Friday Night Legend: Ernie Faw and South’s first win over Brown
By Mike London
From his precarious position at the bottom of a delirious dogpile, South Rowan center Ernie Faw witnessed a sight that remains burned in his brain nearly 41 years later.
The distinguished mayors of China Grove and Landis were jumping up and down like teenagers on South’s football field.
“I was pretty sure my life had ended,” Faw said. “The celebration that night lasted for a week.”
It was Nov. 1, 1968, and those merry mayors were toasting the end of a drought that had nothing to do with precipitation. It was the first time in its history South had beaten A.L. Brown in a football game.
South-A.L. Brown has stirred visceral emotions since South opened in 1961. The schools are prickly neighbors. Rival players are on a first-name basis.
Cousins compete against each other. So do guys in the same scout troop. Co-workers sit on opposite sides of the stadium, as do lifelong friends who share the same pew at church.
For the Wonders, perennial winners, it is always a big game. For South, a perpetual underdog, it is always the biggest game. When South has a chance, as it does this time, it becomes a massive event.
On a CarolinaPreps.com message board, the topic “Kannapolis at South Rowan” had elicited 59 comments as of 7 p.m. on Thursday night.
Faw, now a technology professor at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences, probably hasn’t commented, but he’ll be intimately involved in the game as part of South’s film crew.
He’s coached football and baseball in Kannapolis, but his heart is the property of South, where he set records that may last forever as the head baseball coach from 1982-95.
He’s been an eyewitness for all seven of South’s scattered victories in the lopsided series.
Faw’s start in football came at Corriher-Lipe Middle School. That’s where he learned he possessed a modest but essential skill. He could snap a football.
“I was the only one who could get the ball back to the punter, so I became a center,” Faw said. “I had dreams like everybody else of being an All-American tailback, but then they found my special skill.”
South coach Lope Linder noticed Faw before he knew his name.
“When I was a sophomore, Lope told me, ‘You there ó you go with varsity,’ ” Faw remembers. “I said, ‘What? Who me?’ ”
Faw became a member of South’s 1-9 squad that took a 34-0 drubbing from the Wonders in 1967.
“I was on the kickoff return team, and I was the long snapper,” Faw said. “I lettered pretty easily against Kannapolis because we punted a lot and we returned a lot of kickoffs.”
When the 1968 season began, Brown looked terrific. Halfback Haskel Stanback, who would excel at Tennessee and the NFL, was a terror ó large, intimidating and always the swiftest man on the field.
Brown headed into the South game 5-1-2, still contending with Thomasville, Lexington and Concord for the title in a loaded South Piedmont Conference.
South, as usual, was competitive but not quite good enough in the SPC. The Rebels, as they were known in 1968, were 2-5-1 entering the Brown game.
South players, including Faw, drove around downtown Kannapolis’ famed “Idiot’s Circle” trading insults with Wonders through car windows in the days leading up to the game.
“They’d tell us we didn’t have a prayer,” Faw said. “It was 34-0 the year before, so there wasn’t much we could shout back except ‘Wait and see!’
“Kannapolis was really good and Stanback was unbelievable, the best player I ever saw playing or coaching. We didn’t have a bad team ó we’d tied Concord ó but we were undersized. No one gave us any chance.”
Faw, a 150-pound center, was a typically undersized Rebel.
A messenger for Linder, Faw and David Goodnight lugged in the play calls to 135-pound quarterback Jay Bradshaw, who operated in front of halfbacks Larry Weddington and Mark Baldwin and fullback Ronnie Pethel.
The late Linder is remembered as a wonderful guy, but Faw says he doesn’t get enough credit for his defensive Xs and Os.
“Lope was one of the better defensive minds of his time,” Faw said.
Bradshaw had bruised ribs protected by a foam pad and orders not to run the ball, but there were many deviations from the script on Nov. 1.
Stanback crashed into the end zone in the first quarter from 10 yards out, and South trailed 7-0.
The turning point came when Bradshaw, scrambling on fourth-and-5 from the Brown 6, squirmed within a foot of the goal line for a huge first down. Pethel scored. It was 7-7.
“It was a tough game,” Faw said. “There were good friendships on opposite sides and verbal jabs being poked back and forth. They were bigger, but we were able to create a few holes. We took it to ’em pretty good. They had Haskel, but Larry had a big game for us. He was the difference.”
A bad snap on a Wonder punt ó lineman Curtis Atwell got there first for South ó gave the Rebels a safety and a 9-7 lead with eight minutes left.
Faw’s most vivid memory is Stanback nearly breaking a game-changer but being dragged down by Baldwin to protect that two-point lead. On a normal night, no one caught Stanback from behind.
It was still anyone’s game when Weddington, who had 25 carries for 127 yards, bolted 43 yards to the Brown 1 with a minute left. Baldwin scored the TD that clinched a 16-7 victory. Next came the dogpile and jumping mayors.
Faw remembers free food and soft drinks flowed for players in both southern Rowan towns in the euphoric days that followed.
“I worked at Landis Drug Store,” he said. “People just kept coming in ó not to buy anything, just to talk about the game.”
Faw went on to Appalachian State to play baseball. Injuries detoured him toward coaching.
When he got out of ASU, Linder, the biggest influence on his life outside of his parents, was coaching at A.L. Brown and offered him a job. Faw was the head baseball coach of the Wonders for three years in the late 1970s and coached football studs such as Ethan Horton and Lance Smith in junior high.
Faw returned to South in 1980 and stayed until 1995. The school is in his blood, especially that memorable night in 1968 when it all came together.
The ball from South’s first win in its series with Brown was engraved and given an honored place the school trophy case.
Faw recalls they used to bring it out every year before the Brown game just to let players feel the sacred object for inspiration.
Raiders are probably touching it right now.