Published 12:00 am Friday, September 13, 2013
SPENCER — Before there was Jon Crucitti, there was Melvin Brinkley.
West Rowan graduate Crucitti has played baseball and football for Army in recent years, a feat that Brinkley, a 1969 North graduate, accomplished four decades earlier.
It’s an appropriate time to mention Brinkley, now 62 and living near Greensboro, because Davie County visits North Rowan tonight, and Brinkley, who was a sophomore quarterback at the time, played a huge role in the 1966 North-Davie game in Spencer, one of the more fascinating games in Rowan history.
Fascinating because Davie won by the low score of 13-12 in a game in which several Rowan County offensive records were set, including a state receiving record by North’s Ken “The End” Beck that lasted almost four decades.
It also was fascinating because several players involved had an impact on local sports into the 21st century. Randall Ward, who coached at Davie and West Rowan and served as West’s AD, was the Davie star in 1966 and Catawba Hall of Famer Jack Ward was the Davie coach. Longtime assistant Leland Peacock was an all-star North lineman in 1966, while Kelly “The Toe” Sparger, who played a hard-luck role in the Davie game, recently retired as East Rowan’s principal.
Carl Spencer covered that Veterans Day game for the Post, and I’ve read his story several times over the years. It’s a straightforward, no-frills account, mostly play-by-play. Sentences like: “Brinkley passed to end Brad Noles for 11, and then fullback Hal Barnes got 5 hard yards, and then Brinkley passed to Beck inside the 20.”
It was the final game of the 1966 season for both teams and had been a tough year for both.
Davie had been awesome in 1965, ripping through the North Piedmont Conference undefeated, but it had come back to earth in 1966 and was battling East Rowan and Monroe for second place, with Mooresville the clear-cut dominant team.
North was in the midst of a rough patch, having lost its last nine under coach Burton Barger in 1965 and having started the 1966 season under new coach Steve Yates with five losses and two ties. That meant North had played 16 straight games without winning one, but the Cavaliers beat South Iredell 14-13 two weeks before that Davie game to end their woes and had played tough in a 14-6 loss to East the week prior to hosting Davie.
One of North’s two ties was that year was against a Salisbury Boyden team that qualified for the 4A state playoffs, so that 7-7 outcome must have felt like a victory to North. Legend has it that North’s TD in the Boyden game came on a pass Brinkley was just trying to throw away. Beck somehow soared and caught it in the end zone.
I’ve wondered how North with its 1-7-2 record found the motivation to play so fiercely against Davie in that 1966 season finale, but I think the answer is simple. Players then, as players do now, desperately wanted to win that last game for the seniors like Beck.
It was scoreless early, but Davie owned the second quarter and scored twice. Randall Ward barged into the end zone to make it 12-0, and he ran for an extra point that made it 13-0. Yes, a 1-point conversion. That was the halftime score and that was still the score after three quarters.
Brinkley got North moving early in the fourth, one pass after another on a 73-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard TD toss to Beck for Beck’s fifth TD of the season. Sparger was 10-for-11 on PATs coming in, but his kick sailed wide, and the Cavaliers still trailed 13-6.
Moments later, Brinkley, who was a stellar defensive back as well as the quarterback, was dashing for a 57-yard touchdown after scooping up a Davie fumble. North fans roared until they saw the flag bringing the play back.
North wasn’t done. It was Brinkley-to-Beck over and over as North drove late in the game. Davie players knew by then that the play-call would be a pass over the middle to Beck, but he caught balls in double-coverage and then triple-coverage. Brinkley ran for the TD that finished the 70-yard drive, and North trailed 13-12. Sparger’s PAT tied it, but there was a flag. He had to kick the PAT again, and his second attempt sailed wide. North lost 13-12.
Brinkley’s game was absolutely amazing for that era. Spencer reported that he had thrown 45 times and completed 29 for 240 yards.
The 240 yards stood as the county record for 10 years.
The 29 completions are still the county record. North’s Mitch Ellis came close in 1994 when he completed 28 against Mount Pleasant.
What wasn’t revealed in the Post story — there was no stat box — was what an incredible game Beck had. Nineteen of Brinkley’s completions had gone to Beck.
The Post’s front page that Saturday was mostly bad news from Vietnam — “five planes lost to antiaircraft fire,” and the sports page headline was Boyden’s 19-13 win against North Forsyth that meant a playoff berth.
There was no mention of Beck on Sunday, although it was a busy sports section with Notre Dame routing Duke 64-0, Rick Barry scoring 45 points, Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams preparing to fight Muhammad Ali, and 103 teams signing up to play in the McCanless Four-Ball Golf Tournament.
I’m not sure exactly when Beck got credit for his 19 catches, but the important thing is that he did.
It was recognized as a state record and Beck proudly held that record for 38 years until South Johnston’s Deangelo Ruffin caught 25 balls one night in 2004 for South Johnston. Even today, with all the wide-open offenses, Beck is still tied for third on the NCHSAA’s list for receptions in a game.
The NCHSAA’s record for pass completions in a game is up to 43 now, and the list only goes down to 30. But all 23 that are listed happened in 1992 or later.
For Brinkley to have completed 29 passes in 1966 — as a sophomore — is still a head-shaking thing.
A year after his great game, Beck was enlisting in the Marine Corps, eager to do his part for Uncle Sam in Vietnam. He survived a 13-month tour with the First Marine Division and lives in Salisbury.
Brinkley was an all-conference pitcher, winning 27 games for North in four varsity seasons, as well as being on the Honorable Mention list for All-State football.
He was a strong student and received an appointment to West Point. He punted for Army’s freshman team, but he wanted to play, not just punt, and that was his only year of college football.
Baseball was a different story for Brinkley, who married North cheerleader Rhonda Rickard. He was the winning pitcher against Navy twice, and as a senior, he was 4-1 with a 1.30 ERA.