WILLOW WOOD — They were small, they were tough, they were hard workers and they were football nasty.
They were also unbeaten.
There were a lot of characteristics that made up the 1989 Symmes Valley Vikings’ football team that posted the school’s only unbeaten season and it marked their first post-season playoff appearance.
At the Vikings’ final home game this season against Portsmouth Notre Dame, the 1989 team held a reunion that included head coach Merril Triplett.
After going 7-3 the previous year, the Vikings opened the season with a 22-20 triple overtime win at Rock Hill as the fog began settling in.
Triplett — now the head coach at Portsmouth West — remembers the team well.
“That group of seniors always said they were going undefeated their senior year. They worked so hard in the off-season. Paul Hayes and Jason Pernestti led them. They had a talented group of juniors behind them. There was no horse-play on that team,” said Triplett.
Hayes was the quarterback and a defensive back. Pernestti was the right guard and linebacker. Carl Robinson played the other linebacker.
Fred Keeney was the center and Keith Wilson the left guard. They were also the defensive ends.
Alan Murdock and Roy Payton were the offensive tackles. Murdock flipped over to defense along with Mark Edmunds.
Jason Sheppard as the fullback and nose guard. Eric Wall was an end and safety while Fred Wilburn and Kenney Daniels were running backs and defensive backs. Speedy Harry Morris played the left corner on defense.
All of the players were seniors except juniors Robinson, Sheppard and Daniels, Wall who was a sophomore and Edmunds who was a freshman.
“They could all run,” said Triplett.
“Carl Robinson was one helluva of player. Put him over a guard and your quarterback didn’t have a chance. Pernestti was one of the meanest football players in the area. He led the defense. Pernestti and Robinson wanted to hurt you.”
Triplett said the group was able to succeed because it was so coachable.
“They were little guys, but they had great technique. Allen Murdock played defensive tackle at 190 but he was so quick. Mark Edmonds was a freshman but he was uncanny strong.
“Wilson and Keeney would throw a lick. You couldn’t beat Harry Morris deep. That was a good little defense. d Keeney DE “they threw a lick.”
Triplett said the off-season workouts told him that something special was about to happen. He said the senior class set a goal and made a commitment to achieve that goal.
“They all played as juniors and we knew what everyone had coming back, and they believed. The first game was the key. They needed to come out of the gate and they had to beat Rock Hill. When they beat Rock Hill, I felt we could win them all,” said Triplett.
“We won in three overtimes. Jason Shepherd ran over about five guys to score.”
The team won all 10 games to qualify for the playoffs. They made the trip to Zanesville to play Shadyside, but they fumbled five times and lost three. While the Vikings still ran for 265 yards, Shadyside ran for 147 and threw for 233.
Daniels rushed 21 times for 126 yards while Hayes had 90 yards on 15 tries.
“When I met with their coach, he told me ‘If you beat me, you’ve beat the best team in our county. This is the best group I’ve been around and I’ve been coaching for 20 years.’
“They were good and we felt we could play with them, but we had six turnovers. You can’t have six turnovers and win.”
Despite the playoff loss, Triplett said it didn’t diminish what the team accomplished.
“The key was those hard-nosed kids. They worked hard and good leadership. They all showed up. They loved playing football. They liked practice. They tried to kill each other in practice. They were fun,” said Triplett.
Symmes Valley Vikings
1989 Football Season Results
Symmes Valley 22 Rock Hill (3OT) 20
Symmes Valley 34 Unioto 12
Symmes Valley 30 Chesapeake 14
Symmes Valley 20 Oak Hill 14
Symmes Valley 39 Southwestern 14
Symmes Valley 32 North Gallia 0
Symmes Valley 20 Eastern Meigs 0
Symmes Valley 49 Racine Southern 12
Symmes Valley 20 Kyger Creek 0
Symmes Valley 60 Hannan Trace 18
Symmes Valley 8 Shadyside 34