Led by one of the great quarterbacks in Texas Football History, Bill Bradley, the 1964 Palestine Wildcats brought home their first and only state championship under head coach Luke Thorton.
The eyes of Texas were on the Wildcats entering Thorton’s sixth year as head coach. A year after losing to the eventual 3A state champions Corsicana, Palestine was projected as the number one team entering the 1964 season.
They had won eight games the previous year, which was their highest win total since 1951 and they had also reached the playoffs for the first time since 1954. At the center of it all was their star quarterback Bradley who was nothing short of an all-around athlete. He was both All-District and All-East Texas the year prior.
Surrounding him was an additional seven starts from their 1963 team. Jerry Reeder at fullback and David Farrow at wingback. Top linemen Danny Westmoreland, Eddie Bentley and Joe Bentley helped David Dickey rush for 1,000 yards in 1963 en route to an All-State selection.
After a rough start to the season, getting passed Jacksonville, a semi-final game that was almost lost, and other obstacles that stood in their way, the Palestine football team became the only team in the school's history to become state champions.
But it was the semi-final game against Wichita Falls Hirschi that almost ended the championship run for the Wildcats.
Two minutes left in the third quarter the Wildcats were down 23-0. They had won their previous two playoff games over Athens and Bonham by a combined score of 30-0 and now were on the brink of being on the wrong end of a shutout.
Instead, Palestine would hold their opponent scoreless, while scoring 21 unanswered points. Their resilient comeback was capped off by a 12-yard touchdown catch by Curtis Fitzgerald to seal the game.
The play that saved the day for the Wildcats, came from a catch by wingback Curtis Fitzgerald on the eight-yard line. A defensive player had wrapped around his waist as Fitzgerald tried to walk backward with him to get out of bounds. The Wildcats had no time-outs left and the clock was running. Hirschi had a defensive end that got hurt in the second quarter and re-injured himself. This player could not get off the field on his own accord and they had no choice but to stop the clock, which led to Palestine’s game-winning touchdown pass.
When it came time to play San Marcos in the championship many of the team members said they knew they were leaving as state champions.
It was a cold day in December 1964 as the Palestine Wildcats took the field against the San Marcos Rattlers for the state championship title at College Station's Kyle Field. The Rattlers were the only unbeaten team in the entire state of Texas. The Wildcats had only lost one game, their season opener against the Athens Hornets.
Palestine jumped out to an 18-7 first-half lead behind touchdowns from Fitzgerald, Bob Stephenson and Bill Bradley. A one-yard rushing score from Reeder in the fourth quarter put the final nail in the coffin as they won 24-15.