Beating the odds: 1977 Crabbers rise from the ashes

By Richard Kellam
Posted 1/11/22

Crisfield High School claimed its fourth State basketball title in 1973 — Coach Bill Cain’s first of four State crowns. Cain and the Crabbers struggled through 3 losing seasons 1974 to …

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Beating the odds: 1977 Crabbers rise from the ashes

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Crisfield High School claimed its fourth State basketball title in 1973 — Coach Bill Cain’s first of four State crowns. Cain and the Crabbers struggled through 3 losing seasons 1974 to 1976 but as the 1977 campaign rolled around Cain had his sights set on another productive year.

The Crabbers had a front line of 6 ft. 4 inch junior Darnell Johnson, and 6-5 Ben Mills and 6-3 Reggie Jackson, both seniors. Sophomore point guard Denny Laird and junior shooting guard Jerry Carter rounded out Cain’s starting five.

Crisfield got off to a roaring start winning its first two contests including a huge win over pre-season Class C favorite Washington. Disaster struck immediately following the triumph over the Jaguars, however, and the Crabbers’ celebration was cut short. Mills suffered a relapse of an injury he received during soccer season and would not return until late February.

Johnson and Jackson were declared academically ineligible and were lost for the season.

Cain had lost three starters including his entire front line and was faced with a seemingly impossible task. He would have to realign his team prior to the start of the new year.

Cain’s efforts would result in one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the annals of Crabbers basketball. He quickly reshuffled his lineup bringing juniors Johnny Thomas and Gene Matthews off the bench along with senior Craig Tawes.

Carter, who would go on to be the South MVP in 1978, led CHS in scoring. Laird was outstanding at the point, Thomas, Tawes and Matthews accepted their roles and the Crabbers season was back on track. CHS finished strong putting together a late season streak winning 6 of their final 7 games, their only loss a 73-70 decision at Bennett, the eventual South champion.

Crisfield swept through the Class C East Regional playoffs downing Snow Hill 72-43, Pocomoke 78-63, and it was capped off with a 69-66 win over Washington in the final. This was the rubber game of the season series, the two county rivals split during the regular season.

CHS lost in the State semifinal to Beall of Westernport Allegany County, a school no longer in existence by a 68-44 score. “I think we were just happy to be there,” said Cain, who was not happy with the Crabbers efforts. But Cain would be well-pleased with his 1978 squad, the Crabbers would finish 27-0 winning Bayside and State title honors getting payback against Beall, defeating the Mountaineers 65-52 in the semifinal.

CHS defeated Poolesville 65-58 in the final game earning revenge over the Montgomery County school who had defeated them in 1962.

The 1977 Crabbers did not win a Bayside or State crown, they did not compile a winning record, ending 11-13, but it was a remarkable comeback and an outstanding coaching job by Cain.

Crisfield like the mythological Phoenix had risen from the ashes.