story by Aric Mitchell
The 1988 Charleston Tigers football team was a special one to area residents, having blasted out an 8-0 record going into the final game of the regular season against the Lavaca Golden Arrows, their neighbors to the west along Arkansas 22.
One Charleston resident describes the bad blood as something that is strictly one-sided. “We just show up to play, beat them, and move on with our lives.”
This has been true for the last decade or so with the Tigers winning most of the time. But on the night of Nov. 4, 1988, it would be a different story.
“Die Hard” was playing at the local movie theater, and like the film’s main character John McClane, who defies insurmountable odds with a tough-as-nails, hard-to-kill attitude, Lavaca was ready for action.
Charleston was heavily favored going in to the Friday night contest. They had outscored their opponents by 162 points, possessing the explosive offensive combination of quarterback Steve Haney and receiver Steve Linn. The key to a Lavaca victory was seemingly ball control. There was no question a low-scoring affair would favor the Golden Arrows, but that’s not what happened.
Lavaca entrusted its chances to quarterback Shawn Hobbs and running back Brian Cooksey. Uncertainty existed as to whether or not Hobbs could find favorite receiver Mark Watson with Charleston’s stifling reputation on the defensive side of the ball. In eight games the Tigers held their opponents to just 51 points, or roughly six per game. That was while scoring more than 26 per game.
But with the 4-A West Championship on the line, there wasn’t anything left to do but pull out all the stops.
Lavaca came out running with the sure-footed Hobbs finding real estate from 32 yards out for the game’s first score. Cooksey would strike next from two yards out and advance the Golden Arrows to a stunning 14-0 lead. But from there, Charleston rebounded and started playing like the team everyone expected.
Haney found Linn with two unanswered touchdown passes and then dropped a 60-yard pass into the hands of receiver Jeff Dillard for the go-ahead score. With the game 21-14 in Charleston’s favor, Lavaca fans had every right to be jittery. After all, it was uncommon to see that kind of passing artillery in the 4-A conference. But if Haney’s pass could be considered a bomb, then Hobbs’ next throw would have to be atomic as the Lavaca quarterback found Watson for a 71-yard score to tie the game.
Still, Charleston refused to give up their lead for long. Haney threw a third TD pass to Linn and the Tigers assumed command 28-21 following a successful point after. Hobbs and the Arrows would not go away easily, however. The purple and gold mounted another drive after that, with Hobbs taking it in from 10 yards out on the final play to once again even the score.
With minutes quickly dissipating, each team would only have one more shot to put it away. It would be Haney and Charleston, who struck first with a drive that culminated in Haney’s 1-yard TD run. But Lavaca’s Heath Avlos broke through the line on the PAT attempt and stuffed the kick to keep the Tiger lead at six. From there, Hobbs, who completed only five of 13 pass attempts in the entire game, made the next one count. His pass to Watson connected and went 45 yards for the tying score. Brian Brown kicked the PAT to give Lavaca the win 35-34.
The game was a memorable finish to the 1988 regular season, but it would not be the end of football that year for either team. Charleston’s last stand came in Week 2 of the Playoffs with a 6-0 loss to Mount Ida. Lavaca would fall in Week 1 to Bismarck in a hard fought 14-6 game.
But for many in Golden Arrow Country, the season was a success as LHS had walked away with the only game that really mattered when it came time to assign bragging rights. And thus, the rivalry would continue into a new decade.