Memories of 1990 run to state semifinals still sweet for former Wildcats


The 1990 Evarts Wildcats won the Region 4 championship of Class A with an 8-7 win over Pikeville. The Wildcats finished 13-1 that season, falling to Bellevue in the state semifinals.

Evarts coach Bill Musick (second from left) is pictured with coaches Bill Cole, Charles Hunter and Marvin Cottrell around 1990.

Rarely can the apex of a school’s football program be so clearly defined as it was for the Evarts High School Wildcats on the night of Nov. 16, 1990, just a few minutes after future Mr. Football Scott Russell went in for the two-point conversion in an 8-7 win over Pikeville at the W.C. Hambley Athletic Complex.
The community celebrated the win and the team like never before and the Harlan Daily Enterprise proclaimed the “king was dead” the next morning, referring to Pikeville’s domination ending.
Numerous factors made that moment so special, beginning with the fact that Pikeville’s three-year run as Class A state champions came to an end that night against a football program that had posted an 0-11 mark only five years earlier as part of a 22-game losing streak. Evarts had claimed the school’s first playoff win a week before and was taking on a program that hadn’t lost a playoff game in four years, since another Harlan County team, the Freddie Maggard-led Cumberland Redskins, won a regional title on their way to the state finals in 1986.
Pikeville scored in the second quarter of the regional finals and led until Evarts put together a drive late in the fourth quarter.
“We actually had to convert two fourth downs on that drive to get inside the 5 with just about 1:30 left. I think on third down we ran a blast and scored and cut it to 7-6. We called a timeout. Our team was on the sideline, and when I looked in their eyes I knew that they couldn’t stop us for a two-point conversion,” Russell said. “We ran 47 KO. When you think back on it, it’s amazing that this play lasted about three seconds, yet this three-second play represented years of hard work. Not just by our team but countless Wildcats before us.”
Russell was part of a dynamic backfield that also featured Brad Kirby, as well as Doug Martin and Joey Hubbs splitting time at fullback. Benji Coleman was the quarterback with a line that included Mike Duff at center, Scotty Witt and Ovie Canady at the guards and Luther Posey and Will Bowman at the tackles. Ritchie Owens and Steve Perkins were also good blockers as the tight ends.
Hubbs and Robby Curry anchored the defense at the inside linebacker spots. Russell and Witt played on the outside with Ritchie Owens and Steve Perkins at the ends and Donnie Thomas, Posey and Tony Blevins sharing time at the tackles. Martin, Kirby and Coleman comprised the secondary.
“It was amazing. Everyone at the school was excited. Nothing like that ever happened there before. Then knocking off three-time defending state champ Pikeville was the cherry on top,” said Canady, a junior guard on the 1990 team who went on to serve as the last head coach at his alma mater and the first defensive coordinator at Harlan County High School.
Evarts hadn’t enjoyed similar success on the football field since the 1960s when coach Charlie Hunter led the Wildcats to district championships in 1964, 1967 and 1968. Evarts fell to Belfry in the regional finals in both 1967 and 1968, then watched as Corbin and Middlesboro took control of the local 2A district until the state was realigned in the mid 70s and Evarts dropped to Class A.
The Wildcats had several memorable teams in earlier years, beginning with the 1938 squad under Roy King. Evarts finished 5-0-3 that season with ties against Benham, Lynch and Loyall.
The 1948 squad, under James Brakefield, posted a 10-1 mark, falling to Somerset in the Recreation Bowl at Mount Sterling to close the season.
Perky Bryant was the star running back on the 11-1 team in 1959 that suffered its only loss against Lynch, falling 7-6 to the eventual Class A state champs.
Musick had arrived as head coach a year before the 1990 season after coaching several outstanding junior high teams at Loyall and working under Jim Cullivan and with Bryant on the staff of several powerhouse Cawood teams in the 1980s.
“Coach (Cullivan) had just retired and was heading back to the farm (in Tennessee) and we were out driving around like we always did. We were talking about jobs and he asked what job I would want, and I said I’d like to have the Evarts job if it comes open because they are big old country boys who always hit us in the mouth at Cawood,” Musick said.
Bill Cole, a former standout lineman at Cawood who was on the Evarts staff before Musick arrived, played a huge role in the Wildcats’ success as the defensive coordinator under Musick. Evarts gave up only one TD in the regional championship win over Pikeville.
“I took the job on a Sunday and two hours later I was at his front door,” Musick said. “He had kind of committed to go back to Cawood, his alma mater. I told him I needed him to stay with me to run the defense. I was an offensive guy. We had such a great relationship. I was so blessed to work with the coaches I worked with at Cawood and Evarts.”
After posting a 4-7 mark in 1988, the Wildcats turned their fortunes around in Musick’s first year with an 8-3 record. Evarts lost 7-0 to Cawood and 32-28 to Cumberland early in the season but still had a chance at a district championship before falling 7-6 to Pineville and coach Tim Saylor.
“Coach Musick was in his second year as head coach and had everyone excited,” Canady said. “We had just barely missed the playoff the year before. Actually, we barely missed the district title thanks to a muddy field and (Pineville running back) Mike Duvall.”
“We won eight games the year before and five or six straight to end the year, including winning at Boyd County the last game. That’s kind of when the light went on that we could play with a big school,” Musick said. “Everything just fell into place. Doug Martin got an extra year of eligibility (after an injury) and Joey Hubbs transferred over. We had those two studs In Kirby and Russell already there. We didn’t really have a quarterback, so I just walked right up to Benji Coleman and said ‘brother, you are going to be my quarterback.’ He took to it like a duck to water and did an excellent job.”
The Wildcats opened the 1990 season with a hard-fought 21-15 win at Middlesboro, then broke an 11-game losing streak to Cawood with a 14-12 victory.
“We ended a losing streak to Cawood High School when Scotty intercepted a pass and sealed up the victory. The rest is history,” Canady said. “We would go on to dominate nearly every game from that point on. Scotty led the state in rushing and we had a killer defense. People gave us T-shirts every week it seemed.”
“When you are single A and beat a bigger school like Cawood, it meant a lot to us. I didn’t want my kids to get embarrassed, plus we were going against some great coaches in that era with Tim Saylor, Ron Cain and Dudley Hilton, plus Bob Rose over at Williamsburg and then Hillard Howard at Pikeville,” Musick said. “I wish I had a few more years experience when that (1990) team came around. I wish I had another shot in the semifinals.”
As Canady noted, the Wildcats were not challenged again in the regular season and finished with an 11-0 regular-season mark. Evarts celebrated the end of a playoff drought that stretched back to 1968 with a 33-0 rout of Shelby Valley in the opening round. Hunter, who holds the county record for victories as a head coach from 1955 to 1979, had returned to the coaching staff a few years earlier and was on the sidelines for the 1990 run.
Evarts’ season ended the following week with a 26-6 loss to Bellevue in the state semifinals. The Wildcats finished one game short of the state finals and a trip to Louisville.
“ I was so blessed to have great people around me who cared so much about the program,” Musick said. Coach Hunter gave his life to the program. Perky Bryant was a tremendous influence on me. He was one of the all-time greats at Evarts, and we were together all those years at Cawood. He really guided me in so many ways. I also think of (former assistant) Freddie McCreary and (former principal) Wallace Napier for giving me the opportunity. Then there was a guy like Arlo Steele, who gave his heart and soul to the program. I could go on and on.”
While there were many special moments in that 1990 season, the victory at Pikeville was the history-making event and where the thoughts of those Wildcats return.
“That night was so special to me,” Canady said. “I still relive it all the time. I can remember every play, every face, every hug and hand shake afterward. I don’t think that excitement was ever matched at EHS again, or in the town for that matter.”
“I remember getting the pitch and the hole opening up and putting my head down and pushing as hard as I could. I hit the ground and looked down and I was across the end zone,” said Russell. “This was one of the most special moments in my career. It’s was truly a team effort by a bunch of great young men.”
Musick moved on to Johnson Central as coach after leaving Evarts, then went into administration before retiring. He eventually found a new passion as a runner, competing in over 1,100 races over the past 30 years. He notes he hasn’t made it back to Harlan County since leaving in 1992, except for a couple of funerals, including that of Cole, his former top assistant and good friend. He still fondly remembers his time at Cawood and Evarts.
“I think about it every day,” noted Musick. “Those 10 years I spent in Harlan County were great. I get up and run every morning and I always think of something about Harlan County. I’d do it all over again.”


Evarts’ 1990 season (13-1)
Middlesboro W, 21-15
Cawood W, 14-12
Shelby Valley W, 43-12
Fleming-Neon W, 41-13
Cumberland W, 26-3
Lynn Camp W, 34-7
Wheelwright W, 40-0
Pineville W, 32-15
Dunbar W, 43-7
Williamsburg W, 41-6
Harlan W, 40-0
Shelby Valley W, 33-0
Pikeville W, 8-7
Bellevue L, 26-6


Evarts’ 1990 lineup

QB Benji Coleman
TB Scott Russell
HB Brad Kirby
FB Joey Hubbs/Doug Martin
LG Ovie Canady
LT Will Bowman
C Mike Duff
RG Scotty Witt
RT Luther Posey
TE Ritchie Owens
TE Steve Perkins/Terry Snelling

DE Ritchie Owens
DE Steve Perkins
DT Donnie Thomas
DT Luther Posey/Tony Blevins
OLB Scott Russell
OLB Scotty Witt
ILB Joey Hubbs
ILB Robby Curry
CB Doug Martin
CB Brad Kirby
S Benji Coleman


Evarts running back Scott Russell set the state rushing record in 1991 on his way to winning Mr. Football honors.