Legend: W.A. Cline
It was halftime at North Stanly, late in the 1968 season, and East Rowan had never won a championship in football.
Head coach William Allison (W.A.) Cline could almost taste the first one as he scrambled atop a table in the cramped visitors locker room.
Like a country preacher, Cline started loud and got louder.
“I start hollering at them,” Cline said. “I told the players they had to get tough. I told them they had to bow up. I told them this game was for everything and they had to do it.”
Cline punctuated his fiery remarks by suddenly leaping off the table and lost his trademark ballcap in the process. Undaunted, he yelled, “Now get out there and don’t embarrass your mamas and daddies!”
As Cline scooped up his cap, he saw assistants Phil Harbinson and Aaron Neely staring numbly at each other and shaking their heads.
“Neely and Harb were pretty sure I’d lost my mind,” Cline said.
East didn’t lose the football game.
East led 8-7 late in the fourth quarter, but North Stanly had first-and-goal. Cline yelled for his defense to jump into a “Gap-8.”
The only problem? No one knew quite what that meant.
“We’d never practiced it, but I called over Johnny Brown, a linebacker, and told him to get a guy in each gap and just blow across the line and not worry about a pass,” Cline said. “We put a big offensive lineman, Terry Deal, between their center and guard and we stopped ’em on fourth down.”
Stopped ’em so close to the goal line East QB C.M. Yates took the final snap of the night with his feet in the end zone, and with the Mustangs still in danger of losing on a safety.
“We ran a sneak and C.M. gained 5 yards,” Cline said.
Game over. Champs.
A bit lower-key now in his late 60s, Cline still teaches Driver’s Ed. He downplays his success in football and track, but the record book says he enjoyed one of the great careers in county history.
A 1958 graduate of Granite Quarry High, he was an all-conference football and basketball player for coach Hal Quinn.
“My daddy was working me so hard around the house, I decided to play every sport,” Cline said.
His next stop was Appalachian State where he lettered at end in football.
Summer jobs included work on the construction crews that built North Rowan’s track and East’s field house.
“I carried mud and bricks and dug ditches,” Cline said. “I’m a true Mustang and always have been.”
Cline did his student teaching at North Rowan and picked up pearls of wisdom from coaches Burton Barger, Gary Jarrett and Walt Baker.
Granite Quarry native and Appalachian State alum Gerald Adams offered Cline his first football and track coaching jobs in Danville, Va., in 1962.
Cline returned to Boone as a football grad assistant in 1966. A year later, he had an offer to coach track and assist with football at South Mecklenburg. But Bob Fink, Cline’s basketball and baseball coach at Granite Quarry, informed Cline the East football job was open and wanted to know if he was interested.
“I didn’t know what to do, but I decided to come back to East,” Cline said. “It was the best thing I ever did.”
Principal Joe Lyerly had several coaching vacancies and let Cline pick his guys. He chose great ones such as Neely, Harbinson and Gilbert Sprinkle. To this day, they remain his best buddies.
Cline’s predecessor, Larry Wagner, had left East’s program in good shape. Cline took things to the next level by instituting some of the area’s first summer workouts and a weight program.
“I got to East late in the summer of ’67 and I told the boys they were going to lift weights,” Cline said. “They all said, ‘What?’ ”
The lifting program originated with a squat-thrust machine and heavy flywheels salvaged from automobiles. It wasn’t state-of-the art, but East gained an edge.
East’s 1967 record was 5-5, but the Mustangs were a very solid team after a switch to a 4-3 defense.
By 1968, with sophomores Yates and Johnny Yarbrough on the roster, East was ready to win ó and win big.
“That was a rough, tough bunch of country boys in ’68, and they were the first recipients of the weight program,” Cline said. “In those times, you could really work them hard, and we worked them.
“Johnny and C.M. were superstars, but they never thought of themselves as superstars. They never wanted the spotlight. They were total team players and took everything in stride. That was the key to us having great unity and teamwork.”
East’s 9-2 championship season in 1968 was followed by a 13-0 WNCHSAA championship season in 1969. Yarbrough reported late from that summer’s American Legion baseball run, but he still had 58 catches for 1,117 yards and 16 TDs. The defense posted six shutouts and East also could rely on a physical ground attack.
In 1970, East was still potent on offense ó Yarbrough caught 18 TD passes his senior year despite missing two games ó but most of that helmet-cracking ’69 defense had graduated.
East went 9-2-1 in 1970, including a forfeit loss, but it dropped the Piedmont championship game in a hyped showdown with Pete Stout’s great Boyden team that featured Robert Pulliam, Kenny Holt and Roger Jackson.
Yates found Yarbrough for three TDs, but Boyden rolled 40-19 in front of a monster crowd at Catawba.
“We always studied film each week to pick out the weak spot in the other team’s offense and defense,” Cline said. “But they didn’t have a weak spot. Twenty-two for 22, they had the best high school team I’ve ever seen ó other than us in ’69.”
Siffords, Lowes, Misenheimers. The talent was there at East in that era.
Cline finished his tenure at East in 1975 with a nine-year mark of 56-31-3 and four NPC championships, and he added three NPC track titles.
Cline’s next stop was at Concord. He coached there four years and split his Bell games with A.L. Brown.
“I liked Concord,” he said. “I just never quite fit in there like I did at East.”
The call to return to East came in 1987. East had a 14-game losing streak when Cline came back and hadn’t fielded a winning team since he’d left for Concord.
Cline’s team beat Salisbury in his first game, and respectability slowly returned. In 1991, East won eight, including an overtime playoff victory against Statesville.
“We were down to them 27-7, but if we’d asked those kids to jump off a roof at halftime, they would have jumped,” Cline said. “When we went back on the field, that bunch was as intense as any team I’ve seen.
“Statesville kept passing, and we just kept picking them off and scoring. Our crowd erupted, and it was like the glory days were back at East. In the ’60s, we had so many great wins, but that night in ’91 might have been the greatest victory my players ever had.”
Cline retired in 1994, but his influence is still felt. He brought Roger Secreast to Rowan. He coached Rick Vanhoy and Scott Young.
His three daughters, all East cheerleaders, have produced seven grandchildren. One of them, Marvin Ridge receiver Zack Morrison, will play at A.L. Brown tonight.
Every Thursday morning, Cline, Neely and Harbinson gather with old coaching and teaching colleagues at the Farmhouse restaurant.
The stories only get better, the comebacks bigger and the victories sweeter with each retelling.