Mark Dunn – FOR THE RECORD

Baylor Stadium, Waco — “Eleven thousand fans and a sea of red rocked this famous arena Saturday as the Bridge City Cardinals became the brightest stars in Texas’ Galaxy of Class-3A champions,” reported the Waco Tribune Herald.

The news clipping, now yellowed by time, relayed the news that quickly spread throughout the state as the underdog Bridge City Cardinals defeated No. 1 ranked McKinney, 30-6, forty-nine years ago on December 17.

On that day the 1966  Bridge City Cardinals became the first Orange County team to win a state championship. In what became known as the “Worster Era” the victory echoes across time. Born from it was Cardinal tradition and impacted two generations of Bridge City athletic endeavors. Today, the memory of the state championship team lives on celebrated this week in Bridge City.

A Cardinal two-time All-State tailback going into his senior year, Steve Worster, finished his schoolboy football career after carrying the ball 36 times for 249-yards and three touchdowns ripping apart McKinney’s reportedly brick wall defense. The performance brought his total yards rushing to 2,210-yards and 38 TD’s for the season. But that just scratches the surface.

After 49 years the numbers, like the name Steve Worster, and the 1966 Cardinals under head coach H.W. “Chief” Wilson remains legendary. One of 25 seniors that became part of the crimson pride that year, Worster, over three years of varsity ball scored 76 TD’s and 20 extra points for a total of 476 points in 38 games. His Cardinal career rushing yardage was 4,957 yards- 2.8 miles- on 736 carries for a 6.7 yard average. College scouts watched in near disbelief.

Under blue skies in Waco that Saturday afternoon, the 25 Cardinal seniors stepped on the field together for the last time.Twenty-two of the 25 had put on their first uniforms together as Bridge City Junior High Cardinals under a new program that had been installed by Coach “Chief” Wilson back when the seniors were in the eighth- grade. The up and coming Cardinals went 16-2 in two years of junior high football. As varsity players they surprised everyone by embarking to the threshold of the state championship the previous season, 1965, but lost to Brownwood at Kyle Field in College Station 14-0. Now they were back and thousands of Cardinal fans with red and white streamers had followed the buses to Waco with them.

The Cardinals had claimed the district title by defeating the Forest Park Trojans 34-0 polishing off an undefeated Dist. 9 Class-3A season. Worster had been sidelined with a bruised knee and saw only one half of action. Senior quarterback Joe Langston took over completing four of nine passes for 151 yards and one TD and also ran for two TD’s on his own.

The road to the state championship brought them first to Conroe who they devoured 41-17 in the bi-district matchup. The Cardinals rolled over Clear Creek, 36-7, then San Marcos, 28-7, and finally were face to face with the McKinney Lions in the state championship. McKinney had only allowed 16 points in 13 games– just over one point per game. The Lions had shut out 10 of their 13 opponents. The Associated Press had also forecast McKinney to win.

But like a mirage the McKinney defense crumbled as Worster’s 10.3 speed and brutal running style burst through holes ripped open by tackles Matt McKnight and Dan Dearing with guard Larry Huckaby. On the Cardinals first possession and first down at the Lion’s 35-yard line, Worster bullied his way to the McKinney 3. On the next play Langston faked to Worster and rolled around right untouched for the touchdown. Charles Johanson booted the PAT for a 7-0 lead with 8:17 remaining  in the first quarter.

Late in the first, after a 53-yard McKinney punt to the Bridge City 13-yard line the Cardinals cranked out an 83-yard march boosted by Worster who broke for gainers of 20, 13, 12 and 10-yards to the McKinney four yard line. The Cardinals fumbled, however, and the Lions recovered ending the drive.

Bridge City linebacker Doug Schell along with Bill Snider and Dearing in the Cardinal defensive line choked McKinney from moving the ball. McKinney got it’s initial first down with 7:07 left in the second quarter but ran out of steam and was forced to punt from their own 21-yard line.

On their next possession midway in the second quarter the Cardinals drove 51-yards in nine plays after taking over on a downed punt at their own 49-yard line. Worster accounted for 37 yards on six carries in the drive and plunged over the goal line on a four-yard dive. He had followed the blocking of Bill Snider, Dearing and McKnight to his 36th touchdown of the season.

McKinney rallied behind the 9.8 speed of it’s celebrated tailback Mike James who was a major concern for the Cardinal defense. James skirted around right end for 10 yards and alternate quarterback Phillip Wood followed in the same path for 15 to set the Lions up on their own 48. After Woods was nailed for no gain and James was slammed to the turf at the 50, McKinney got a lift- 15 yards worth- on a personal foul infraction. Wood hit on successive passes to reach the Big Red 15. With just 12-seconds left in the half McKinney had pushed to the Cardinal 3-yard line but a pitch out by Wood went wide and Worster recovered as part of the Cardinal’s goal line defense that also included Langston and Plagens. Big Red went into the locker room with a 14-0 lead.

McKinney entered the game after intermission with renewed momentum driving inside the Bridge City 40-yard line. Two key defensive plays by Mike Hebert and Robert Plagens put the brakes on the Lion offense forcing a punt that was blocked by Gayland Sims and recovered by Donald Hebert. The Cardinals took over on their 42 yard-line. With Bridge City fullback Jerry Jaynes breaking loose for 22-yards and Worster handling the attack with bursts of 12 and 13 the Cardinals were first and goal at the seven yard line. Big Red rambled to the three yard line but couldn’t find a hole in the McKinney defense and lost ground. The Cardinals had to settle for a 19-yard Johanson field goal and a 17-0 lead with 21 seconds left in the third quarter.

Early in the fourth McKinney gambled on a fake punt that backfired when McKinney’s James was caught by Sims and Donald Hebert at the McKinney 35-yard line short of the first down. The Cardinals took over as Jaynes skirted  23-yards and Worster scored from the one-yard line after a 22-yard pass interference call helped keep the Bridge City drive alive. Johanson’s PAT made it 24-0 with 9:04 left in the game.

The Lions bounced back on their only scoring drive of the game hitting pay dirt on a 43-yard pass and run play over the middle to climax a 67-yard drive in just five plays for the TD. The PAT failed.

The Cardinals took the kickoff and flexed it’s muscles for the final time. The Cardinals put together an 83-yard drive in 10 plays late in the fourth quarter. Worster ripped off gainers for 12, 8, 9, 6 and 5-yards.  A pair of 15-yard penalties, one on the end of a nine-yard Worster sprint and the other on the heels of a Mike McElhaney two-yard run, culminated into a six-yard power plunge by Worster for his third touchdown and the state championship’s final TD. It was Worster’s 38th TD of the season and the 76th of his remarkable Bridge City Cardinal career. Johanson’s kick was wide left– believed to be placed there intentionally– leaving the score 30-6 with 3:32 left in the contest.

The Cardinal kickoff sailed into the end zone and McKinney managed to move the ball to the Cardinal 44 before ace defensive back Johnny Miller intercepted at the Cardinal 27-yard line. With the game in hand Coach Wilson left Miller in to replace Langston at quarterback.

A 15-yard penalty rolled the Cardinals back to their own 14-yard line under the command of Miller. Two of his passes fell incomplete. On third down and with just two seconds left in the game the ace defensive back and No. 2 quarterback wheeled and deliberately threw the ball into row 20 of the east stands into Bridge City’s delirious thousands in red as the clock signaled the end of the game.

“Chief” Wilson’s Big Red won the state championship scoring in every quarter running up 22 first downs and a whopping 312 yards rushing. To add to McKinney’s humiliation it was the biggest output in the playoffs. Worster and Company had rushed for 193 yards against Conroe, 310 yards against Clear Creek, and 246 yards against San Marcos.

The Cardinal defense held McKinney to seven first downs and just 81 yards rushing. It was the third straight play off opponent Big Red held to less than 100 yards.

Worster, Langston and the legendary H.W. “Chief” Wilson were all carried from the field. Worster would be named All-State for his third straight season. Dan Dearing was also named to the 1966 Class-3A All-State Team.

Worster carried the No. 30 into his collegiate football career as an All-American for the University of Texas Longhorns. In 2003 he was named to the SBC Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame. In 2009 he was inducted to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. In 2010 the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce named Worster the 50th Anniversary Citizen of the Year. Today, Worster’s Cardinal jersey, the mythological No. 30, hangs in the foyer of the Bridge City High School gym.

PHOTO: Bridge City Head Coach Chief Wilson and running back Steve Worster following the 1966 state championship 30-6 victory over McKinney.