Looking Back at Sixty-Five Seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football (Part 9 of 30)
Looking Back at Sixty-Five Seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football.
Our pre-season visit in 1999 was brief this season, just one school- CB East where we had made so many friends of the coaching staff. It was the only staff that called us by name regularly; others did from time to time. We also visited with Bud 4 in Morrisville as we had heard he had some heart problems over the summer past.
As CB West was riding a 30-game win streak and was defending two-time state champions, I was going to follow them in 1999, but I did not venture to Upper Darby for their opener there. I do not know the story but the score was 54-27; the oddity was the four TDs given up by the Bucks’ D. Especially considering the next 12 games their opponent’s score was either 0 or 7, nothing else. They held their next 12 opponents to seven shutouts and five scores of 7. They would end up yielding just 89 points in 15 games for defensive points per game average of 5.9.
And it was pretty much a year of “CB West and all the rest” this season. Other than West’s third consecutive 15-0 season and third straight state championship; the rest of the teams I followed were pretty flat. True North Penn was 11-2 and beat St. Joes Prep 47-6. The Hawks’ were a consistently strong private program over the years with 12 PCL Championships, including the initial two in 1920 and 1921. But the Knights’ still lost to CB West twice again; their only two losses.
Mark Schmidt was steadily building might at Neshaminy and had an 8-2 season, losing only to CB West and North Penn and I saw both of those contests. Pennsbury was in the middle of the road having posted 4-6, 5-5, 5-5, 3-8, and 5-5 tours for the last five seasons. Council Rock was the only other team I followed that had a fine season at 8-3, and their losses were to Neshaminy, CB West, and North Penn. The Indians had a fine QB, Matt Verbit (2nd team all-state QB) this season, and a decent defense, but I noted that their efficiency was marred by dropped passes in the two games I saw; although Verbit’s chief target Jim Renitski usually hauled them in.
To open this season my wife journeyed with me out to Bud 2’s home and she hung out with his wife while he and I caught CB East up at Poppy Yoder with Pennridge. We greeted the busses as they got there and were in conversation for a brief time with some East Coaches. A pretty even game was expected as both clubs had young lines and East was pretty young all-around. And balanced it was: 13-6 Pennridge as the experienced Ram backs were the difference in the game.
Next day I met Bud 1 at Falcon Field for their opener with Archbishop Ryan, and he presented me with a Bucks County Lion’s All-Star game program (June 1999) AND a Suburban One League pass; he again had two. I briefly spoke with Bud 4, who went to various games exclusive of our posse yet, and the Matuza brothers again.
Also spoke to Bensalem Coach Keeney and I congratulated Council Rock HC Mike Ortman on his prior night’s opening victory over Hatboro-Horsham 31-6. As usual with so many social notes; game notes suffered as yet. But I noted that it was a good back-and-forth game into the fourth quarter. I thought the Falcons looked improved over 1998, and their kicker T. J. Cochran looked good with four field goals, punts, and kickoffs to the end zone.
On Friday 9/10 my wife and I reciprocated and had Bud 2 and wife for dinner and then he and I went to old Robert Morris Field for Kennedy-Kenrick at Morrisville. He was particularly fond of Morrisville, and of course, I had graduated from there. But he had cousins in town, and while he was not from there he spent many hours there in his early years. In fact, we once figured out that, although we met in 1987, we had been at the same Morrisville-Neshaminy game in 1959, 28 years earlier, sitting on opposite sides of the field. We met Bud 1 at the game and spoke to Bud 4 who was ALWAYS at Morrisville games.
The Bulldogs dressed 18 to 20 troops this game, but had some size and speed. Obviously the problem was fatigue with mostly 48-minute players. The crowd was nice-sized, and the game decent, a 21-12 Kennedy-Kenrick victory.
I soloed for North Penn at Pennsbury the next weekend Saturday. The Knights dominated, 42-3.
That night I met Bud 2 in Doylestown for Bensalem at CB West, another rout 44-0 Bucks’. But the idea was that I wanted to see the two top-rated teams North Penn and CB West on this same day.
The first “big game” was October 1 at Neshaminy with the Bucks’; both teams entering 4-0. I soloed and was surprised to see Bud 1, because his number one, Bensalem was home with a winnable game with Abington (they did), and he usually chose the Owls one and Skins two. Yet again the genius of Mike Pettine Senior was in evidence. Speedy Dave Camburn was out with an injury. QB Orihel was just back from an injury; and Picciotti had been ill all week with strep. So Phil DiGiacomo was the man and had a big game for the Bucks’. The final was 38-0 CB West.
My 58th birthday in 1999 was an indication of perhaps some erosion in my almost fanatic pursuit of my high school football hobby. It was a Saturday and I had two games scheduled –Bensalem at Neshaminy (1:30) and CB East – CB West (7:00). My wife was again in Connecticut. I was reluctant to leave a new dog we had about a year home alone all day, the yard needed a lot of work, and there were good college games on TV, and I did not want to rush between games to eat and care for the dog, so I did no games. Why didn’t I just take in one game?
Only the previous Saturday I had opted to pass on Pennsbury at Abington. I just decided not to make the haul. Three games I could have made; missed over 8 days, very unusual for me. I did follow both college and pro ball up to these years as indicated. Both of these have severely tailed off in recent times. Some college bowl games and playoffs, and pro playoffs still are followed mostly. The Pros I follow mostly for my wife’s interest in that aspect of football.
But I couldn’t miss the Friday 11/5 game with Bud 2, and approximately 8,498 others; channels 3, 6, 10, 29, ESPN, and cable networks. It was North Penn 9-0 at CB West 9-0. In some places it was being billed as, “The High School Game of the Century”.
My buddy (2) was in town at noon for the 7:30 kickoff. I arrived at about 4:15 PM. The crowd really started to grow from about 4:30 PM to a large gate-opening bunch. Here my Suburban One League pass got me in the pass gate with no line, no problem. We choose not to sardine ourselves in the bleachers, but stand along the fence, home side, at about the goal line at the scoreboard end of the field. We felt a standing sardine was better than a sitting sardine, and there was no one that could pass in front of you at the fence. The first CB West score, an Orihel to Kinyon pass was right in front of us. The Bucks’ led 14-0 at the half, gave up a long drive and NP score in the second half, then ate the clock with a long drive of their own capped by a Tumelty FG for a final 17-7 CB West.
The next day, Saturday, 11/6, Bud 2 trekked from Hatfield to my house, and we made the trip to Falcon Field where we met Bud 1, and Bud 4 and Al Matuza for a nice group of five cordial football fans. We were all witness to history being recorded. Neshaminy finally ended the Falcon Field “jinx”. They had never won a game here since the field opened in 1968. Thirty-one years, roughly 15 games every-other-year and no Neshaminy victories; there was one tie. It looked like the jinx might hold as Pennsbury took the opening drive and scored 7-0 Falcons. Early in the second the Skins nailed a field goal to narrow it to 7-3 Pennsbury. Two TDs in the second half by Chris Vincent iced it for Neshaminy, 17-14; a record first victory at that venerable field. Ironic was the fact that Chris was the nephew of Troy Vincent, then with the Philadelphia Eagles; but who as a Pennsbury Falcon scored 3 touchdowns in the “Ice Bowl” 1987 game at Falcon Field continuing the jinx as the Skins had come in to that one 9-1 to the Falcons at 7-3. How the world turns!
I traveled to North Penn for Bud 2 and the Norristown Eagles District One 4A semi-final at Crawford Stadium on Friday 11/12 (my wife’s birthday, but she was in Connecticut on mine, so no problem). The Knights had a nice drive early and got up 7-0. The speedy Eagles returned the ensuing kickoff to the Knights’ 4-yard line and easily put it in from there; 7-7. The Knights drove again, mostly on runs by Hikee Johnson, 14-7 Knights after one. On the first or second play from scrimmage after that kickoff, Eagle QB Stewart hit a blazing fast receiver Terrell with a 69-yard bomb to knot it at 14. More speed was evident when Eagle defender Powell scooped up a Knights’ fumble and raced it 48 yards for the Eagles second long speed score; and the first score had been set up by the big special teams play. It was 21-14 Norristown at the half.
In the third quarter Norristown scored more conventionally, but missed the PAT and it was 27-14 Norristown at the end of the third. In the fourth quarter, the Knights answered with a drive to make it 27-21. Holding the Eagles, a high snap on a punt attempt, set the Knights up with a short-field situation. Per our usual procedure no matter how exciting or dramatic the game, we began our exit and listened to the game on WNPV on the way back to Bud 2’s house. The Knights scored again and made the PAT to take a 28-27 lead with about 3 minutes still left. Norristown drove until they were forced to try a 37-yard field goal for the win. The kick was long enough, but wide; but FLAG ON THE PLAY. Roughing the kicker Knights.
Already proving he had the distance, the kicker now had only a 22-yard FG for the win. But, the ensuing try was shanked.
Final 28-27 North Penn who would get a rematch with CB West for the District One 4A Championship.
I soloed to the other semi-final the next day in Doylestown for Pennridge-CB West. Bud 2 was working, Bud 3’s daughter had a soccer match, Bud 1 was at Council Rock-Stroudsburg; Bud 4 was not a regular yet, just mostly long trips and chance meetings. This one was all West 49-7.
The next week CB West dispatched North Penn 21-0; and this was the one that Mike Pettine Sr. told Junior pre-game that it was his last chance to beat dad. Dad had decided to retire unknown to anyone else at that time. So Junior never did beat pop, 0-5 lifetime, but a lot of other coaches did not beat him very often or at all either.
More history was made this Thanksgiving when I saw my first all- New Jersey turkey day game. There were now multiple natural ties to South Hunterdon High School outside of Lambertville. One, my brother in law’s (Bud 3) son was now going there; and two, Bud 2, who was originally from New Hope across the river from Lambertville, used to scout for South Hunterdon on occasion. And as Bud 3’s daughter was now into soccer, a possible future link to South Hunterdon, or at least sports, was feasible. Not to mention my wife and Bud 3’s wife had both graduated from there. At one point my wife and I had talked about alternating Morrisville-Bristol and South Hunterdon-Del Val Thanksgiving Day games. But we never did.
Four of us made the trip to Kingswood Twp and Delaware Valley High School, always called Del Val in Jersey; South’s traditional T-day opponent. It was a beautiful rural setting out in open spaces, something not seen in my normal viewing area for a good many years. A good opening drive put South up 7-0 in the first. Two long scores, one special team (punt return) and one defensive (fumble return) put Del Val up at the half 12-7. In the second half South regained the lead 13-12. But Del Val was not done, and the Terriers’ again turned the tables 19-13 Del Val. But the Eagles’ again forged into a 20-19 lead. Then with about 5 minutes left in the game, South Hunterdon iced the game with another TD, final 27-19 Eagles’.
Talk about a social day; my brother-in-law and his wife both lived and worked in Lambertville. He knew just about everybody on the home side, and some on the away side. Bud 2, in his youth spent years in Lambertville and he knew or was known by a great number of people also. I was the outsider in this group, but was introduced to scads of people including South Hunterdon Asst. Head Coach Steve Maguire. I did know a few people due to all of my drum corps years (20) in Lambertville; but most of the drum corps personnel were from areas other than Lambertville.
This would be our Turkey-day game for 7 of the next 8 years, home and away.
This year was another Thanksgiving ending to the season, just as it always was in my earliest days of high school football. I had added another 21 games to my total; but this was the lowest number since 1988 (20). Three PIAA playoff games were the lowest in four seasons. New teams seen were Kennedy-Kenrick, South Hunterdon (NJ), and Del Val (NJ).
Bud 2 and I thought that the Bucks’ might have a problem with a “three-peat” in Hershey this season. Even though Berwick had four-in-a-row 1994-1997, no one in 4A had even two in a row, except the Bucks’ presently and three seemed against the law of averages. For this factor and the fact that the title foe was again Erie Cathedral Prep, surely “up” for the Bucks’; we just had our doubts. The Ramblers’ were also 14-0 with wins over Cincinnati Moeller 21-19; Cleveland St. Joseph 21-0, and Bishop McNamara (MD) 48-6. Six of their wins were shutouts, and four other opponents were held to one score. Playing similar opponents each season, the Ramblers’ were coming off five seasons of 10-2; 11-1; 10-1-1; 10-2; and 10-1.
Prep won the toss and deferred. West’s opening drive looked good with Camburn sweeps and Picciotti dives going right up the field. Then a fumble halted the drive; until the favor was returned by the Rambler’s QB. Deep in Rambler’s territory, the Bucks’ Picciotti suffered a game-ending ankle injury, and Bud 2 and I saw our prophecy as a stronger possibility. But QB Travis Blomgren on a dive; took it in and Tumelty kicked the PAT and the Bucks’ led 7-0. Prep came back when the Bucks’ Kinyon intercepted a pass in the end zone only to have the Ramblers’ athletic receiver snatch the ball from him for a TD. At the half it was 7-7 and anybody’s game. The Ramblers’ second-half opening drive appeared very West-like; a long ground, time-consuming drive with success at the end, but the PAT kick was short; 13-7 Ramblers.
Next, West’s Camburn suffered a leg injury; and the score and momentum was definitely with the Ramblers’. With only 2:52 left in the game West forced a Prep punt attempt from their end zone. West senior Andrew Elsing blocked the punt, scooped it up on the one and dove into the end zone tying the game at 13! Senior kicker Tumelty had been accurate all season and drilled the PAT and it was 14-13 Bucks, but with enough time for the Ramblers’ to answer. But D-back Kinyon intercepted the Prep again, and was not about to let this one go. Incredibly, the Bucks had their third straight state championship and 45th win in a row. Only St Joes Prep D12, has even back-to-back 4A titles; in 2013-2014.
I ended my 1999 season with a note that CB West had QB Orihel, and Camburn, DiGiacomo, and Warden back for 2000. They would have to rebuild the line yet again. And last line: Unless Pettine retires, the Bucks will be strong again in 2000. I did not know that he was going to do exactly that.
In 49 seasons of high school football I had seen 601 games, an average of over 12 a season, greatly skewed by some very lean years and enhanced since 1987. My “golden era” would march on into half of the 2000’s; but who knew it at the time.
The decade of the 1990s belonged to Berwick 127-13 for most wins, and CB West 121-8 for winning percentage (93.8%). I was fortunate to see Berwick 9 times and CB West over a hundred times during this decade.
Although the season was over for me, there was still a bit of it to relate in the next edition.
Don Black’s various individual high school record books.
Pennsylvania Football News annual resource guides.
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