Looking Back at Sixty-Five Seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football (Part 12 of 30)
“Here’s a look back at 65 – seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football through the eyes of Kmac”
I did not write up any preseason notes for the 2002 season which may have still been part of what I called the “possible erosion of interest” to a degree in 2001. But two of us, and possibly three; did do the usual pre-season camp visits.
I did not have a league pass this season which broke a string of 8 consecutive years with one, and also 11 of the past 12 years with one. It did not greatly matter to my plans for 2002.
In 2002 the new Council Rock South High School opened in Holland. The existing Council Rock then became Council Rock North. The same thing happened the next year in the Downingtown School District with Downingtown East opening in Uwchlan Township and the existing Downingtown becoming Downingtown West.
A Suburban One realignment was necessary. For the teams that I followed the new Patriot Division was CB East, CB West, Neshaminy, North Penn, and Pennsbury. The new Colonial Division was Abington, Bensalem, Council Rock North, Pennridge, Tennent, and Truman. The new Rock South would play its first season in the American Conference-Liberty Division.
The new Rock South HC was Vince Bedesem, son of the renowned Dick Bedesem who had guided Bishop Egan, Neshaminy, and Archbishop Wood at times. Vince was in his 14th season in that capacity in the 2015 season. The Golden Hawks posted a fine 8-3 season for their first time out. Quakertown, their sister-school Rock North, and Upper Merion were the only losses. I saw three of their wins at home (Rock North’s established field).
I soloed to start the season for Reading at CB East. I wanted to see the Red Knights for the first time. I got to chat early with the usual CB East foursome of coaches. The gates were open early even though I did not have a pass. Reading was considered a state contender this season, and although the Patriots shut down their ace RB Bryant early the Red Knights still had enough speed and athletes to handle CB East for the second straight year. I left with about 10 minutes left in the game and it was 19-7 Reading. As the final was 40-21 Reading there were 5 TDs scored in the last 10 minutes. I wrote in my book, “I have to rethink my early departures as I missed 5 touchdowns!” But that didn’t happen; I leave after about three quarters these days.
The next day began the three-year term of Bud 4 and me talking on the phone and coordinating games and setting up trips. On Saturday August 31 we journeyed to Harry S. Truman’s to see Bristol host Kennedy-Kenrick. Bristol was going to use this Bristol Township stadium for home games in 2002 as their venerable old field behind the school in Bristol was completely renovated. Bud 1 took advantage of the Saturday game and joined us in the stands.
It was a nice, even game, no real highlights; and a Bristol Warrior victory 14-0.
For the Jewish holiday scheduled game the following Friday, Bud 4 and I did not coordinate, and I journeyed down Trenton Road to Bensalem to be with Bud 1 for Pennsbury’s visit. The final was 14-7 Falcons. Only the next week I learned that Bud 4 was at that game also, but on the Falcon’s side of the field. To that time in history, I had never been on the visitor’s side of that field for an entire game; Bud 2 and I did spend some time there during one CB East visit.
On Saturday night 9/7, Bud 4 and I met Bud 1 again at Truman for Bristol at Conwell-Egan. This was to be the combination for the next few years, me, Bud 4, Bud 1. Bud 2 had lost interest in seeing all but a couple of games a year or so, the most was next season – 8 in 2003; he would see 2 in 2002. Bud 3, my brother-in-law was only Turkey Day games now.
The attraction this game was Steve Slaton, sensational sophomore running back for Conwell-Egan. We were not disappointed. He carried 18 times for 239 yards and 4 touchdowns. On his first play from scrimmage he bolted 68 yards to the house and you could see the gap grow between him and chasing defenders; blazing speed! On another run up the gut, he broke about 6 tackles for a 20-yard gain showing his power as well as speed. It was 35-0 Egan, and we all pledged to see this player again.
We did follow Mr. Slaton as much as possible. The following week Conwell-Egan hosted North Catholic. Steve had 262 yards in this one, including an 87-yard romp from scrimmage, and another 4 touchdowns. And the third straight Saturday at home against Archbishop Wood, Bud 4 and I took in. Slaton had over 200 yards rushing including an 83-yard bolt. Once he got clear and a step on any defender, he could not be caught. This game we noticed that the Egan backfield was all “esses”; Slaton, Smith, Schaffer, and QB Savage, who in 2015 was in his second year as HC at Morrisville. The only other time we saw Egan and Slaton this season was at home versus West Catholic, a 13-6 Egan win in overtime. Slaton was nursing an injury and was held in check. We actually stayed to see the OT, a rarity; Bud 4 must have driven.
Once in a lifetime happened for me on the night of Friday October 18, 2002, just two days past my 61st birthday. The CB East coaches that I had known so well for a few years now invited me to the sideline for the game. Bill Heller suggested it and got me the tag, and Coach Green asked me to spot close to the goal situations as the coaches couldn’t advance past the 30-yard lines. Only once it was needed but I signaled the distance which was less than 6 inches, the play was called and CB East scored. The Patriots led at the half 14-7. But the opponent was North Penn. They had just come off of a loss to Neshaminy and weren’t about to lose two in a row. They controlled the second half and won the game 28-21.
Oddly, this was the second time I had been offered a sideline view this season. The first time was by Rock North coach Mike Ortman. But I had to cordially decline because I was expecting Bud 2 to make a rare appearance at a game this year, and didn’t want him to think I didn’t show up. He did arrive as expected.
Another aspect of the Bud 4 connection was that he would break with high school football on occasion for a college game. On Saturday night 9/19/2002 he invited me to join him, his son, and two family children for the Lafayette-Princeton game in Princeton, NJ. The reason was to see former Council Rock QB Matt Verbit, who was on the Princeton roster. He did play some in the second quarter, and Jon Veach, a Mount Carmel alumnus had a few carries. Ironically, Jim Renistsky, who had been Verbit’s chief target at Rock, was on the Lafayette sideline. Princeton won the game 34-19. It was my first college game since the mid 50’s.
On Saturday October 26, 2002 Bud 4 came up to my house and I drove out to Tennent (0-6) for a visit by the Bensalem Owls (5-3). This season Tennent had two early open dates, hence the difference in the games played. Arriving to sit right in front of us were Rock North Coaches Mike Ortman and the missus; Buddy Ortman, and Bruce English. Bud 4 had known the Ortmans’ for a long time, back to Mike’s coaching days at Morrisville when one of Bud 4’s sons was the QB there. Conversation was easy pre-game as when the game started it was to scout Bensalem, Rock North’s next opponent. Buddy Ortman asked me to outline the Owls starting O and D in the program and also senior substitutions. It was the first; and only time ever, that I was part of a “scout team”. Sometime during the evening I was again offered a future sideline pass, but I never did appear on the sideline again.
The Owls did not show much to our Rock scout team. They were flat and lifeless for some reason. Winless Tennent dominated the game and won 42-7 for their first win of the season. It was a true upset as Tennent finished 3-8 while Bensalem finished 7-4, including a win over Rock North the following week, 34-24.
This was an odd year for Council Rock North; but we must remember it was the first year of the school split. How many teammates and coaches from 2001 were now wearing the blue and gold of Council Rock South? North finished 7-4 with losses to CB West 6-7, CB East 10-14, Bensalem 24-34, and a forfeit to Neshaminy. I did not list the reason for the single forfeit. As both Bensalem and Rock North ended 7-4, you can’t say the Owls over Rock was an upset.
Bud 4 and I met Bud 2 in Quakertown for a Scranton Knights playoff game with Quakertown. This was a District 1-2-4 AAAA Quarter-final. It was a very good game and the Knights won it 19-13. Their white, gold and maroon looked like Florida State away uniforms.
I journeyed solo to Truman for a regional Class A playoff game Old Forge at Bristol. But Bud 1 surprised me and I wasn’t alone long. This was a close, hard-nosed affair plagued with numerous penalties on both sides. The final was 14-10 Blue Devils.
Bud 4 and I journeyed to a now refurbished J. Birney Crum Stadium in Allentown for Central Dauphin and Parkland, an Eastern AAAA semi-final matchup and the winner the next opponent of North Penn. The Rams of CD were ranked as high as 13th in the nation in some polls. But were they ever flat at the outset of this one. Doing nothing offensively, the Rams trailed 7-0 at the half.
Parkland’s Penn State-bound RB Austin Scott gritted it out, and then broke a long one to set up another short score. The score was 28-0 Parkland before the Ram O snapped out of it and got things going. We started to clear out with 3 minutes left in the game and it was then 28-14. The Rams did put one more across to make the final 28-21 Parkland.
The eastern final would be held at Neshaminy between Parkland and North Penn. I expected the entire old posse except my brother-in-law, Bud 3. But Bud 2’s wife had become ill, and Bud 4 was involved at a Morrisville basketball game. But I did meet up with Bud 1, Mr. dependable at 84 years of age. I also got a chance to speak with broadcaster Jim Church, who I had met before, and Neshaminy’s John Chaump and Mark Schmidt, and also two more former Morrisville athletes from long ago, Jack Weaver and Denny Poland.
In the game Austin Scott broke a long one early and the Knights were never in it. They trailed the Trojans 19-0 at the half. The Knights did execute a second half opening drive and trick play to get on the board 19-7. But the Trojans quickly answered with a long pass and a 26-7 bulge after three quarters. Both teams scored one in the fourth, final Parkland 33-13.
Now was the opportunity to see my first ever state championship games in person. Bud 4 would drive and we figured on seeing the 2A opener as well as the 4A evening match which is what we came for.
We would get to see Seton-LaSalle of the west and Mt. Carmel of the east do battle in the 2A championship. The press box side was opposite of where we sat and so we were opposite from the Mount Carmel side. I could feel the tradition of the state’s highest win program as in unison the whole stands were vocal in backing their Red Tornadoes. Physically the Rebels of Seton-LaSalle looked overmatched, but they were there for a reason. Both teams had a good run-pass attack and Mount Carmel always led, but the score progression was 6-0; 12-0; 12-7; 18-7; and 18-13 with three minutes left in the game and an onsides kick off to the Red Tornadoes coming up. Mount Carmel recovered it, but a few plays later had to give it up. But an interception and then a couple of kneel-downs sealed another win for Mt. Carmel.
I was happy to get a chance to see the Red Tornadoes. Here was the winningest high school football program in the state with 827 wins (through 2014). Here was a team whose first undefeated season was in 1901 at 7-0-1. The 1901 offense scored 163 points and defense allowed 6; for the 6-6 tie with Bloomsburg University. Their two best decades were the 1960s (90-18-3; 82.4%); and 1970s (96-18-1; 83.9%). But even the 1980s and 1990s are positive winning averages. I say this because Mount Carmel is besieged with shrinking population, down each of the last 8 decade census reports since it peaked at 17,967 in 1930. Estimated 2014 population was 5,785. The future, as they say; “is in doubt—.”
We stayed in the stadium between games having hot dogs and Hershey’s hot chocolate. Although 2-1/2 hours to kickoff, it wasn’t long before Parkland folks were drifting in for this was their side for the AAAA final. Woodland Hills won the toss and deferred. Bad decision. On the first or second play after the kickoff, Austin Scott broke one 60+ yards to the house, 6-0 Parkland very early.
The Trojan defense held and the next drive got to the Woodland Hills 4-yard line. But they were held on downs. And then the Wolverines showed why they were there and drove for a score; knotting it at 6-6. Next a punt went to the Wolverines’ Ryan Mundy. Another bad decision; he returned it 56 yards to paydirt. It was 12-6 Woody High. But the Trojans answered before the half and made the first successful PAT of the night to take a 13-12 lead at halftime.
The Parkland defense had all of the answers the second half.
And just the right offense with Scott rushing and QB Piontek hitting the passes when necessary to build up a 27-12 lead with about 8 minutes left in the game. The score, thought of the crowd leaving, cold and wind, and about 11 hours of high school football told us it was time to go. While we were walking to the car outside the stadium we heard the crowd yelling again and it was the final Parkland nail in the coffin, and it ended 34-12 Trojans.
Woody High’s Ryan Mundy went on to West Virginia and the NFL, and was still with the Chicago Bears in August 2015.
The season of 2002 has to be one of my best ever. I saw 29 games, third highest total for a season. I saw 6 PIAA playoff games, tie for my highest seasons. I saw 12 new teams this season, the most ever in a single season. I had the only sideline pass I ever had for a game. And I saw two state championship games; my first of only 4 ever through 2015. I saw my first college game since the late 50’s or early 60’s. The company was plentiful at 23 of the 29 games attended; although only one or two buddies at a time, the posse days were over. Although I did not have a pass this season, the 10 games I attended with Bud 1, I likely had free entry on his pass; they were good for two parties. One of my last notes for the season was, “I think it will be hard to beat this season!”
Between my written records and computerization, I had lots of records to maintain, and that was part of the whole purpose of the hobby for me.
Don Black’s various individual high school history books.
Wikipedia – Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania.
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