Tom Duren is reminded of his most painful football loss every time he drives north through De Leon on Highway 16.
“You come to that dead end there in town and you have to turn right or left,” said Duren, a former all-state lineman for Goldthwaite. “At that intersection, there’s a car lot. In the big glass window there’s a sign that says:
‘De Leon Bearcats
1965 Bi-District Champions’
“Sometimes I just want to chunk a brick through that window,” Duren said. “I haven’t forgotten.”
Neither have the other players on both teams.
Goldthwaite was ranked No. 1 in Texas in Class 1A for most of the 1965 regular season. The Eagles ran through the regular season with a 9-0 record and only one close game — a 14-8 non-district win at De Leon, where the game ended with the Bearcats inside the Eagles’ 5-yard line.
On Nov. 19, 1965 at Brownwood’s Lion Stadium, which has since been demolished, Goldthwaite and De Leon met in a rematch — this time in a bi-district playoff game. It was much more than a single game to those who played in it.
Through the last 48 years, it’s the game De Leon players love to reminisce about, the highlight of their playing days. It’s the game Goldthwaite players would rather forget.
This week players on both sides are recalling the 1965 game because the De Leon and Goldthwaite football teams are in a similar situation. Like before, Goldthwaite edged De Leon in a regular-season game, 23-20, this time. Like before, the Eagles and Bearcats are meeting in a rematch in the playoffs, this time in the Class 1A Division I regional round. Like before, tonight’s 7:30 p.m. game will be played in Brownwood.
De Leon, which entered the 1965 bi-district game with an 8-2 record, shocked the top-ranked Eagles 18-13.
“I think the key to winning was having to play somebody twice in the same season,” said Trent Thomas, a lineman for the 1965 Bearcats and owner of the car lot with the sign Duren always sees in De Leon. “We were really motivated for that second game.”
For Goldthwaite, it was more than just a season-ending loss. The Eagles, despite being new to the playoffs, felt poised to make serious run at the state championship in 1965. They had won their first district championship in 1963 and won their first playoff game in 1964, losing to eventual state champion Archer City 13-6.
“After Archer City won state, we felt like winning state was a reachable goal,” said Jim Childress, Goldthwaite’s fullback. “That’s what made the loss to De Leon hurt so bad. It’s amazing that 48 years later, it still stings.”
Goldthwaite was loaded in 1965. Duren was a giant for those days, standing 6-feet-4 and weighing 240 pounds. Tackle Kenneth Thomas was even bigger at 6-7, 270.
In the backfield, state champion track sprinter Charles Blackburn averaged 12.2 yards per carry during the regular season. Halfback Jerry Rountree averaged 9.3 yards per carry and Childress 7.2. Eleven members of the 1965 Goldthwaite team received college athletic scholarships — including eight for football, three for track and 10 to NCAA Division I universities.
“We had it all — size and speed,” said Duren, now a Goldthwaite attorney. “Probably the one thing we didn’t have at that time was a lot of experience or success in the playoffs.”
Neither did De Leon. The 1965 Bearcats were De Leon’s second playoff team in 18 years.
Despite Goldthwaite’s talent and lofty ranking, the Bearcats outplayed the Eagles in the bi-district game. There was little passing in high school football at the time, but De Leon surprised Goldthwaite with a 90-yard touchdown pass from Donny Sharp to Bodie Weaver in the first quarter to take a 6-0 lead.
It was the first time the Eagles had trailed all season.
Another scoring pass — 7 yards from Sharp to Bo Shifflett — gave De Leon a 12-0 halftime lead.
“We did two things that I think won that game,” said Bill Lamb, the Bearcats’ running back and now a De Leon realtor. “Donny Sharp was a decent passer, and I think we surprised them with our passing. The other thing is that we were smaller but quicker, and (assistant coach) Jack Waggoner had our defensive line stunting on almost every play. If we had tried to play Goldthwaite straight up with their size, they would have just run over us.”
Childress scored on a 3-yard run to pull Goldthwaite within 12-7 in the third quarter. The Eagles were driving again, but Mike Smith intercepted a pass and returned it 81 yards for a touchdown to extend De Leon’s lead to 18-7 in the fourth quarter.
Rountree returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to pull the Eagles within 18-13, but that’s as close as they got.
Perhaps overlooked was a De Leon defense that, despite two close losses during the regular season, allowed only 41 points and posted seven shutouts. In its other eight games in 1965, Goldthwaite averaged 44.7 points. In two games against De Leon, the Eagles averaged 13.5 points.
“When you win the first time, you probably stay with what worked the second time you play. So maybe you’re more predictable,” said Weaver, a De Leon pharmacist. “When you lose the first time, you probably change some things — like us passing more the second time — because you’ve got to figure out a way to beat them.”
Showcasing their speed, the Eagles came back the following spring and won the 1966 Class 1A state track championship, setting state-meet records in both the 440-yard and mile relays. But it didn’t atone for the bi-district football loss to De Leon six months earlier.
“No way,” Rountree said. “I still think about that game. I dare say everybody who was on the field that night still thinks about it.”
De Leon’s victory celebration was short-lived. Lamb suffered two cracked ribs during the bi-district game, and Sharp suffered a knee injury. The injured Bearcats lost 23-0 the following the week to a Keller team the De Leon players said wasn’t nearly as good as Goldthwaite.