Jackson Newspapers - Ripley, WV
  • Mark Martin’s Top 5 Viking football teams

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  • In the fall of 1968 I headed out to the Spencer-Ripley football game with my dad, mom and brother.
    It was the start of something special in my life.
    I had played T-Ball for the first time that summer and was starting to like sports. Watching that football game that night changed things forever.
    There had been other football games I had been to, but it just didn’t really register in my young mind what was going on.
    This particular game won by the Vikings, 23-0, did, in fact, register.
    From the warmups to the lights to the band to the cheerleaders to the cowbells to the voice of the late Ed Jordan over the public address system to the smell of popcorn to the smell of smoke to the cheers and certainly to the action on the field, the atmosphere and all that came with it simply consumed me.
    I ultimately got to play football and kept doing so until the age of 21 at Marietta College.
    Since the playing days ended, a big chunk of my professional life has evolved around football. I’ve covered it at every level.
    I’ve met a lot of neat people along the way. And dating back to the playing days from the Red Riders of the old Ripley Midget League until my final year at Marietta College, countless friendships have been made.
    It’s time to pick my Top 5 favorite Viking teams of all-time. It was actually pretty easy.
    So, here you go:
    No. 1-1978 – Little did I realize at the time while watching the 1968 team on that September evening in what was then the “old” home bleachers that 10 years later my final season as a Ripley Viking football player would be taking place.
    This team finished 5-5 and very well could have been 8-2 and maybe 9-1. We were so close to perhaps being the first Ripley High football team to reach the playoffs.
    This was the first year that the playoff field in the three classes grew from four to eight. But after a 2-0 start, we lost three straight games by scores of 12-6, 8-0 and 7-0. It simply wasn’t meant to be.
    We rebounded from that string of losses to beat undefeated Mt. View 11-7. The Golden Knights, who were in their first year of existence, had been formed by a consolidation of old Welch High School and Gary High School.
    They might have been the best team on our schedule along with Ravenswood, who beat us 26-14. It was a big game not only because they were good and we needed a win in the worst way, but due to the fact our second-year head coach, Frank Marino, had come from his alma mater of Welch to lead the Viking program.
    Page 2 of 3 - After the big homecoming win over Mt. View, we topped Point Pleasant the following week at home which brought the Old Oaken Bucket to the Ripley High trophy case for the first time in 14 years.
    Some of the players on that team have remained life-long friends. Guys like Jeff Curry, Happy Joe Parsons, Robbie Britton, Boob Lanham, Rick Thacker, Jim Miller, Ron Waybright, Butch Barnette, Kerry Casto, Gordy Ball, Phillip Chambers and on and on are individuals never far from my mind.
    No. 2- 1977 – This was the second Ripley football team I had the pleasure of being a part of and it was an exciting time in the land of the Vikings.
    A new head coach named Frank Marino brought plenty of swag, enthusiasm, excitement and confidence to Jackson County from his native McDowell County where he had been a successful football and basketball leader at old Welch High School.
    Coach Marino instituted the theme “We Believe” and we did just that by working hard and trying to erase the memory of a tough 0-10 season the year before.
    The Vikings of ’77 were impressive in a preseason scrimmage with Warren Local and followed that up by winning five straight to start the season. The whole state took notice and Ripley started getting plenty of media publicity.
    At 5-0, we were matched up with 6-0 Herbert Hoover in our homecoming game. It was an overflow crowd, maybe one of the biggest in Memorial Stadium history. The Huskies, though, were on another level that season. Joe Cowley’s team went on to finish 10-0 and earn a spot in Class AAA’s Final Four.
    After the loss to Hoover, we rebounded with an overtime win against Sissonville (our second OT win of the year) before back-to-back losses against a Point Pleasant team that finished 9-1 and a talented Magnolia team led by WVU recruit Mike Dawson.
    With six wins, we had given Viking fans the program’s first winning season since 1969. One game remained and that was against rival Ravenswood. The Red Devils had won the coveted Hatchet eight straight years (still the longest winning streak in the history of the series). Finally, the big prize which goes to the game’s winner each year returned to Ripley as the Vikings downed the Devils, 22-7.
    As a junior on that team, there were many friends from the senior class who led the way that year including Jerry Ocheltree, Mitch Carmichael, Allen Raines, Kevin Lee, Denny Martin (actually a cousin), Chuck Smith, Jeff Waybright, Keith Kerns and John Knopp…just to name a few.
    No. 3-1976 – This was the year that I began fulfilling a dream of running on to the field at Memorial Stadium as full-fledged Viking player. Our opener that season was at home that year against Charleston Catholic. The rush of running out there for the first time still gives me cold chills.
    Page 3 of 3 - Senior James Ball returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. But that turned out to be our only score of the night and the Irish left with a 13-7 win.
    It was the start of 10 straight losses.
    Despite losing every game (with many being close calls) we all stuck together.
    I learned that season that sometimes things aren’t always going to go the way you want in life. We handled the adversity and became better people in the process.
    The senior class had some good guys to look up to like James Ball, Dave Stike, Donnie Cottrill, Rick Young and Joe Mullins.
    No. 4- 1968 – This team easily could have been No. 1 on my list since it was the one that got me hooked on football in the first place.
    As time has moved on, those players I idolized during my youth have become wonderful friends. Terry Landis, Dallas Wallen and Kenny Swisher are among them, along with head coach Ernie Moore and assistant Corky Griffith.
    The Vikings took a 6-3 record to Ravenswood for its annual meeting with the Red Devils. Fred Taylor’s red and black entered at 9-0 and a win would give them the outright state championship in West Virginia.
    The night belonged to Ripley. The Vikings pulled off a stunning 12-0 upset. It’s one of the biggest wins in Ripley program history.
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