A Super Season
As high school football fans, many of us like to reminisce about good games we’ve seen, good teams or favorite teams we’ve followed, and great seasons we have experienced. Good company that adds to the experience is always welcome, and provides complimentary or sometimes differing viewpoints.
As a football fan of some 63 seasons now, I have been fortunate to have many special moments in what, over time, has become my number one hobby of many; and one hobby I have kept better track of then some others; computerizing my records around 2000 that were kept by hand since 1951.
I had what I call a “golden era” of 16 consecutive seasons, 1989 through 2004. While I still enjoy high school football as much now; a combination of factors makes a repeat of this past 16-season period no longer obtainable. During that 16-year stretch I saw 417 games, an average of 26 games a season. For 12 of the 16 seasons I had a Suburban One League pass, the chief benefit of which was early access to many games and time to kibitz with coaches before they took the field. Starting in 1993 for 12+ seasons two or three fans including me visited various local school practices and again talked with many coaches. During this time our fan group numbered as many as 6 people at times and expanded with others we met at various games. Our group of six was from Washington Crossing, Morrisville, Bensalem, Doylestown, and Hatfield, all PA; and Lambertville, NJ, so we had a diverse outlook on the games and teams. It was truly grand! A great way to enjoy high school football. I will not take the readers’ time to discuss why it is no longer possible to duplicate this golden era for me; but it isn’t.
Among these great seasons, I want to relate the 1996 season and the wonderful combination of teams I saw play that year.
After I soloed to open the season with Mons. Bonner at C B East in Doylestown Friday night; two of our crowd and I caught Parkland at Pennsbury on Saturday August 31st. The Falcons were still playing Saturday afternoon ball, and would until late in the 2000 season. I had never seen Parkland and Pennsbury was my usual first choice for Saturday afternoon games. It was a close game and a Falcon victory was only averted by a goal-line interception with 4 minutes to play; Parkland won 20-18. Unplanned, this set in motion the greatest combination of top teams I saw in one year.
Since 1988 I had been centering on CB West and CB East, whoever was home on Friday night in Doylestown, and of course I could see them at some local away games as well. If they were both home the same weekend, one usually played Friday night and one Saturday night. As a result I saw both CB West and CB East 8 times each in 1996. Seven of each teams’ games were regular season contests including against each other; won by CB West 21-3. CB West ended the regular season 10-0 and CB East ended 9-1, their only loss to CB West. Both made the playoffs, so I had seen two very good teams most of the season.
They were both home in Doylestown for District 1 semi-finals in a day-night doubleheader which I of course attended. Bad weather the Friday night before made this arrangement so. The day game was the Downingtown Whippets at CB East. The Whippets had lost their opener to Allentown Central Catholic 42-25; their only setback. This was one of the best CB East teams under Larry Green and a physical see-saw battle ensued, a very good game. The margin of victory was two pick-sixes by Whippet’s stars Dan Ellis and Arlen Harris, leading to a 37-25 Downingtown victory.
I returned for the nightcap, Plymouth-Whitemarsh at CB West. I do not know what the Colonials record was, but they were defending D1 champs, beating CB West in 1995 12-0 for the title. They were big and physical and they used multiple shifts on almost every offensive play and had the West defense jumping all over the place and out of sync. It was close but the Colonials won 21-16, back-to-back victories over CB West.
One of our posse buddies and myself decided to make the trek to Downingtown for the Whippets-Colonials District One Championship game. This was one of the top games I ever witnessed. Both teams wanted this one and they see-sawed with no quit in a game of hard hits and spectacular plays. Offenses ruled and it was 22-22 at the half. The Whippets opened the second half scoring with a FG, 25-22 Downingtown. P-W answered with a TD/PAT to go up 29-25. But back came the Whippets and it was 32-29 Downingtown. They tacked on another to go up 39-29 when the Colonials answered with a spectacular 70-yard pass-run TD/PAT to close to 39-36. There was still time, but the game ended with the score not changing.
When my buddy and I learned that Downingtown would entertain Wilkes-Barre Coughlin at Coatesville the following week we decided to take that one in. The Crusaders record was 10-2, but they had given a great Berwick squad a tough test regular season, the Dawgs winning that one 6-3. Taking the field the Crusaders had what looked like two giant linemen among other studs, and we remarked that if they play to their size, look out! But this one turned out to be a blowout. The Whippets were up 21-0 at the quarter, and early in the second half 38-0. It ended 51-0 Whippets. Meanwhile, Parkland had beaten Cedar Cliff 41-20 to set up a Downingtown (12-1)-Parkland (13-0) Eastern final.
We soon learned that one would also be at Coatesville, and decided we must see it. So here was Parkland again; the team I had seen on the second day of the season and a team that beat Allentown Central Catholic, who in turn was the only team to beat Downingtown. Another good game ensued. After a scoreless first quarter, in the second the Whippets scored on a 20+ yard end-around reverse. About five plays later the Trojans tied it on a 33-yard pass completion in the end zone. Then slowly and steadily Downingtown built up a lead, 13-7; 21-7; and 27-7. The Whippets Arlen Harris had a great TD burst and a second TD called back on a penalty. The Trojans added a late TD, final 27-14 Downingtown.
The Saturday after this last game (11/30/96) two of our gang and I journeyed to Lehigh Stadium to see the 3A Eastern Final between Berwick (13-0) and Allentown Central Catholic (2 losses). Of the ten times I have seen the Dawgs, this was the biggest physical squad I remember them having. There were just no smaller players; everyone looked huge and stud-like. And across the field, ACC looked very big as well. In general defenses dominated this one. One Dawg score was a short returned fumble recovery. An interception return set up another one. ACC took the lead 3-0, and then came the two mentioned Berwick scores; the Dawgs missed the first PAT and got a 2-pt one making it 14-3 Dawgs which it remained until late in the game. Two more late Dawg FGs made the final score 20-3 Berwick.
It was only after the season when I began to scrutinize the season that I realized what a fascinating combination of events I had seen.
The two best local teams, CB West 10-1 and CB East 9-2, eight times each. (William Tennent was 9-3 in their last season under Mike Pettine Jr. and I also saw them twice).
CB West beat CB East.
Downingtown, eventual 4A state champions, four times, which included beating CB East, Plymouth-Whitemarsh, Coughlin, and Parkland.
P-W beat CB West, and P-W lose to Downingtown in the District One 4A Championship.
Coughlin lose to Downingtown; Coughlin the team that gave Berwick its closest game in 1996, only a 6-3 Dawg victory.
Parkland open the season with a victory and then saw their only loss – to Downingtown in the eastern final; Parkland who had defeated Allentown Central Catholic.
The eventual 3A state champion Berwick beat Allentown Central Catholic, the only team to beat 4A state champion Downingtown in the season opener.
And I took in 30 games in 1996, the second-most I ever saw in one season. I had deliberately set out to make a record for games seen in 1990 for my 40th season and did; 32 games. I have never tried to break the record of 32, but inadvertently came close in 1996.
It was certainly a super season, and I can’t imagine being able to see a greater slate of power teams in sort of a round-robin fashion as I did in 1996.
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