Looking Back at Sixty-Five Seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football (Part 8 of 30)
Looking Back at Sixty-Five Seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football.
For the 1998 season I noted in July that I had a scheduled pre-season school visitation date already but I made no further notes about it. Once we started doing this, we continued for years until it finally stopped. Since this would be the 6th season I am assuming that Bud 2 and I made the day.
This year Betty (Mrs. Bob) Hart dropped a league pass off for me with my wife at the bank, about the third week of the season. I first had it at the September 18th game I attended.
For reference and possibly those not seeing earlier editions of this saga, let me remind the reader that my company at games was organized, and for reference I call them Bud (for buddy) and they are numbered for the sequence in which I met them or when they started coming to games:
Bud 1 – a Bensalem elderly gentleman (79 this season) I had met at Neshaminy games in the 1960s, and was reunited with him at a game in 1985. I never saw him anywhere but high school football games.
Bud 2 – I met in 1987 at a CB West game through his father, who also used to go to games, an unnumbered buddy that passed on in 1993. Bud 2 lived in Hatfield near Lansdale.
Bud 3 – My brother in law from Lambertville. Knew him long before he got interested in high school football in 1991, of course, but he got me to Berwick for games; he was originally from near there.
Bud 4 – An old classmate of mine still living in Morrisville. Saw him at games for years, but just hooked up with him in 1997 for a long road trip playoff game. In 1998 not a “regular” yet.
Some combination of the four of us – me through Bud 3 was usually at every game.
Bud 2, Bud 3 and my nephew and niece joined me at Doylestown for the Spring Ford at CB East season opener. I knew little of the Pioneer Athletic Conference (PAC), but I noted that the Golden Rams looked good and probably capable of winning their league. CB East capitalized on two Ram fumbles deep in their own territory to win the game 14-13. The Patriots also had to stop a 2-pt conversion attempt with 46 seconds left in the game to preserve the victory. I also noted that CB East’s Bryan Scott showed signs of what he could be, but was pretty much bottled up most of the game. He made all-state as a D-back. It was a good game to start the season.
Next day at Pennsbury I joined Bud 1 and we sat behind scouting CB East coaches Larry Green, Bill Heller, and Craig Phillips. To my right were Norristown Coach Roger Grove and a crew.
To my left a Neshaminy video recording scout, and to his left Truman coach Galen Snyder, former Pennsbury all-stater from the 1985 undefeated Falcon team in his first year as HC at Truman.
I spoke with all but Coaches Grove and Snyder as I did not yet know them, but would in time. I also saw Bud 4 (to be soon) in attendance with both Al (Junior) and Len Matuza, prominent Pennsbury folks and sons of Al Matuza senior, former Falcon coach 1955-1961. Al Matuza Junior coached the Falcons 1988-1991. As normal when I logged the social end of the day, I didn’t get game details, but I noted that the Falcon’s looked “sluggish” while still beating Archbishop Ryan 21-6.
That night I soloed to Doylestown for the Bucks’ opener with Upper Darby, another team I had never seen. I was overwhelmed by the Bucks’ performance on opening night. My notes: WOW! West appears better than last year and at least this night to have no weaknesses. Offense, defense, talent, size, speed, depth, rushing, passing, kicking; it was all there tonight. In reality, it was there all season as fate would have it. It was 59-7 CB West and the Royals did not score an offensive TD. A fumbled punt return for a TD on special teams was it. Bucks’ seconds scored four times on the Royals.
I followed this three-game opening weekend with three games again the second week of the season. With company at all I saw Council Rock 3 Bensalem 0 in double overtime; Norristown 19 Pennsbury 17; and CB East 35 Neshaminy 0.
Of course, CB West was the defending state champion and the team to beat again in 1998, but the surprise team was Norristown who would post an 11-2 season, both losses to CB West. Under Mike Pettine Jr. the Knights of North Penn went 9-3 with only one loss to Norristown and two to CB West. CB East had a nice 7-3 season with their three losses Norristown 10-12; North Penn 6-28; and CB West 20-42.
Council Rock had a winning 7-4 season and Dave Sanderson did a nice job at Tennent, posting an 8-4 season. That was about it.
Neshaminy was only 3-7 as Coach Schmidt did not yet have the program where he wanted it. And Pennsbury posted a record poor 3-8 season. By that I mean it was their worst season since 1954 (2-5-2); 44 years between and back then my 4th high school season.
I was still concentrating on the Central Bucks schools and saw West 9 times and East 7 times. For West it was just to enjoy well-executed football, and for East it was primarily for the friendships we had established with Coaches Green, Heller, Phillips, Schino and Rittenhouse.
Mike Pettine senior was asked in interviews after his eventual retirement about which team was his “best”.
Both truthfully and diplomatically, he said it was difficult to pin down because of the different elements for different fine teams. He casually mentioned a few that might qualify, and the only one I remember is the 1991 team because it won the first state championship for West.
But in my years watching the Bucks’ (from 1987), this 1998 squad had to be high on the list. One reason was that they had one of the best offensive lines that I ever saw play in my time; until and through1998 for sure.
The Bucks’ linemen were Ben Carber, 6-3, 310; Jon Wilson 6-3, 255; Joe Wilson 6-4, 280; and Chris Havener 6-5, 285; all Pettine-Mike Carey-coached, and talented. West had 30 players that weight squatted 400 pounds. Assistant Head Coach Carey was defensive coordinator, offensive line coach and weight room man. Anyone following high school football from the 1990’s to 2015 likely knows of this man’s acumen. By 2014 he had coached or advised at three different state champion programs.
The bruising fullback era continued for the Bucks’, as 6-6 235 pound junior Dustin Picciotti followed in the Swett-Armstrong slipstream. Sophomore RB-DB Dave Camburn at 5-10 was a speedy and efficient back on both sides of the ball. Bryan Buckley was senior LB at 6-1 220 and his name was frequently heard on defensive stops. Mike Orihel was a sophomore QB at 6-2 165 beginning a three-year run in that position. Junior Bryan Colahan, 6-3 215 was a fine defensive stalwart at linebacker. Phil DiGiacomo QB-DB, a sophomore 6’ 190 would be prominent for three years for the Bucks’. Ted Kinyon, Andrew Elsing, Bob Warden, Angelo Palena, and Bob Bowser were names of prominence either this year or the next few. Handling the kicking duties (both punting and placekicking) very capably this season was Bob Tumelty, junior, 6’ 160. Talented, smartly-coached, and disciplined described the West program’s athletes at that era and they were a joy to follow.
And follow them I did in 1998, the opener mentioned with Upper Darby, then wins at home with Pennsbury 41-0 and Neshaminy 42-14. Then it was time for another Pettine-Pettine duel between West 5-0 and North Penn 5-0. This was at Crawford Stadium in the rain. The opening score was a CB West wet-ball fumble that popped up in the air and was grabbed by number 50 for North Penn and returned 68 yards for a score. The PAT was missed and it was 6-0 Knights. West answered with a sustained drive and capping Picciotti 6-yard blast. The Tumelty PAT made it 7-6 West. Then, just before the half, the Knights ran a direct snap to the fullback in a tight T-formation who hit Fitzpatrick with a 17-yard strike. A 2-pt PAT pass attempt was close, but dropped. The half ended 12-7 Knights.
CB West got the second half kickoff and proceeded with their ground and pound ball-control scheme, eventually Picciotti capped a drive with a 4-yard blast. The PAT attempt was muffed, but the Bucks still led 13-12 which would be the final score. It would be the closest Junior would ever get to beating pop.
After this game I took a three-week break from West as they met and beat Bensalem 62-7; Truman 35-0; and Council Rock in a good game 21-17. Now it was time for the annual CB West 9-0 sister school duel with CB East 7-2.
Thanks to my brother-in-law, Bud 3, for the first (and only) time ever we had reserved seats for this game. They were compliments of a friend of his where he worked, who lived in the CB East school district.
It was low seats, visitors’ side at about the scoreboard-end 30 yard line. The day was cool and breezy with showers expected, there was one; but thankfully not too long or recurring. CB West dominated this one from the start 42-20, chasing many of the crowd early. I did not detail this one in my written logs.
Our whole posse, plus my nephew and a fast friend of his took in the District One Quad-A semi final rematch between North Penn and CB West. My only pre-game comment was that the game would not be as close as the first meeting, a 13-12 West victory at Crawford Stadium. The Knights’ received and had two 10-yard first down runs plus a few more gains; then the first of three NP turnovers put the West offense on the field. They drove but had to settle for a Tumelty field goal 3-0 CB West. With only 1:57 left in the half, Picciotti had a short TD burst and it was 10-0. But the Bucks forced a Knights punt and then went 62-yards in 3 or 4 plays to take 16-0 lead at halftime. It was over, but no one knew it. The final was 29-8 CB West.
The District One AAAA Championship went through Doylestown literally and figuratively as the West school was there and CB West was playing. Many do not realize that the stadium just across the back street from the school does not belong to the school, but the Borough of Doylestown. A rematch with speedy Norristown was the Bucks’ challenge this night. The Bucks’ had won a good game back on September 25th in Norristown 28-13, giving Mike Pettine Senior his 300th career win. West got off to an early 7-0 lead on a Picciotti plunge, but then seemed a little flat, and the Eagles’ Swittenburg broke a 60+ yard run to the house; 7-7. This fired up the Bucks who answered quickly on a Dave Edwards long run to go up 14-7. Another Picciotti score gave the Bucks’ a 21-7 halftime bulge. Picciotti outscored the Eagles’ 14-7 in the second half the game ended up 35-14 CB West. Sometime before the following week we learned that the eastern semi-final would be played at Council Rock, right in my “back yard”, excellent!
The next day, Saturday November 21st, a pre-planned trip to Hershey to see the District 3 Quad-A Championship was taken. Plans for this had been made when my old classmate (Bud 4) had stopped by my house one day when I was raking leaves and asked if I, and Bud 2, might want to go. We three went and it was Central Dauphin (11-0) in a rematch with Cumberland Valley (10-1), their one loss regular season to Central Dauphin. There were about 8,000 in the stadium for a good hard-fought, defensive struggle. The CD Rams constantly threatened in the first half with at least 5 deep penetrations, but only a field goal resulted in a 3-0 halftime edge.
The Eagles’ scored twice in the second half to lead 14-3 before a fourth quarter CD screen pass got a TD, but that was it, final 14-10 Cumberland Valley.
This Thanksgiving Bud 3 and I trekked to Tennent for the Archbishop Wood-Tennent turkey day game. We left Lambertville in heavy rain, but it was predicted to let up and it did. The Panthers handled the Vikings 21-7 this turkey day.
Thanksgiving Saturday saw a packed Council Rock stadium for Abington Heights at CB West in the Eastern 4A semi-final. Bud 1 and I met there and originally sat on the away side, but the Comets’ brought a huge following, and as we were definitely for West, we thought we had better switch to the home side of the field. My brother in law’s (Bud 3) wife dropped him off prior to game time and I don’t know how he found us in that mob, but he did.
The Comets’ were big and burly and came to play. They got off to a 3-0 lead. Both their offense and defense looked dominant early. Midway in the second period Heights was set for a second field goal attempt. The snap was high and the QB-holder retrieved it and lofted a pass to the left corner of the entrance-side end zone. CB West’s sophomore speedster Dave Camburn picked it off on the goal line and raced 100 yards up the away sideline to give West a 7-3 lead after the Tumelty PAT. The half ended that way, anybody’s game.
The second half was all Bucks’ and it fell apart for the Comets’. The score mounted to 30-3 before the Comets’ got a valid score against the Bucks’ first defense, but West answered with a long Picciotti burst to climb to 37-10, and that would be the final.
The eastern final was at Neshaminy, another stadium close-enough for me, and this meant I would get to see the Eastern Final, state semi final between the CB West Bucks’ and Parkland Trojan’s who had eliminated Cumberland Valley. My buddies 1 and 2 and I took this one in. I only noted that CB West scored on their first three possessions and never looked back, winning the game 34-7. For me season over!
The total this season was 27 games, and 5 PIAA playoff games. Plenty of company and four new teams – Spring Ford, Upper Darby, Abington Heights, and Interboro which I saw regular season at Tennent.
As I reflect back on these years, I see what I didn’t realize as it happened regarding my buddies participation. Why hadn’t we followed CB West to a state championship game in the 1990’s? Had any one of the four suggested it I would have gone for sure. My brother-in-law (Bud 3) and I planned for the 1991 Altoona trip. But the distance and predicted bad weather deterred us. Bud 2 was flatly “not interested” in state title games. Bud 1 was getting up there in years and had a few rough years ahead yet before he seemed to recover even later. Bud 4 was the “trip” man, so far inspiring all of the Wilkes-Barre and all but one Hershey trips. But he was not so much interested in CB West, seeing a game of theirs once in a while, depending on the opponent.
This season was the first switch from Altoona to Hershey for the championship games and CB West set records in playing almost a perfect game, scoring on all 8 possessions; the last two by the subs.
Talented but undersized New Castle was plummeted 56-7 in a record-setting performance. This is another reason I think this was indeed one of the best CB West teams of all time. I saw the game on TV.
The New Castle Red Hurricanes had a rough go around this time, but was a storied, formidable program through the years. Through 2013 they were fifth on the PA all-time wins list at 710, the top western school behind four eastern powers. Their first multi-game undefeated season came in 1907 when they yielded 2 points and were 7-0 with 5 shutouts and a forfeit win. They strung three straight undefeated seasons (with two ties) 1922 through 1924. Dr. Saylor ranked them number one in 1924. The 1932 and 1933 seasons were both 11-0-0, earning Dr. Saylor’s 2nd and 1st spots in the state respectively. The Red Hurricane’s 1970’s era ranking was 9th in the state at 81-20-5. The 1990’s was the roughest of all decade breakdowns for New Castle, at 42-63, their first truly losing decade. This is most likely due to the city’s high population of 48,834 of 1950 declining to 23,273 for 2010. That is a 53% drop in 6 decades. Such is the story in a lot of western PA unfortunately.
The season of 1998 was the last for multiple games for my brother in law (Bud 3) who had made 63 games with us including 14 in each of 1991 and 1992; and most importantly got me to Berwick for games. From 1999 on he would do Thanksgiving games mainly with an occasional extra game here and there.
Sources: Don Black’s High School Football Histories
Pennsylvania Football News Resource Guides
Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball
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