TDs in the regular season, but only three came against the defense. They achieved the first conference title in the 10th try. There wasn’t another unbeaten regular season until the ‘04 War Eagles went 11-0. The ‘65 and ‘04 teams remain the only ones to go unbeaten in the regular season. It was 19 years later (1984) before Davie won at least a share of the conference title. It was 34 years later (1999) before Davie won another title outright. The scoring defense (6.3 points per game) remains the standard by which all Davie teams are measured.

Foster, 69, lives in Mocksville. Have you retired? “I can’t spell retired,” he said. “I still lay floors a couple days a week and I fish a little bit. That’s about it.”