Looking Back at Sixty-Five Seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football (Part 7 of 30)
“Here’s a look back at 65 – seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football through the eyes of Kmac”
I made my first-ever job change after 38 consecutive years technically with one organization, but through a succession of mergers. February 2, 1997 I began with a new bank, but for a boss who had moved there that I had worked for a number of years. We knew each other for a long time and worked well together; he had kept in touch with me about joining him in the future. This eliminated the daily trip to Delaware four days a week and after a few months starting in Doylestown I would be back in Newtown, about 5 miles from home. It was a tremendous move and a win-win for all as it turns out in the end. I finished my career right there in Newtown 6 years later.
As early as March 8, 1997 I noted that it was expected that Council Rock would have lights for the 1997 season, a major change from daytime football at the Rock. A bit of surprise was that after two seasons at Tennent, Mike Pettine Jr. was now the coach at North Penn.
Among numerous other musings about the previous and future season I noted that struggling Bensalem was suffering from low turnouts; the first such negative notes that I could remember.
Our 2-party pre season field visits took us this year to Bensalem, Neshaminy, Council Rock, and CB East before lunch; and Pennsbury and a Morrisville drive-by after lunch. It was in light rain and at Bensalem we were given league passes again, and at CB East we had sideline conversations with Head Coach Larry Green and Bill Heller. There was no one at Falcon Field and Morrisville had about 13 players practicing.
The season of 1997 had to have seemed dull by comparison to the great 1996 season, but two highlights were the CB West story and the North Penn story.
Most teams I follow had mediocre seasons – Abington 1-10; CB East 5-5 (officially); Council Rock 6-4; Truman 1-10; Neshaminy 4-6 (officially); Norristown 5-7; Pennsbury 5-5; Bristol 2-8; Morrisville 6-5; Wood 6-4; Conwell-Egan 0-10; and Tennent 3-8 (officially). Bensalem had a good year for the era at 7-3 (officially).
Neshaminy had posted an on-field performance of 7-3, but had to give back 3 wins for an ineligible player surfacing. Most of the adjustments above were because of that, but Tennent’s was because of a Cheltenham ineligible situation.
Nevertheless, I did see various game combinations and these included Bensalem 5 times, Neshaminy 6, Pennsbury 6, CB East 7, and CB West 9. There were a smattering of other teams and a 4-consecutive North Penn string, an anomaly.
My brother-in-law (Bud 3) had another go-around with my favorite hobby again this season. He, my nephew and I chose to open with Cumberland Valley at CB West this year. CV was a District 3 power with a state title the year after West’s’ and West was uncharacteristically jittery if you consider inconsistency, fumbles, penalties, and inefficiency; jitters. The Eagles led 6-0 at the half. But West got the Dave Armstrong show in gear the second half and “power-footballed” the Eagles 21-6 in the end.
For the most part we will follow this season through CB West and the four consecutive NP games.
The third week of the season I was at Falcon Field with Bud 3 and my nephew and Bud 1 for the invasion of CB West. I noted that the Bucks’ were now rated 5th in the nation, 1st in the east, by USA Today. This was the Dave Armstrong year, and he was outstanding on both offense (FB) and defense (LB). He made first team all-state in the latter capacity. He scored all three TDs today to blank the Falcons 21-0. This gave him 10 of the 12 the team had scored so far this season.
On September 27, it was the much anticipated CB West (4-0) and Neshaminy (3-1). It was before the ineligible situation arose for the Skins, and the week before this game they had an unexpected loss at Council Rock 14-17, negating the battle of unbeaten team’s anticipated earlier. Homecoming, bright sun, and big crowd made for pleasant surroundings. Today it was Armstrong, Armstrong, Armstrong, I wrote in my game notes. They knew he would carry it. He did and they could not stop him. After three quarters it was 41-12 Bucks and we left to beat the crowd. The subs were playing and we missed no scoring.
This set up the next week’s CB West – North Penn game as the battle of the unbeatens and more; much more. Both were 4-0, but the Pettine Sr. – Pettine Jr. matchup was a national happening. In Doylestown, I was joined by Bud 2 and wife, Bud 3 and son and daughter, and an estimated total of 7,000, TV 6, TV 29, and USA Today for this much hyped match. But it was business as usual for the Bucks’. The Knights were mistake-prone and West controlled the ball. Two picks and a fumble recovery were converted into CB West scores. It was 21-0 after one quarter as the Knights had the ball for 6 plays and 2 punts in the first. It was 35-0 at the half and at the end of three quarters, but the quarter ended with the Knights on the Bucks’ one yard line. In the fourth they converted that score and got a second against subs later and it ended 35-14 Bucks’. Both Pettine’s said they were “glad it’s over!” from various sources. Many times it was reported that Mike senior said he hated having to play against his son.
I soloed to Doylestown for CB East hosting Abington and it turned into another nice social experience. I spoke with coaches Green and Heller pre-game, and spoke to Council Rock coaches Mike Ortman and Bruce Stansbury post game, who were scouting the Ghosts’; their next opponent. And I again met Dave Armstrong, CB West star who I had met and spoken with the prior season at that Sunday CB East-Bensalem game.
Dave pointed out his teammates with him who were Carber, Volitis, Buckley, Tillman, and Potter. I met a lot of football talent that night. All this negated notes regarding the game, but it was 31-7 CB East.
I met up with Bud 1 at Falcon Field the next week for a Friday 2:30 kickoff due to the Jewish holiday time constraints. This was the second North Penn game of four in a row after the loss to CB West. Pennsbury was 10-0 for the last 10 seasons versus North Penn. This may surprise some modern readers who know the block Pettine-Beck has had on Snyder in recent years. We were feeling that this was about to change this season. It was on an 80+ degree day, in almost mid-October. At halftime the Falcon’s held a 10-7 edge. But the second half was a 28-0 Knights’ show. They went up 14-10 on a sustained drive for a score and PAT. Then a long pick return for a TD made it 21-10 and the Falcon’s never recovered. It ended 35-10 Knights.
Next Friday night I traveled to Bud 2’s house and enjoyed his wife’s fine spaghetti dinner before he and I motored to Crawford Stadium and CB East-North Penn. It was an important game for playoff considerations. It was expected to be good, and close, and it was. My Bud and I were asked to do a few words for the CB East TV organization as we were pointed out by the East coaches to have followed football for many years; a rather unique experience. The game was even at 7-7, and at the half 14-14. Both offenses proved efficient on sustained drives with few penalties. With 8 minutes left in the game East was up by 10; 24-14. We knew it was not over, but were leaving games about this point to beat traffic, having seen football, and with having no stake in who won. The Knights scored twice in the last 8 minutes to win the game 27-24.
I repeated the visit and had a second dinner at Bud 2’s for the Neshaminy at North Penn game the following Friday. Bud 1, who primarily followed Neshaminy and Bensalem made the trip out and we hooked up. The improving Redskins under Coach Mark Schmidt had a decent running game and passing attack to get the job done close. They took a 10-point halftime lead. North Penn took the second half kickoff and a “patented Pettine drive” soon made it 10-7. Later the Knights moved the ball again and took a 14-10 lead. Neshaminy quickly answered with a second long pass TD, missed the PAT, and it was 16-14 Neshaminy. We started to leave and missed nothing; that was the final score.
I also caught Bensalem’s final four games in a row as they were having a good 7-3 tour and Bud 1 followed them first and foremost. On the first of the last two games of the season, Bud 2 and I trekked down early enough to greet the CB East busses when they arrived. We drew the normal remark from the coaches, “You guys are everywhere!” I can’t tell you how many times I heard that in the 1990’s. The Owls got out to a 20-0 lead at the half. They were for real this season. The second half East adjusted and closed the gap to 20-14. With 20 seconds left in the game, the Patriots had the ball on the Owls’ six yard line with no timeouts left. The Owls held for their first victory over CB East since the 1986 start of this Suburban One association. We of course spoke with Bob Hart, Tom Adams (Sr), and with Bud 1. Since we spent so much time on the East side early we didn’t sit where Bud 1 normally sat, just under the home side press box.
When the Ghosts play on Halloween, you just have to be there. And Abington was at Bensalem the following week. I soloed down, but knew Bud 1 would be there as always, and he was. I again spoke with Hart and Adams, who were seemingly always there also. Both Bensalem and Abington featured speed and poor defense, so we expected a track meet. But the Owls defense had tightened up and the mistake-prone Ghosts coughed up the ball on four fumbles and two interceptions, so it was a wipe out 36-0 Bensalem. The tricks were on the Ghosts’ tonight.
CB West at 10-0 was the only local playoff team and would have home-field advantage for the two district playoff games if they won the first. I liked that arrangement; it assured me two more games if they won the first.
Hatboro-Horsham was the opponent for the semi final. They were likely 7-3, but possibly something close to that. They ended the season 9-4, including this loss to CB West, and I do not know if they had a contingency game before Thanksgiving, and if they still played T-day versus Upper Moreland. Bud 2 met me at the game. Anyway, the Hatters were no match for the Bucks size, strength, speed, and experience. It was 41-0 at some point and the Hatters put one in on the subs, final 41-8.
The next Friday night D1 final was pushed back to Saturday night because of the rain and wet field; I know for a fact because I was there Friday night early and watched a gang of officials meet in the center of the field and move the game.
It was cooler, but clear Saturday night and the D1 Championship foe was nemesis Plymouth-Whitemarsh who would try to knock off the Bucks for the THIRD time in a row. And the Colonials were coming in off of a 62-24 demolishing of Downingtown the prior week. But the ground-trip minded Bucks’ didn’t need one pass attempt in their crusade this evening. Armstrong and Potter could not be shut down on O. Along with Warden the three posted 384 yards on the ground and West was practically mistake-free. Five long ball-control drives leading to scores kept the ball from the P-W offense. A 13-0 first quarter lead became 21-7 at halftime. But the Colonials of this era were still the real deal. In the second half they showed their speed and quick-strike capability and narrowed the game to a 28-22 West bulge with about 7 minutes remaining. A heavy snow squall began and I began my departure. Dave Armstrong’s 2-yard plunge and Corey Potters 2-pt PAT sealed it 36-22 with 3:15 remaining. But, even so the Colonials fought. They drove to the West 5-yard line and a 4th down pass was incomplete with about 10 seconds left in the game.
A new twist of fate got me to the next West playoff game I had no thoughts I would see. It was to be Saturday 11/22, and on Friday night 11/21 my wife called me from the bank in late afternoon and said an old classmate of mine was in the bank and wanted to drive to Wilkes-Barre for the game but had no one to go with for such a haul. He wondered if I wanted to go.
Once again it took me a nanosecond to say yes, but I thought about Bud 2 and called the driver and asked if it would be ok if Bud 2 came along. I would have him come to my house and we would meet at the driver’s instruction.
My classmate was well known to me through almost the full 12 years of school, but he was an athlete and I was not and we only “knew each other” through school. I had seen him on numerous occasions at other games since high school and we would always speak and trade pleasantries. It would take awhile but he was to become Bud 4.
We went to the stadium in Wilkes-Barre (I had never been to Wilkes-Barre before) with no trouble and I guess this was at the W-B G. A. R. school, but possibly used by several local schools. The foe was Wyoming Valley West from District 2. We met with a Berwick guy who stayed with us and while rooting for opposite teams found no problems. He gave us his number for reference to anything about Berwick we might want to know and I still have it but have not used it.
The maroon and gold clad Spartans ran a wide open offense, but the Bucks’ D was ready and didn’t allow much. And typical Pettine, the Bucks’ unveiled an aerial attack missing almost all season from the Bucks’ arsenal. They still had the solid running game working and the addition of aerials to wide-open receivers led to 28-0 halftime lead for the Bucks’. Later the Bucks’ second and third stringers allowed two scores, but by then the Bucks had 35 and it was 35-14. The Bucks then tacked on a defensive score and it was 42-14. With exactly 1:00 minute left in the game, the Spartans got to the halfway point, final 42-21 Bucks’.
This Thanksgiving, Bud 2, my brother in law (Bud 3) and I returned to my alma mater for the Bristol-Morrisville T-Day classic. Of course Bud 4 was there as he had remained in Morrisville, had children in the school, and supported all the Bulldog activities. We probably saw him that day, but likely stood in the good-size crowd along the fence. It was the 70th renewal of this game. The Bulldogs were down 8-18 in the 4th quarter due to, as I entered in my notes, “no sustained offense and many bone-headed mistakes”. (I was hard on my alma mater and the fact that the program had fallen so far from when I attended there was psychologically difficult; the reason I did not see more Morrisville games). But the Dogs had some speed and talent. We three stooges were leaving when; the Bulldog’s Juan Jones had a long breakaway dash to close the gap to 14-18. I was home in my music room (music/computer room now) when I heard on the radio the Bulldog long pass/run hookup that won the game for Morrisville 20-18.
I wanted to mention this game because of the tie-in that in 2005, this Bud 4 of Morrisville and I would journey out to Millersville University to see former Bulldog Juan Jones break the 1,000 yard rushing mark there.
I don’t remember who inspired who now, but Bud 4 and I decided to repeat our trek to Wilkes-Barre Thanksgiving Saturday to see the Eastern final between Berwick and Manheim Central in the same stadium we had seen CB West – Wyoming Valley West the week before.
It would be the fifth meeting of these two annual contenders, and the Dawgs had won all prior four. Supposedly a close, even matchup, it proved that the Dawgs were superior again this day.
Senior Dawg QB Jeremy Chapin had experience over sophomore QB Jeff Smoker from Manheim Central, who I noted “will be a good one”; already was. Solid in all areas the Dawgs’ led 30-0 by half and still at the three-quarters mark. We shuffled out with about 8 minutes left in the game knowing it was over. We learned later that it ended 37-0 Berwick.
I don’t recall now, nor do I have any notes on why we chose to return to Wilkes-Barre instead of following the local CB West Bucks to Hershey for Central Dauphin the same day. The Bucks’-Rams’ was certainly a closer, better game 27-24 Bucks’ in overtime. Then the Bucks went on to their third try for a state championship and won 44-20 over Upper Saint Clair. It was still in Altoona and we were not going there. I was able to see it live via a cable TV presentation.
And so my 47th season came to an end. I made 25 games this season, down a bit from the past two seasons. But I saw 4 PIAA playoffs, no new teams, 1 new stadium (Wilkes-Barre twice). I again saw two state champion’s regular season and playoffs – CB West and Berwick. Ironically, it was Berwick’s last hurrah as state title winner through 2015. I had a league pass and made pre-season visits, all elements that made these golden seasons so exceptional to my way of thinking. It was my 9th consecutive “super” season and I did not think it would, nor did I want it to, ever end.
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