Who laid the foundation for South Point High’s winning football tradition? The school’s first state championship team
By Richard Walker
South Point High School’s football program is recognized as one of the best in the state.
The Red Raiders have won 415 games since the school opened in 1969 in addition to claiming 22 conference titles, winning 54 playoff games, five state titles and recording 19 seasons with 10 or more victories. Each of those figures are Gaston County records by large margins.
But if you ask any longtime South Point fan which team laid the foundation for the school’s future success, there’s an emotional and tangible answer: The 1971 Red Raiders.
Not only did that team win the program’s first state title and first conference title in school history, it produced four eventual Gaston County Sports Hall of Famers and nine eventual Belmont Sports Hall of Famers.
And that doesn’t include the 2013 induction of the entire team into the Belmont Sports Hall of Fame.
In an era where playoff teams were far more limited than in recent years, the 1971 Red Raiders entered the season knowing its margin for error just to make the postseason was slim.
They knew that better than most because they went 9-1 in 1970 with many of the same players but a 36-14 late season defeat at eventual unbeaten state champion Shelby kept the Red Raiders out of the postseason since only one team in their division advanced to the playoffs.
However, that defeat provided extraordinary motivation that the team carried throughout a 1971 season that began with a swagger unusual for its championship coach Jim Biggerstaff.
In a Sept. 3, 1971 story in The Gastonia Gazette previewing the season-opener, Biggerstaff said, “We realize we’re playing in a highly-competitive conference but there’s no earthly reason why we shouldn’t have a fine football team.”
Leading the way was record-setting halfback Scott Crawford, who would go on to an All-American career at Lenoir-Rhyne and play briefly in the Canadian Football League.
Crawford, who later that season became South Point’s first-ever Shrine Bowl selection, broke 16-year-old county rushing and scoring records while leading the Red Raiders to a 12-0-1 overall record.
A 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, Crawford rushed for 1,573 yards and scored 200 points. It broke the county records set by old Stanley High’s Charlie Handsel in 1955 when he rushed for 1,326 yards and scored 192 points.
Crawford was named Southwestern Conference player of the year – Biggerstaff was coach of the year – and one of six all-conference selections; The others were end Mike McWhirter, tackle Tony Beale, center Bill Stone and defensive backs Dean Ivester and Curtis Moss.
Among the other starters for the Red Raiders were offensive lineman Jim Forbes, Mickey Lineberger and David Gibson, end Doug Froneberger and fullback Danny Clawson.
In the regular season, South Point routed Cherryville (46-0), South Rowan (42-6), Kings Mountain (20-0), Lincolnton (42-0), Chase (33-7), R-S Central (28-0), East Rutherford (60-0) and Burns (42-13) with only a 29-22 win over Crest an emotional 27-6 win over Shelby being remotely competitive.
Visiting Crest led Red Raiders 14-13 in the second quarter before South Point scored the next 16 points to cruise to the victory.
The Shelby win, which came in Belmont on Oct. 22, ended an 11-year streak of losses by Belmont or South Point teams to the Golden Lions that dated to 1959; Belmont was consolidated with old Cramerton High in the 1969-70 school year to form South Point.
In the playoffs, South Point won 34-20 at Lincolnton and 41-0 over Newton-Conover in Hickory to set up the 1971 Western N.C. Activities Association title game at Salisbury.
Salisbury was guided by legendary coach Pete Stout and was led by eventual University of North Carolina players Terry Beattie, John O’Neal and Johnny Stratton; Beattie and O’Neal also were two of Crawford’s Shrine Bowl teammates.
South Point scored first on a 33-yard touchdown run by Bill Hannon before Salisbury became the second team to lead the Red Raiders when the Hornets took a 7-6 lead into halftime. Clawson’s six-yard TD run and Hannon’s two-point conversion put South Point ahead 14-7 before a blocked punt set up a short Salisbury drive that tied the score at 14 with 2:11 left in the third quarter.
The Red Raiders, who outgained Salisbury 250-120 in total offense in the championship game, drove from their own 11 to the Hornets 26 in the fourth quarter before the Salisbury defense stopped Crawford on a fourth-and-one play.
Neither team threatened after that and the teams would share the state title after the 14-all tie.
Tate, who also was the South Point High baseball coach, and Lineberger would eventually become South Point football head coaches. Each won state titles in football and baseball as either head coaches or assistant coaches – or both.
Hannon played junior varsity basketball at Duke and later coached South Point’s basketball and track teams.
Ivester and McWhirter joined Crawford at Lenoir-Rhyne and were teammates when the Bears won the inaugural South Atlantic Conference football championship in 1975.
Stowe played football at N.C. State for legendary coach Lou Holtz.
The backup quarterback, sophomore Butch Harris, would go on to lead South Point to its first two state baseball titles in 1973 and 1974, then starred at Wingate College before spending three seasons in the Cincinnati Reds’ organization; Harris played the 1977 season for the Class A Shelby Reds.
In the years since, the legend of the team has grown more and more.
Biggerstaff (2007), Crawford (2013) and assistant coach Phil Tate (2015) have been inducted into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame and Lineberger was to be in the 2020 class before the pandemic postponed the ceremony indefinitely.
Biggerstaff (1989), end Jim Stowe (1990), Crawford (1991), Tate (1996), assistant coach Earl Lingafeldt (1996), Harris (2000), Lineberger (2006), Hannon (2008) and McWhirter (2013) have been inducted into the Belmont Sports Hall of Fame. And in 2013, the entire 1971 team was inducted.