Gardner-Webb’s first and only unbeaten football season came nine years before the school had its current name
By Richard Walker
Unbeaten college football seasons are hard to come by in college football.
At Gardner-Webb University, which first began fielding football teams in 1920, it has happened once – and it was before the school had its current name.
Then-named Boiling Springs Junior College had its historic season in 1933 when the Bulldogs went 8-0-1 overall and 7-0-1 in the North Carolina Junior College Conference to win the second of the school’s 16 league titles.
Expectations weren’t particularly high for Boiling Springs and its second-year coach Paul Hutchins if for no other reason than the school didn’t even field a team in 1931.
The reason was a foreshadowing of the upcoming name change as lack of funds during the depression led officials to suspend the 1931 football season. (In 1942, the school was renamed Gardner-Webb to honor former N.C. Governor O. Max Gardner and his wife Faye Webb Gardner – both of Shelby – for their fundraising efforts to keep the college open.)
The decision not to play in 1931 kept the Bulldogs from defending the school’s first-ever conference title; Boiling Springs went 4-3-1 overall and 4-0-1 in the North Carolina Junior College Conference in the 1930 season.
Hutchins was hired in May 1932 to restart the program.
A Lexington, N.C. native, Hutchins had just graduated from Wake Forest College where he was the quarterback in 1930 and 1931 and also played basketball and ran track for the Deacons.
In Boiling Springs, he rounded up 30 players to form a 1932 team that finished with a 3-4-3 record.
In 1933, many of those same players returned. And after a slow start, the Bulldogs rolled to their unbeaten season in impressive fashion.
Boiling Springs edged Cliffside High School 8-0 in the opener and tied Rutherford College 6-all in the home opener at Shelby’s old Sumter Street stadium before winning its last six games by a combined 133-33 margin.
The Bulldogs were led by their eight all-state selections – first-team quarterback Jimmy Roper, end George Mauney and tackle Jim Childers and honorable mention selections Max Putnam (tackle), O.C. Connor (halfback), Ray Brown (end), John Hendricks (halfback) and Leroy Wahnetah (fullback).
Mauney was the leading scorer with 32 points. Roper threw six touchdown passes, Connor scored four touchdowns and Hendricks three.
Putnam (Shelby), Connor (Shelby) and Brown (Shelby) were local products on a roster that also included Somers Collins from Kings Mountain and Thurman Moore from Shelby.
Boiling Springs concluded its unbeaten season with a league championship-clinching 25-14 win over Oak Ridge Military Academy on Thanksgiving Day at Shelby’s old Sumter Street stadium.
Gardner-Webb would later win junior college conference titles in 1951, 1952, 1955, 1956, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1966 and senior college conference titles in 1987, 1992, 2002 and 2003. The 1992 team that finished as NAIA national runner-up had a school record for wins (12) and the inaugural Big South Conference championship team of 2002 has the best record (9-1) in senior college history.