Helm Cooper found out real quickly what football meant to Faulkner County.
Cooper, 68, was in his first year at Mayflower when his football team traveled to county rival Vilonia to face Tommy Morrison’s “Fighting 15.” The game was played Sept. 21, 1979, and Mayflower went into the game as huge underdogs. The game just hit its 30-year anniversary earlier this week.
“There were people packed in the stands and lined up all around the field,” Cooper said. “I thought to myself that our guys haven’t been in this type of environment before, so I really didn’t know how they would respond. There were people everywhere.”
Cooper’s Golden Eagles pulled off a 18-16 upset of Vilonia on that cool night. At the time, Vilonia was considered one of the toughest teams in the state with only 15 players, hence came the nickname of the “Fighting 15.”
“That game was the biggest event on that Friday night,” Cooper said. “Vilonia was good that year and they went to the playoffs that year, but we didn’t go. We were definitely the underdogs.”
Mayflower held off a fourth-quarter rally by Vilonia to preserve the win. According to Cooper, Mayflower used an attacking defense to slow down the Eagles’ tough ground game. Vilonia’s big bruising running back, Harvey Sisson, was held to 90 yards rushing.
“My assistant coach, Andy Balentine, and I walked the halls before the season started and tried to get all of the kids out for football,” Cooper said. “We ended up having about 40 kids for the first day of practice. Even with 15 players, Vilonia was predicted to win that ballgame.”
Cooper said they ran a slot-I and used the strength of fullback Lonnie Credit and the speed of James Croft to soften up the Vilonia defense.
“We were moving the ball that night,” Cooper said. “On defense, we stunted and blitzed a lot and that wasn’t even thought of back then. I shot my linebackers and I shot my safeties. We had to do something because they had two running backs that was fast and strong, and they ran that wing-T offense. Overall, it was a good win for us and a great environment for high school football.”