Wagner has warm memories of a frigid Musket Bowl

Rick Wagner was a speedy tailback for Daniel Boone back in the 1970s.

By Trey Williams

The temperature is expected to be around 70 degrees when the 53rd annual Musket Bowl kicks off on Friday at Nathan Hale Stadium in Gray.

But former Daniel Boone player Rick Wagner will probably shiver at least once while recalling the rivalry.

Wagner, a tailback in the wishbone for Coach Ken Green’s Trailblazers, led the Inter-Mountain Athletic Conference in scoring and rushed for over 1,000 yards as a senior in 1978. He was Boone’s team MVP in football and baseball as a senior and went on to play baseball for Charley Lodes when he had it rolling at East Tennessee State.

Perhaps his most vivid Musket Bowl memory was Boone’s 20-0 win at Crockett in 1976. The temperature for the Nov. 5 kickoff was in the upper 20s. The rivalry moved indoors to the brand-new Minidome at East Tennessee State the following year.

“I mean it was so cold the sweat would freeze in your chinstrap,” Wagner said. “Every time I see Coach Green, now no matter who’s around, he talks about that last year we played Crockett outside. He put me in at quarterback and he said, ‘Listen, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to fake 182, and as soon as you fake it, bootleg it to your left.’ And he said, ‘And I’m telling you right now there’s only gonna be one guy there. … And I swear to you, you couldn’t have drawn it up on paper any better. And he loves to tell that because he basically foresaw the whole thing.”

Boone beat Crockett 36-0 at ETSU in 1977. Wagner caught a 37-yard TD pass from Robbie Davis.

The ’77 team was one of the best Boone has had. It finished a 7-4 season with a bowl game loss to Fulton in Clinton. The Trailblazers’ victims that season included Greeneville (27-24), Sevier County (12-6) and Science Hill (7-3) in the teams’ first-ever meeting.

Rain poured for much of the game at muddy Memorial Stadium, and Boone sank the Hilltoppers when Wagner connected with Bryan Horton for a 48-yard touchdown pass on a halfback option throw with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first half. Anthony McInturff’s 31-yard field goal had given Science Hill the lead in the first quarter.

“We ran the old wishbone and it was just a sweep right, halfback pass,” Wagner said. “I just threw it up and Bryan was real fast and he ran under it. I just threw it up. I don’t think there was any seeing somebody wide open. I think I just threw it as far as I could and he ran under it.”

A number of Boone coaches celebrated the victory by diving in a big puddle at the field.

“A couple of them were jumping in the mud puddle out near the end zone,” Wagner said with a chuckle. “I think Coach Green, Mike Kiernan and Dennis Adams did. I know Karl Winkle was one of the coaches. I doubt if he was one crazy enough to jump in the water. …
“Coach Green was unique. He let his assistant coaches do a lot of coaching. He really trusted threm. Coach (Dave) Torgerson, who coached baseball for years, was on staff and he was a really, really good defensive backs/running backs coach and things like that. And those coaches were really close to each other to on and off the field – still to this day.”

Boone lost to Science Hill 23-0 the following year. First-year coach Tommy Hundley moved the game to the Minidome because rain was in the forecast, and a Boone fan at the game had a sign with “Science Hill is afraid of rain.”

Wagner wasn’t afraid, but he wasn’t looking forward to chasing speedy Dee Dee Scott on pass routes on the new carpet. But despite the Trailblazers’ lack of success, Wagner helped keep Scott from having a big night.

“I was pretty fast, but he was fast,” Wagner said. “It was a matter of keeping him in front of me and taking good angles and giving him respect. I’m gonna tell you something: running the ball and stuff was no problem. But guarding him – I was nervous. I think he just caught one or two passes and at the end of the game I was more tickled with that than anything I did offensively.”

Rick Wagner with his son Daniel, who had a stellar baseball career of his own at Daniel Boone.

Wagner coached a variety at sports at Boone, Gray and Ridgeview. He was the head baseball coach at Boone for three years and the Trailblazers’ head softball coach 12 years. He coached the softball team to a state runner-up finish in 2012 and will coach in his seventh season as an ETSU assistant next spring. He said if he did anything well as a coach it was convincing players to compete for something bigger than themselves.

Wagner’s son Daniel pitched at Boone and in college (Virginia Intermont, Point University, USC-Beaufort).

Boone lost 33-19 to Crockett in 1978 when Wagner was a senior. Wagner scored a TD wearing No. 10 instead of his usual No. 23. Sophomore quarterback Hal Janeway was wearing No. 23. Green said years later he switched some players’ jersey numbers for “counter espionage” because he was convinced that Crockett had been privy to too much of Boone’s preparation.

“Rick was a senior and I was sophomore and we had switched jerseys,” Janeway said. “Of course, he was a far better athlete, so I don’t think it fooled anyone by him wearing my no. 10. Looking back, it’s funny to think about it. We were running the wishbone and he was such a great player. It didn’t matter what number he wore – he was one of the best players in school history and highly recognizable.”


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