Looking Back at Sixty-Five Seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football (Part 13 of 30)
“Here’s a look back at 65 – seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football through the eyes of Kmac”
My 53rd season in 2003 began earliest ever as I, along with Bud 1 and Bud 4, took in the annual Bucks County Lions All-Star game at Bensalem in early June. This was a North versus South structured orientation, in recent years dominated by the North’s CB West, Quakertown, and Pennridge-loaded players, but now the CB West domination phase was over. Bud 1 had attended this event for years. I never was interested before, but probably because this year it was at Bud 1’s Bensalem I chose to go. It was a good game and the South won 19-11.
On August 14 we made a three-person visit; me, Bud 2 and Bud 4 to camps at CB East, Council Rock North, and Neshaminy. We had nice conversations at times with coaches, and were sorry to hear that John Chaump had retired at Neshaminy. I had not made notes for the 2002 visitation, and from this year’s notes I get the feeling that Bud 4 had been with us last year also.
High school football wasn’t the only thing on my mind in August 2003, because my retirement letter was already submitted and accepted at the bank, and on Halloween 2003 I would retire. It would be the end of 44 years, 4 months, and 4 weeks of a banking career. I was not a true Type A personality and was more than ready. If I could do it; I had no intention of ever working again. Thirteen years later – so far so good.
Ten of the teams I normally followed were opening at home this season causing a conundrum of where I would go. But aging Bud 1 would be at Bensalem, and so would the Ridley Green Raiders whom I had never seen. So that would be the choice to open and see my 676th game. (I now had the games I had seen computerized with numbers, so I could talk about the number when appropriate). This was the year that Bud 1 was having severe problems with his legs and would only be at Bensalem home games most likely. And it was true, I saw him only 4 times, the least since 1988 at 4 again. A Ridley person that sat right under the home press box near us said that they were breaking in a new QB this season. Could be, the usually mighty Green Raiders and usually not so mighty Owls played to a 10-7 Ridley win.
Saturday, September 20, 2003 daytime I traveled to Doylestown solo for Bensalem at CB East. I had a feeling that Bud 2 might be there and he was. He would come out much more this season, but it was an anomaly; he was slowly leaving the viewing end of high school football. We were very early and gathered with the East coaches, actually walked across the playing field with them to the benches. We were offered a sideline pass for the game, but we knew we would likely not stay all game and thanked them very much for the offer. Neshaminy’s Mark Schmidt was there and we spoke with him a bit; he was very down due to a political situation then in the program. Then Bensalem AD Sheldon Per, whom we had met, stopped by as we said hello and gave us each a Suburban One League pass! My 12th in 14 years and very last.
That was kind of unbelievable. CB East won the game 14-7.
Bud 2 followed me home in his car and we trekked to Morrisville and Bud 4’s house. He then drove to Bristol for all of us to see their newly renovated field. Springfield Montco was the opponent. The field was thick green natural grass, bright new lights, and new aluminum stands only about 20 feet from the sidelines made a fine arena for football. A good game it was with lots of offense, my kind of game. The Spartans looked unstoppable early taking a first quarter lead of 14-0. Bristol then answered 14-7, but again the Spartans scored; 20-7 at the half.
The Warriors came out for the second half fired-up and you could hear the hits; but still the Spartans hit a long pass and TD and it was 26-7 Springfield. Bristol got another score before the third quarter ended and it ended 26-14 Springfield. About halfway through the final stanza the Warriors scored again and it was 26-20 Springfield. The Warriors got possession of the ball with 3 minutes still left in the game, but the score did not change. Over the entire game, the Warriors had three TDs called back for penalties and would have won the game.
I have commented in articles at times about the supporting cast making a difference for a superstar on a team from year to year. This year it was prominent regarding the 2002 sophomore sensation Steve Slaton at Conwell Egan. The big linemen of 2002 were gone, including Brazil and Biernet, both all state in 2002 AAA. We saw a strong Archbishop Carroll squad this season keep Slaton in check and beat the Eagles 18-6. But against Kennedy-Kenrick Slaton got loose for 72-yard, and 71-yard sprints and Marty O’Hara had 3 interceptions and a 36-yard punt return for the Eagles to put this one away 29-6. That was the only two Egan games we saw this season, and Slaton or not, the Eagles’ ended only 5-6.
On my retirement night 10/31/2003 I soloed to Falcon Field, but met Bud 1 and later Bud 4 arrived. We sat much lower than usual due to Bud 1’s walking problems. He was then 85 and he often spoke with one of the chain gang there, Tony Fortunato, who was then 90. It was the annual Neshaminy-Pennsbury clash. It was a good close game 20-14 Falcons and only salvaged when the Neshaminy squad was driving late and a 15-yard penalty killed their chances.
Playoff games at Quakertown with West Chester East, who won 41-24; and at Cheltenham with Pennridge, who won 35-0 were next. Bud 4 and I met Bud 2 in Quakertown. Bud 4 and I drove to Cheltenham; I believe I drove this time. It was my first, and only, time at Cheltenham.
The night of Saturday November 15, 2003 Pennridge played North Penn in a playoff game at Wissahickon. But completely kept from me was a big retirement party in my honor at Michael’s Tavern in Morrisville. My wife had planned and did all the work, and the premise was a surprise anniversary party for my Bud 4 and his wife, who were well-known to my wife from the bank connections. I was truly honored. It was a stone cold gas. Family, friends, football acquaintances; people I worked with at the end, and former banker relationships, and even an attorney with whom I had done numerous real estate closings and his wife. I will never forget it.
The next Friday it was back to playoff football.
Bud 4 came up and we met Bud 2 at Wissahickon for the Interboro (then 4A) at North Penn District One Championship. My first ever visit to this fine stadium. This was another game of offense and highly entertaining. The Knights were likely heavily favored and likely did dominate on offense, but the defense was stretched to contain the elusive run-pass offense of the Interboro Bucs. The Knights powered to a 14-0 lead. The Bucs then answered 14-7. Then it was 21-7 and again the Bucs answered 21-14. The Knights’ coaching staff probably realized the scoring potential of the Bucs and on the next Knights TD went for two on the PAT successfully and it was 29-14 Knights. They were correct; the Bucs did come back 29-21.
But the Knights offense was just too much and went up 36-21 and 43-21 just as we were leaving with about 5 minutes left in the game. With little time left on the clock the Bucs put up a pride TD and the final was 43-28.
Thanksgiving was the traditional (5-year span now) of Del Val – South Hunterdon NJ schools, this year at Del Val. Bud 3 and my nephew, Bud 2, and I made the trip. Being tied to Morrisville in many ways, Bud 4 always made the Bristol-Morrisville T-day game. Each year the score was getting worse in our New Jersey mismatch of small and getting-really-big schools. This year it was Del Val 48-13 with 6 minutes left. I never got the final score unless that was it.
And with that the 2003 season came to an abrupt and unplanned end.
I had expected as many as four more games. First, Bud 2 and I were planning to visit J. Birney Crum Stadium Friday night 11/28 for the Eastern class AA final between Northern Lehigh and Lakeland, two teams neither of us had ever seen. Rain and wind caused us to cancel, and the game was moved to Saturday afternoon also.
Bud 2, Bud 4 and I had Saturday night 11/29 scheduled for the same stadium and the eastern AAAA final between North Penn and Easton. But Bud 4 had become ill, and Bud 2 usually did not drive the long hauls, and I just didn’t feel like making the long night drive.
How different than just two years past (2001) when we drove to Hershey and from there to Coatesville for a double-header day of football; and just in 2002 when we drove to Hershey for the 2A and 4A State Championships. By 2003 we never considered the trip to J. Birney Crum for both the postponed 2A and scheduled 4A eastern finals doubleheader.
Finally, Bud 4 and I had planned to attend the AA and AAAA state championships in Hershey again as we had last season. But snow storms on both Friday and Saturday 12/5-6 ended that. The 2A and 4A games were played Sunday 12/7, but we did not even consider going and in fact were involved in snow removal at our respective homes.
So, instead of 30 games I had to settle for 26 for the 2003 season.
But I had a much unexpected league pass this season, saw 3 PIAA playoff games, got to 2 new stadiums – Wissahickon and Cheltenham, and had company at 21 of the 26 games. Another season that I felt was in the golden era streak that had begun in 1989.
The Knights of North Penn got their state championship with a 15-0 record in 2003, and I saw three of their games, including the playoff with Interboro already described.
I think I would have seen more of the Knights, but the drop off of activity from Bud 2 of Hatfield, my prime contact in that area, was probably a factor. I first saw them this year on Thursday September 25; so scheduled in observance of Rosh Hashanah. Bud 4 came up to my house and I drove to Poppy Yoder where we met Bud 2. My first viewing of the 4-0 Knights caused me to note: “The Knights are as advertised. They are talented, strong, deep, fast, and good!” The Pennridge Rams were 3-1 and on the opening drive managed a field goal and 3-0 advantage. A while later the Knights converted a screen pass to a long TD and got the lead 7-3. Not long after that on another Knights’ possession, the QB dropped the ball, but scooped it up and bolted around the right side and up field for another TD; 14-3 Knights. Before the half ended a punt return for a TD highlighted the speed of these Knights and at the half it was 21-3; and over although not conceded yet.
Another third quarter score by North Penn made it 28-3 and Bud 4 and I hit the road; traffic would be considerable in the confined in-town Poppy Yoder setting at games’ end. Bud 2 had already left. Just out of the parking spot we heard the crowd roar for another Knight punt-return TD and a 35-10 final. My car radio faded on WNPV and I do not know what the final Ram score was.
The other Knights game I saw was at Pennsbury on a Saturday afternoon homecoming game 10/25/2003. I soloed, but Bud 1 and Bud 4 were soon with me. This one was a close game to halftime, in doubt at the half, 21-19 North Penn. I noted in my records that Pennsbury had good drives in the first half against the stiff Knights’ D, but that, “without a passing attack to keep the D honest, the Knights’ adjusted in the second half and completely shut down the Falcons”. The Knights’ had two TD passes (Hearns to Oliver 16 and 65 yards), an 87-yard Akins gallop, 27-yard jaunt by QB Hearns, and two short TDs, 7 yards by Akins, and 2 yards by Casertano.
This supreme Knights edition went on to beat Easton 38-21 for the state semi, and handled Pittsburgh Central Catholic 37-10 in Hershey for a state title.
This PCC team did not come into the title match unscathed, having suffered a regular season loss to Woodland Hills 48-49. But they avenged that in the playoffs 19-0, and were 13-1 coming in. Along the playoff trail they had defeated names everyone that knows PA high school football are familiar with – McKeesport 44-14, North Hills 24-6, State College 30-0, and Upper Saint Clair 42-10, along with the Woody High win. It was just the Knights very special team and year.
So, a third Suburban One League team earned a state championship, a fourth from District One, and the first AAAA from Montgomery County. It was also the last District One State Championship in Class 4A to the present.
Pennsylvania Football News was now offering state all star teams in all four classes and first, second, and third teams offense and defense.
North Penn’s Kevin Akins was 2nd team RB; and on defense Jim Casertano was 1st team specialist, and Deanco Oliver DB and Jeff Ball LB 2nd team defense.
Also locally Conwell-Egan’s Steve Slaton, as a junior, made 3rd team RB.
I am sure I felt at the time that since I now was retired the doors would open wide to games everywhere I could get to as all days were “off days” and trips could be planned regularly; and perhaps 1996 could be repeated some year.
But that is not the way it worked.
Pennsylvania Football News annual resource guides.
Don Black’s various individual high school history books.
Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball
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