The Untouchables. A number of Ridgeview High football teams have claimed the title at one time or another. Report Ellis Johnson reported rather infamously in 1960 when the team lost the championship game, “the Untouchables have been touched.” They tried again in 1961, blanking everyone (except Newton) til they got to the playoffs. Again, they lost in the championship game. The following year, the team won it all, claiming a state championship, although other teams scored on them. 1963 saw a very good season for the Panthers with six shutouts, but another disappointing championship game. Putting all the pieces together was going to take a concerted effort.
Several of the upcoming seniors for the 1964 team got together. They vowed they would do whatever it took to be champions in their final year. They sacrificed as they trained harder, conditioned more and remained humble about their goal. In the newspaper, pre-season, Coach Samuel Davis expressed skepticism about his 1964 squad. His word was “weak.” At least one player appreciated the coaches words, instead of resenting it. He saw it as “a caution” to not fall in the way they did years before when they got to the big game, but walked away empty.
Throughout the summer of 1964 as the national issue of civil rights came to various boiling points, players focused on being supremely ready for anything an opposing team might throw at them. Regularly, they ran daily five-mile trips when Coach Davis dropped them off in the country and told them to jog back to campus. Then came the season. 40-0, 56-0, 22-0 (a down night against Lincolnton), then 52-0. The Panthers were flying high again, aware that another streak had begun. The coaching staff warned them not to get fixated on the shutouts. Win the games and become state champions again, that was the game plan.
But the players were aware of just what they could accomplish if they kept other teams from scoring. They could be “untouchable” in a way no other team ever had. As halfback Douglas Bumgarner said, they rushed to wherever the ball was to get a tackle. Since most were playing both sides of the ball, offense and defense, many of them controlled their own destiny.
The Panthers finished the season unscored on. They won in the first round of the playoffs. Then came the championship game, right back where previous teams had slipped. If they ever needed an extra measure, it was here. The big game was played in Hickory at Lenoir-Rhyne. The Ridgeview field was mostly dirt (they called it “the Dust Bowl”) and College Field would hold an abundance of spectators who came to see if the team could run the table on the season.
They almost didn’t. Near halftime, Hamlet was on Ridgeview’s 2-yard-line. Excited, guard Xenophone Lutz shouted out, “you’re not gonna score.” It took Panther team captain John Hodge to refocus his teammate, telling him to “shut up and play some ball.” It had come down to one series of plays. Ridgeview was against the wall again. Would it turn out as it had in 1960 when the team went down in defeat?
No. With each play the team drove Hamlet back further and further, ending a scoreless half. Coach Davis always preached to his men the belief that they should “kill a gnat with a sledgehammer.” For the second half, the team went out and scored two touchdowns, ending the game 16-0 and breaking through to become truly, “Untouchable.”
Saturday in Hickory, it’s “Untouchables Day.” Mayor Hank Guess will proclaim it in ceremonies at the field where the team won its home games, the Dust Bowl. The United Arts Council of Catawba County will unveil an arch at the site with two stunning murals revealed publicly for the first time. The event starts at 10am. A showing of the documentary on the team follows at 4pm on the campus of CVCC, or watch a rough cut online at https://vimeo.com/478981557. The final version will include footage from Saturday’s event.
The 1964 Ridgeview Football Panthers were a team for the ages and now, finally they will be recognized as such.