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The Illinois High School Association football playoffs were still something of a novelty in 1980 when Ken Joggerst's Harrisburg team reached the Class 3A state championship game against Morris.

The football playoffs began in 1974 and Harrisburg was the first team from the deep south to reach the title game. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs and Southern Illinois, Morris prevailed, 40-0.

Reaching the title game was new experience.

"It really was," Joggerst said. "It came so early in my coaching career that I probably didn't appreciate it as much as if it had happened 10-15 years later.

"We got beat and had a caravan waiting for us in Thompsonville, Benton and then back at school."

Harrisburg was something of a Cinderella team in 1980.

"We didn't have many starters coming back at all, just a bunch of seniors that were second string," Joggerst said. "The year before we were 10-1, but this group just kind of meshed together. They just all wanted to win.

"We weren't real big. If you look at that roster it's amazing how little we really were. We just had really, really good quickness. We were able to out-quick people and just control the ball."

Selflessness was also a hallmark of the team.

"I went to Robert Elliott, he was in line to be the starting quarterback, and asked him if it would bother him to play tight end," Joggerst said. "He looked at me and said, ‘I'll play any position you want me to.'"

The Bulldogs' running attack was built around halfbacks Joe Milligan and Richard Doerge and fullback Bruce Cullers.

The Harrisburg passing attack? Suffice it to say it wasn't a point of emphasis.

"We could run the football," Joggerst said. ‘We just controlled the line of scrimmage. We'd throw a few passes in pre-game warm-ups, and then if we didn't complete any, we'd just concentrate on running the ball."

Offensively, the Bulldogs averaged just over 25 points in the regular season. In the playoffs Harrisburg scored 28 against Murphysboro, 34 against Mount Carmel and 36 against Effingham.

Defensively, the Bulldogs were led by all-state linebacker Joe Gholson. Other stellar defenders included defensive back Jimmy Jones and linemen Jeff Hathaway and Brad Horton.

"It just always amazed me why our opponents didn't run straight at us," Joggerst said. "Any time they'd run outside the tackles we'd be all over them because we had great team speed. We gang-tackled and were just all over the ball. We just had really good quickness."

The turning point of the season might have come in Week 6 when Harrisburg defeated Carbondale, 27-24, in overtime. The Terriers had the first possession in the overtime and kicked a field goal.

"We got the ball and on the very first play, we ran a bootleg pass from Jim Chapman to Forrest McDonald, who made a diving catch in the end zone," Joggerst said. "I think that after beating Carbondale at Carbondale, it was kind of, by golly, we are pretty good."

The Bulldogs closed out the regular season with home wins against Centralia, West Frankfort and Eldorado.

It proved to be the last time Harrisburg would see the friendly confines of Taylor Field. The Bulldogs won at Murphysboro, Mount Carmel and Effingham to advance to the title game at Illinois State.

"I think the fact that we never played a home game made it kind of special," Joggerst said. "(Willie Nelson's) On the Road Again kind of became our theme song after that Murphysboro game. We were on the road."

The Harrisburg road show screeched to a halt in the final game.

The Bulldogs fell behind 14-0 at the half, then gave up a couple quick touchdowns in the second half.

"You could see in their eyes," Joggerst said. "It said they weren't so sure they could come back against those guys."

 

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