The 1923 Gainesville High School football team, in the school’s first undefeated season, had scored 306 points to its opponents’ 19, shutting out seven of those teams.
Fans didn’t know what the 1924 team would be like because few starters were returning, only veteran linemen Lawton Wofford and Coach Payne and backfield stars Tom Paris and Bennie Rothstein. They certainly never imagined a three-year winning streak that would extend through the fall of 1925.
Indeed, the first game of 1924 was surprisingly close, Gainesville squeaking by Winder 7-6. But they steamrolled Elberton 61-0 before dispatching Hartwell 20-7 and rival Decatur 13-7.
Those victories gave Gainesville momentum to easily defeat Lavonia 47-0, Toccoa 61-0, Norcross 65-0 and Commerce 39-0. Against Toccoa, the Red and White, as Gainesville was called at the time, scored 19 points in the first quarter and 42 in the fourth with second- and third-stringers playing most of the game. Coach Joel Pittard had three teams he could substitute to keep his players fresh. In beating Commerce, the team scored 27 points in the first quarter, the second string finishing the rest of the game.
All of this led to the Athens game played Thanksgiving Day on what was then Sanford Field before Sanford Stadium was built. The game was anxiously awaited by Gainesville fans, but also undefeated Athens, which had lost the game the previous year 16-12 at Gainesville’s City Park, giving GHS the North Georgia championship and suggestions by some that the team should be state champions.
Gainesville Midland Railroad even added a special car to carry fans to Athens for the game.
On Gainesville’s first offensive play, Rothstein raced 83 yards for a touchdown. Athens fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Gainesville recovered, and Martin ran 33 yards to put Gainesville ahead 13-0 only a few minutes into the game.
Quarterback “Little Tom” Paris threw a TD pass to Guy Sanders off a fake field goal attempt to make it 20-0. Athens came back, scoring touchdowns in the second and third quarters to make it 20-12, the final score. Gainesville came close to scoring several times, but the Athens defense held near the goal line.
Gainesville was declared North Georgia champions the second straight year and had scored an amazing 257 points to its opponents’ 32.
Coach Pittard got his 1925 team ready by taking them to camp in August in Rabun County. Before practice, they ran, climbed mountains and swam. Part of the time, they slept out in the open in the rain.
Gainesville started the season with big wins over Madison 83-0, Toccoa 21-0, Monroe 93-0 and Decatur 44-0 before edging Hartwell 20-12. It demolished Marietta 74-0, Griffin 42-0 and Lavonia 47-0. Defense was so dominating that opponents made few if any first downs even against Gainesville’s second- and third-string teams.
Again the stage was set for the big game with Athens Thanksgiving Day, returning to City Park. Gainesville’s Rothstein scored three times and kicked four extra points, and Herbert Edmondson and Bull Clark scored the other touchdowns to trounce Athens 34-0. But the stars were on defense, including Wofford, Payne, Fatty Pierce, Johnny Miller and Herbert Bennett.
The North Georgia championship was in hand for the third straight year, Gainesville over that period scoring 1,053 points to the opponents’ 63. In that 1925 season, Hartwell’s12 points were the only ones scored against Gainesville.
The winning streak actually started with the last game in 1922 and extended for 35 straight games until midway through the 1926 season, Gainesville lost to Decatur 6-0. The only other loss that season was to Newnan.
At the end of the 1925 season, Gainesville was scheduled to play the Florida state champion, St. Petersburg High, on Christmas Day. But apparently, St. Pete wouldn’t cover expenses as promised, and the game was canceled.
Though there wasn’t a Georgia high school championship, here’s what sportswriter Julian Griffin said in the Atlanta Constitution:
“For two seasons (actually three) Gainesville has been awarded the North Georgia championship. While we have no desire to start a riot by coming straight out, boldly and blindly, to award the championship of Georgia to any high school, if a single school in the state can present a better consecutive record ... it’s the best we have seen.”
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.