Looking Back at Sixty-Five Seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football (Part 6 of 30)
“Here’s a look back at 65 – seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football through the eyes of Kmac”
Little did I know that the 1996 season would be the most exciting season I had to that time, and among the top three high school football seasons of my life. For January through August I had worked in Philadelphia in the Penn Mutual Building behind Independence Hall, and became a SEPTA Rail commuter for 8 months. This changed over Labor-Day weekend as noted below.
On August 12 I again noted that Bob Hart was in the bank and again told my wife he had a pass for me this season. This year our school practice visitation was too late. Schools were already in and practice was only after school. But we did see Bob at Bensalem this year and he gave both me and my Bud 2 a Suburban One League pass.
Bud 2’s employment situation had changed, he was now out of work entirely and while looking for employment was free for the high school football season. And the week after Labor Day I was transferred from Center City Philadelphia to Delaware to work, and when I did I negotiated a work week of 4 ten-hour days with Friday’s off for two reasons. One was that it lessened the drive up and down I-95 by one day a week, and two, it opened up Fridays for high school football travel. And another change was that my brother-in-law, Bud 3 was leaving the sport slowly and was only at three games this season, but he was very instrumental in helping me with a particular major game decision.
I opened solo at CB East hosting Monsignor Bonner Friday August 30. This was where traditionally I would be with my Lansdale Bud 2’s late father; I missed him. I had only seen the Friars’ once before, in 1976. This was to be a special year for CB East, perhaps their best since I picked them up for records in 1988. They won 35-7 and I wrote the names Ficzko, Mitchell, Moosbrugger, Scott, and QB Borstein as players to watch for the Patriots.
The next day was the Falcon’s of Pennsbury’s opener at home. Bud 2 motored from Hatfield and we joined Bud 1 for the game. All three of us had league passes, plus again through my wife’s Pennsbury contacts at the bank I had two complimentary tickets, so we could have had a party of 8 for that game! In addition this game set off the most amazing round-robin of good teams for a season that I would ever witness.
The Falcon’s were hosting Parkland High School. This would be my first-ever look at the Trojans. It was a good close even game and a Pennsbury victory was only averted by a Parkland interception at the goal line with less than 4 minutes left in the game; final 20-18 Parkland. I wrote that the Falcon’s were big, (how many years were they not?), and that FB Mendenhall should give opponents fits. I also noted that I would not favor them over their next foe, CB West.
I soloed to Doylestown the following Friday night to see the Falcon’s – Bucks’ game that I had predicted at Pennsbury. Hurricane Fran was dumping copious amounts of rain, but off-and-on, and the wind was not high, just breezy.
This looked like another CB West possible championship team, big, fast, and experienced. They dispatched the Falcons’ 30-6 as I had forewarned.
On Thursday night September 12, Pennsbury severely tested CB East in Doylestown. For some reason the Patriots were flat with 4 lost fumbles and inconsistent offense. With the East score first, the progression was 7-0, 7-3, 7-6, and 7-9. As can be seen the Falcons used three field goals to establish a 2-point lead over a sputtering Patriot offense. With only 3-1/2 minutes left in the game the Patriots were facing a fourth and 9 from the Falcon 27-yard line. Borstein lofted a 27-yard strike to the end zone and the catch was made. I was still not writing all names in my notes but the PAT kick was good and the only kicker listed in a program I have was John Schumann. Final 14-9 Patriots in a good game, for suspense anyway.
Another oddity, the type of thing I delight in, happened in the Friday night (9/20)-Saturday afternoon (9/21) games. On Friday night CB West beat Neshaminy 35-8. On Saturday afternoon CB East beat Council Rock 35-8. Exact same score. I had company both games as my Hatfield buddy was making numerous games due to his unemployment.
The following week it almost repeated and it was getting uncanny. CB East beat Abington 26-0, and CB West beat North Penn 27-0. Both were Friday night and we were at the game in Crawford Stadium. This left both Central Bucks schools 5-0 and on a collision course.
The October weekend of Friday 18-Sunday 20 was set asunder by a strong northeast storm that disrupted schedules greatly. Games were rescheduled for Sunday afternoon and night and Monday afternoon and night. As a result I journeyed to Doylestown for my first-ever public league game on a Sunday. Bensalem (0-7) was at CB East (7-0) and while obviously a close game was not expected, the social experience made the day worthwhile. Crowds were very slim on both sides, the field still wet and no bands. I made no notes on the game won by CB East 42-14.
But I got a chance to talk with Bensalem folks Bob Hart (AD) who again had provided me a league pass, and Tom Adams (Sr.), an Owl hall-of-famer and gentleman I spoke to at Bensalem on numerous occasions. He was also the father of Tom Jr. who coached at Bensalem and I would meet and talk with regularly later. Owl Coach Ron Buckley told me that fully 15 players didn’t make the switch to Sunday and star Alex Houston arrived just before game time. I also spoke with Coaches Larry Green and Bill Heller of East; Larry, used to seeing Bud 2 every time he saw me, asked “where’s —-?” I got to know Bill Heller well, he used to operate his fishing interest near my Washington Crossing home and he said if I ever wanted to sell the home, please contact him.
I still see him occasionally, last summer (2015) he stopped to chat while passing through. Finally, I also spoke with CB West star Dave Armstrong who was watching from the stands. He impressed me as a fine young man, and was certainly a fine athlete.
On Friday Nov 11, I was rejoined for the first time this season by my brother-in-law, or Bud 3, for the annual Pennsbury-Neshaminy classic at Heartbreak Ridge. The Skins (7-3) handled the Falcons (5-5) this year 39-21, but had to score three times in the last 4 minutes to do it!
The reason that Bud 3’s reappearance was so important was this: I was very negative on attempting to get to the CB East – CB West game. Both teams were entering 9-0. The hype was huge and ominous. It was a battle for the league title, a battle to stay unbeaten, a battle for playoff position, it was homecoming, it was a natural rivalry, and a crowd of 20,000 was expected (which that stadium would not have accommodated). I would not even consider trying to use my league pass to get in. But my brother-in-law talked me into giving it a try, and we journeyed to Doylestown at 4:30 for the 7:00 kickoff. We arrived just as the traditional parade for the occasion was passing by and I parked in my normal spot (on a street a half block from the school); first problem solved. We got in the ticket line for $5.00 SRO tickets on the home side of the field and were about 14th in line, so we liked our chances.
While SRO means standing-room-only of course, the smaller portable end-zone bleachers erected for the occasion were available and being early we obtained seats, or to stand if necessary on these portable conveniences. The crowd was estimated at 8,000 to 12,000 as it turned out. The game ended as all but three games had in the 26-year prior history of the two schools meetings; CB West won 21-3. CB East had two wins and there was a tie previously. I just noted that the Bucks’ won with their usual workmanlike job, capitalizing on mistakes, and making few. West held when they had to, and battered the East D with Dave Armstrong.
I had seen the two best local teams in the area 7 times each to this point. Over at Tennent, Mike Pettine Jr. in his last season there led the Panthers to a fine 9-3 tour and I did see them twice also. Neshaminy posted a 7-3 season in Mark Schmidt’s second go-around; a nice turn-around after his initial 1-10 tour. I saw five of their games.
Weather again played a part in the first-round (semi-final) District One playoffs. Both CB East and CB West drew home games so they were originally scheduled for Friday-night, Saturday-night in Doylestown. Heavy wind and rain and a possible tornado threat moved the first game to a Saturday afternoon- Saturday night doubleheader at War Memorial Field.
Neither Bud 1 nor 2 were interested in these games, Bud 3 was in Lancaster, my wife was in Connecticut, so what was I to do? No way possibly miss these games; that’s what! The opener was Downingtown at CB East and I expected a Whippet win. They did, but it was a very good game and close and see-saw; physical, and two defensive plays were the margin of victory, pick-sixes by Whippet stars Dan Ellis and Arlen Harris.
Although they did not occur as the sequence of the win, they were the difference as the two offenses and special teams played to basically a 25-25 stalemate; but the final score was 37-25 Downingtown.
I had to buzz home and eat and feed the dog and take her out for a while before returning to Doylestown and the nightcap.
I got back about quarter to six, the gates were open and the crowd was going to be considerably larger than the afternoon game. CB West’s opponent would be Plymouth-Whitemarsh who was a particular fly in the Bucks’ ointment in this era. The Bucks’ had only beaten them by a point twice, and lost to them 0-16, (or 0-12, I have seen both scores), in the 1995 playoffs.
The Bucks’ rarely lost to the same team two times in a row and I had high hope for the Bucks’. But the Colonials were the real deal. They appeared highly motivated and their offense shifted multiple times on each play and had the West defense jumping all over to adjust. As a result they were successful on the ground and in the air against the Bucks’. For the second time in a row the Colonials defeated the Bucks’, this time 21-16.
This set in motion the greatest string of playoff games and combination of teams and related-team interactions that I ever had the pleasure to experience. I will explain this at season’s end.
It was due to my Friday’s off and Bud 2’s unsuccessful job search so far that we were able to do what we did. We decided to trek to Downingtown for the District One AAAA Championship. This game turned out to rival my greatest game ever (Berwick-Manheim Central 37-30 in 1994). It was both of our first visits to Kottmeyer Stadium. This game was see-saw, never quit by both squads. It was 22-22 at the half. The Whippets opened second half scoring with a field goal 25-22. P-W answered with a TD and went up 29-25. Downingtown then took the score to 32-29 and 39-29, when the Colonials’ answered with a 70+ yard pass/run TD to make the score 39-36 Whippets. The score stayed that way until the final whistle.
The crowd was friendly and fun to talk with as we were “outsiders”; and the bands were great. Remember, both Bud 2 and I were former drum corps guys and we could appreciate the modern high school bands programs with sophisticated books, synchronized on field percussion, pit section percussion, brass power, dynamics, and intonation, overall general effect, and marching execution and band front and flag squad performances. It was a great social night and one of football.
The following Friday night we moved a little further out US Route 30 to Coatesville and our first time at that fine stadium. The state quarter-final matchup would be District Two’s Wilkes- Barre Coughlin (10-2) at Downingtown (11-1). When the Crusaders’ entered the field they had two linemen that looked like house trailers. They just looked huge entering the field. We both remarked that if they can play to their size, oh my.
But we both still expected a Downingtown win. But not by the score that it was. The Whippets defense looked tighter than the prior week and the always effective offense had a 21-0 first quarter lead.
Early in the second half it was 38-0 Whippets and it was before the era of the fast clock I think. The Whippets had three picks on defense. And QB Dan Ellis was pin-point on his aerials. Harris had some good, elusive runs. The final was 51-0, and it was the Whippets’ first shutout of the year.
After another Turkey-day game in Quakertown, won by the home team 34-6 over Pennridge, we repeated our past two week treks out the pike and Route 30 to Coatesville on black Friday.
The Whippets’ opponent was Parkland (13-0), whom we saw play on the opening Saturday of the season at Pennsbury. The first quarter was scoreless and then in the second Downingtown ran an end-around reverse for a 20+ yard TD, 7-0 Whippets. About 5 plays later the Trojans tied the score on a 33-yard pass to the end zone. But the game tide then became Downingtown as they slowly built the lead 13-7; 21-7; and 27-7.
After we left to beat the crowd Parkland scored again to make the final Downingtown 27-14. Arlen Harris again had a great TD run and a second one called back by a penalty.
My brother in law (Bud 3), Bud 2 and I decided to take in the Class AAA eastern final at Lehigh Goodman Stadium. It was Berwick versus Allentown Central Catholic yet again. The Vikings had two losses on the season (one to Parkland) but was responsible for the one loss on Downingtown’s slate (42-25 in the early season).
This was the season that I thought Berwick looked the biggest I had ever seen for a team, especially 3A. There were just no “small guys” on the squad. Everyone was stud-looking, and a few linemen huge. And at least the linemen for ACC were no different. Defense dominated the game on both sides. ACC took a 3-0 field goal lead. A short fumble return TD and an interception to set up a short-field TD put the Dawgs in business 6-3, and then 14-3 with the successful 2-pt conversion. Two more fourth quarter Berwick field goals made the final 20-3 Dawgs’. It was their 39th win in a row; they were in a streak.
I saw 30 games in 1996, only two short of my deliberate record in 1991. And most were far better games than those that I used for padding my record year. I saw six PIAA playoff games in two classes, the most in a season yet; and a total I would never top, at least through 2015.
But the ironic twisting of interwoven team associations is what fascinated me most this season.
First I saw the two best local teams CB East and CB West 8 times each; including West beating East.
Then I saw Downingtown beat East; and Plymouth-Whitemarsh beat West.
Next it was Downingtown over Plymouth-Whitemarsh in the D1 4A Championship game.
Downingtown over Coughlin was next. The thing here was that Coughlin had played Berwick (15-0) to a loss of only 3-6, Berwick’s arguably toughest game of the year. At least it was the closest score. Likely Berwick-Woodson was tougher, but at 26-22 Dawgs, it was one point more margin.
Next it was Downingtown over Parkland. We had seen Parkland open the season at Pennsbury, and Parkland had one of eventually three victories over Allentown Central Catholic.
Finally it was Berwick over Allentown Central Catholic. In the opener of the season ACC had handed Downingtown its only loss of the season, and then lost to Parkland. And the closeness of the Coughlin-Berwick game was related here.
Of course Downingtown and Berwick went on to win the state title this season, so we had seen two state champions play, and both eastern silver winners.
There never was or will be again a season such as this for me. But there are still delights to high school football to enjoy each and every season.
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