Thirty-six years later, Braves coach Rick Meeks and assistant coach Jeff Bumgardner — both members of the 1987 squad — will coach their sons T.J. Meeks and Brady Bumgardner in their final home game at Shawnee against the team they knocked off more than three-and-a-half decades ago.
“I still hear about (that game) all the time,” Brady Bumgardner said. “It’s pretty cool that we’re carrying it out. It’s pretty awesome.”
15th-seeded Urbana (8-3) will travel to seventh-seeded Shawnee (10-1) in a D-IV, Region 16 quarterfinal game at 7 p.m. Friday. The Braves and Hillclimbers haven’t played since Week 1 of the 2020 season. This year, the rivals will meet with the season on the line.
“I’m excited and a little anxious,” T.J. Meeks said. “I’m ready to play.”
Earlier this season, the Braves watched an old VHS tape of the 1987 game with Coach Perin during one of their senior dinners. The coach also brought vintage shirts printed before the game and passed them out to the team’s 14 seniors, although some players had trouble fitting into them.
“They didn’t make the XLs as big as they do now,” Brady Bumgardner said.
Friday’s game is the first-ever playoff matchup between the two storied programs, although the 1987 matchup had a playoff atmosphere. Fans were lining up to enter the stadium four hours before gametime and extra bleachers were brought in to accommodate the capacity crowd, Rick Meeks said.
Shawnee caused six turnovers in that game, including intercepting four Urbana passes and a 35-yard scoop-and-score by junior linebacker Ryan Hunter in the second quarter that gave the Braves the only score of the game.
Several other longtime coaches within the Braves program, including Marc Coppess, Chuck Williams and Scott Woodruff, were also members of the 1987 team. Coppess’s son Hayden is a junior linebacker/tight end on the Braves squad this season.
After 21 seasons as Braves head coach, Meeks didn’t care who his team played in the regional quarterfinal. The goal is to keep playing as long as possible.
“It would be just as emotional being (T.J. Meeks) last home game,” Rick Meeks said. “For the fans, it’s kind of cool. It’s been 36 years. We just want to keep playing. We want to keep going as long as we can.”
Jeff Bumgardner played a key role in the 1987 game, picking off a pass and making a key tackle that stifled Urbana drives. At the same time, he admitted his players are “head and shoulders way better football players” than he was, he said.
“These guys are fun to coach,” he said. “It’s fun to be around here, it’s fun to watch these guys and I don’t want it to end.”
The Braves enter the game having won seven straight games since falling to undefeated London in Week 4. They know they’ll have their hands full against a very talented Urbana squad.
“I think the similarities are way back then they had some dudes and they’ve got some dudes this year,” Jeff Bumgardner said. “It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a heck of a ball game.”
The Hillclimbers upset second-seeded Chillicothe Unioto 56-21 to advance to a regional quarterfinal game for the second straight season. Urbana is led by senior quarterback Will Donahoe, who has thrown for 2,054 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1,075 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“When you corral the structure of their play, it turns into backyard football and he becomes even more dangerous at that point,” Rick Meeks said. “We’ve got to corral him and limit his opportunities.”
The key for the Braves will be running the ball, limiting turnovers and playing stout defense. Shawnee has allowed 88 points in 11 games this season.
“You’ve always got a shot when you play defense,” Rick Meeks said.
With the season on the line, the Braves senior class also want to walk off the field one last time on Friday night with a victory.
“I want to give it everything I’ve got and savor the moment,” T.J. Meeks said. “We’re probably going to look back and say I wish I had one more game on that field.”