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In the end, it was just like head coach Henry Trevathan said it would for his Fike High Cyclones football team in 1969.
The veteran coach proclaimed that each week of the postseason would get tougher for his unbeaten Cyclones as they pursued a third straight North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-A championship.
Fike’s final game of the 1969 season, the 4-A final against Atkins High in Winston-Salem, might have been one of most difficult in the Cyclones’ three-year championship run and certainly the toughest in a year in which Fike established itself as the dominant program in the state.
Not until senior quarterback George Wilkerson’s 3-yard touchdown run with 2:14 to play in the fourth quarter did the realization start to set it that Fike would finally accomplish what no other 4-A football team had done in NCHSAA history: Win three straight state championships.
“It was a real battle of state champions,” Trevathan told then Wilson Daily Times sports editor Cliff Turner after the game. “You would have thought there were two championship teams on the field.”
The game had all the ingredients of a classic with the Cyclones staking their claim on what had led them that far — the running of star senior fullback Carlester Crumpler behind the dogged determination of its offensive line and the stellar play of its defense. Crumpler finished with 232 yards on 26 carries, more than the Atkins’ 170 yards of total offense, but the Camels would keep in interesting until the final minutes.
Fike continued its state championship-game tradition by not scoring in the first quarter of the game that attracted more than 10,000 spectators, including 40 buses worth of Cyclone fans that made the trip from Wilson.
However, it didn’t take long for the Cyclones to reach the end zone in the second quarter as Crumpler ended a nine-play, 54-yard scoring drive by banging his way in from 11 yards with 10:47 showing on the clock. Senior kicker Mike Foster added the PAT and Fike led 7-0. Foster’s kick was true on a 30-yard field-goal attempt later in the quarter and the Cyclones had, what seemed at the time, a comfortable 10-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Fike’s defense led by senior linebacker and co-captain Stuart Walston, tackle Dan Killebrew, senior outside linebacker Chip Gibbons, senior lineman Vernon Wall, junior lineman Jimmy Elliott and senior linebacker Billy Rodgers were putting the clamps on the Camels. Gibbons picked off an Atkins pass at the Fike 8-yard line in the first quarter and Wilkerson, playing in the secondary, scooped up a fumble by Atkins’ Larry Hatten that was caused by Killebrew. The latter turnover led to Foster’s field goal.
Fike looked as if it would go for the kill early in the third quarter after Crumpler bolted 39 yards on his first touch of the second half.
But in one of the few mistakes of the evening for the Cyclones star, Crumpler fumbled and the Camels took over on their own 24. It only took eight plays for Atkins to score but one of them was fullback Barry Hatten’s 76-yard run. Quarterback Barry McNeal plunged over the goal line from a yard out to cut the margin to 10-7.
However, Fike would fumble the ensuing kickoff just before the end of the third quarter and Atkins was in business again, this time deep in Cyclones territory. Once again the Fike defense held and Atkins had to settle for McNeal’s 31-yard field goal, but the score was tied with 10 minutes to play in the championship game.
Fike’s next possession went nowhere and Atkins had no luck when it got the ball back. With time ticking off the clock, the Cyclones took over near midfield and the plan was simple: Give the ball to Crumpler.
Wilkerson handed off to No. 32 six straight plays in which Fike covered 46 yards. After Crumpler fought his way to a first down at the Camels’ 3-yard line, Fike lined up for what would be the dynasty-confirming TD. However, it wasn’t Crumpler, who had the attention of the entire Atkins defense, who would do the honors. Instead, it was Wilkerson, who bulled his way into the end zone for the winning score.
The Camels had one last shot but failed to muster even a first down and the Cyclones took over and ran out the clock.
Atkins head coach David Lash offered the final appraisal of the mighty Fike Cyclones.
“You don’t see a high school football team that operates like Wilson but once in a lifetime,” he said. “Those boys are all good players.”