Friday Night Legend: Tim Bates
By Mike London
Expectations weren’t exactly sky-high for North Rowan coach Larry Thomason’s 1982 team filled with 145-pounders.
The Cavaliers were coming off back-to-back 3-7s, including a last-place finish in the 3A North Piedmont Conference in 1981.
“Not only were we really small, we were slow,” 5-foot-7 cornerback and kick returner Tim Bates remembers. “I was quick, but I wasn’t fast. Terry Cureton (a two-way lineman) was the only big guy at about 200. Kelly (Everhart) and Jeff (Holshouser) were tall, but they were sticks.”
North was picked seventh in the NPC, proof that even 30 years ago, the folks making predictions had no clue.
Opening night was against South Rowan, the county’s reigning powerhouse and the defending SPC champ. Thirty-two Cavaliers gathered around Thomason for words of wisdom. Many would be playing both ways.
“The paper picked us to lose to South and everyone picked us to lose,” Bates said. “But Coach told us before that game to take the word ‘lose’ out of our vocabulary and replace it with ‘win.’ He told us we were going to beat South and that we we were going to go undefeated.”
Even the most confident Cavalier had to have doubts, but they did win. In fact, North rolled 34-13. Three times Holshouser, the junior QB, threw TD passes to Everhart. Bates and 145-pound defensive end Joe Davis intercepted passes, the first two picks for a special defense that would create 36 turnovers in 12 games. They would allow more than 14 points only once.
The undersized Cavs played a 6-2 defense designed to stop the run. That put Bates and Mike Mitchell on 1-on-1 islands at the corners, with Everhart, the 6-1, 142-pound receiver/punter/placekicker, roaming at free safety.
“We didn’t really have any superstars, but we had a lot of football knowledge,” Bates said. “I was a nerd and Kelly and I would study and study that film of the other team. We knew what their tight end would do, what their guards would do and what their tackles would do. They’d come out in a certain formation, and we knew exactly what was coming. We would call that play out, and teams didn’t change plays at the line of scrimmage then. They’d run it anyway.”
When North won a 14-10 struggle with Lexington to move to 2-0, people began to take the Cavaliers more seriously. No one knew it at the time, but that game decided the NPC championship. Neither team would lose again in the regular season.
Next came a shutout of West Rowan and its great back Ernie Peace. After that was a 14-6 victory against Salisbury. Everhart intercepted two passes against the Hornets, and Holshouser threw two TD passes to Brent Barker.
“By then, the players were setting very high goals,” Bates said. “No one ever talked about if we win this game. It was always when we win this game. We were respectful and disciplined on and off the field. Everyone dressed the same – black shoes and long white socks. If you missed a practice, you didn’t sit out a quarter – you didn’t play at all. And we kept each other straight in the classroom too. With just 32 of us, we couldn’t afford to lose anybody.”
North was 5-0 after it rallied to win a bitter 30-27 struggle with Asheboro. No North team had ever started 5-0.
“In my eyesight, Coach Thomason was a genius,” Bates said. “He also had a great staff – Bill Kesler, Bob Hundley, Ralph Shatterly. “Practice was boring – just repetition after repetition of the same old things. But those practices taught discipline and we eliminated mental mistakes.”
Before North played East Rowan, Shatterly told Bates he would “take one back,” and Bates produced his first return TD of the season in a romp against the Mustangs.
The Cavaliers were rolling. Tim Trexler, the 5-9, 164-pound running back, scored three TDs in a 45-0 blitz of North Davidson.
North eased by Trinity and beat Davie 14-0. Barrett Powlas, a 5-foot-7 back, scored both TDs against the War Eagles.
Now North was 9-0, and no one in the county had started 9-0 since East ran the table in 1969. North was in position not only for its first perfect season but for its first outright conference championship.
Game No. 10 – at home against Thomasville – would provide one of the more spectacular finishes in school history and would define the season. Thomason has often called it the most memorable of the 197 games he coached at North.
“That game let me know that you can always come back,” Bates said. “No matter how bad it looks, you can still come back.”
Down 14-7, North scored with 1:37 remaining on a Holshouser-to-Barker pass. Thomason didn’t like North’s chances in overtime against a bigger team, so the Cavaliers went for two extra points. Holshouser couldn’t find a receiver, tried to run, lowered his shoulder and was stopped a disputed inch short of the goal line.
Thomason was upset with himself for not kicking the tying point, but his players still believed. Everhart executed a perfect onsides kick and recovered it himself. Then, with 15 seconds left, Trexler found the end zone. North’s record was 10-0.
North still had one bullet left in the first round of the playoffs.
Sam Miller, who had missed most of the season with a shoulder injury, replaced an injured Trexler and scored the only points of a 6-0 win at Eagle Stadium against A.L. Brown. It rained cats and dogs on a miserable night, but more than 6,000 fans still turned out.
“Kannapolis’ backs were bigger than our linemen,” Bates said. “But we beat them with sheer willpower. We believed we could beat anyone.”
The run ended the following week with a 14-7 loss to Mt. Airy and its great receiver/returner James Brim, a Parade All-American. Brim would also become an All-American at Wake Forest and would catch a few TD passes in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings.
“When the Mt. Airy players got on the field, we could hear them snickering at us as they walked by because of our size,” Bates said. “I think we just got too bold. We weren’t afraid to kick it to Brim. We knew we could tackle him.”
Brim’s long punt return for a touchdown proved a pivotal play, and North’s magical season was over.
Bates went to Catawba on an academic scholarship, but there were bumps in the road. There would be a period when he struggled with drugs, but he won that battle and turned his life around. For many years now, he’s been a respected minister and coach.
Bates’ own sons – Dominique Bates, Javon Hargrave and now T.J. Bates – have been exceptional athletes for the Cavaliers.
“Stuff I learned from my coaches at North, I was always able to take those lessons and use them,” Bates said. “I was down once, but I never forgot that you can always come back.I never stopped believing I could win.”
Thirty years have flown by, and North will honor the coaches and players from its 1982 team when it plays East Rowan tonight.”Of those 32, I know 20 or 25 that are successful in life as ministers, teachers, coaches and business owners,” Bates said. “We were fortunate to have great coaches. Now we’re doing something positive.”
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