Throwback Thursday: The 1998 CB West Bucks
I have been privileged to see many good high school football teams in my lifetime. I am not old, but I have been young for a long time now! While I cannot truly distinguish the “best” team ever on a basis of player-for-player, era-to-era, and other comparatives as well; as anyone else does I try to rationalize and at least have a bracket for “one of the best”.
I accord the 2004 Pittsburgh Central Catholic squad as the best I ever saw in person in the state final that year against Neshaminy. In this I am apparently not alone as this team is mentioned in almost any circle that is discussing the subject; especially notable in the PCN cable broadcast of the state championship previews a couple of years ago.
The 1992 Berwick Bulldogs and 1996 Downingtown Whippets are in the mix, as is our subject, the 1998 Central Bucks West Bucks’.
The ’98 Bucks’ had a state championship and unbeaten streak to defend. I had seen the last Bucks loss in 1996 to Plymouth-Whitemarsh in a District One semi-final at Doylestown 21-16. And I had seen 9 of the 1997 Bucks’ games when they finished 15-0-0 and won their second state championship. Their prior state title had been in 1991, and they lost at a final in 1993, so there was no particular expectation (for me) of a repeat in 1998.
After opening the season in Doylestown Friday night September 4th to see CB East narrowly defeat Spring-Ford 14-13, I caught the Saturday afternoon (9/5) Archbishop Ryan at Pennsbury affair won by Pennsbury 21-6, and then went to Doylestown again Saturday night for Upper Darby at C B West. I love trifectas, when I can catch Friday night-Saturday afternoon-Saturday night games. But it doesn’t happen that much in modern times.
While I had some crew for the first two, I had to solo this time for West. The first comment in my notes after the game was, “Wow! West appears better than last year and at least this night, to have no weaknesses. Offense, defense, talent, size, speed, depth, running, passing. It was all there tonight. All of the expected talent performed, plus the subs did as well.” The Royals did not score on the Bucks defense. The final score was 59-7 and the Royals TD was a fumbled punt reception run in for their score. The West subs scored four times on the Royals defense. The West kicking game had 8 for 8 successful PATs and 1 for 1 Field Goals.
The Bucks were home again on Friday 9/11 and almost repeated their first game score blasting Abington 56-7. As the Ghosts had been 1-10 in 1997, I skipped that one in favor of Bensalem at Council Rock which offered to be a close game. You can’t get much closer than 0-0 at the end of regulation, so we had this one pegged correctly. In double OT, Rock won 3-0.
On Friday 9/18/98 the Bucks were at home for the third consecutive game this time hosting Pennsbury. The Bucks won 41-0. This would be an unfortunately historic year for the Falcons who went 3-8 on the season, their only such season in my 63-season history of this squad. They had only one worse, 2-5-2 in 1954.
The Bucks first away game of the season was at Norristown on Friday 9/25. Both the Eagles and Bucks were 3-0. I had seen the Eagles beat Pennsbury 19-17 on the second Saturday of the season, but have never been to Roosevelt field in Norristown. This must have been a pretty good game, and the Eagles were good in 1998. The final was 28-13 Bucks, the first time they were held under 40 points and the first time they gave up more than one score. The Norristown Eagles would end up 11-2 this season, both losses being to CB West. It was Mike Pettine Senior’s 300th win.
The Bucks were back home on Friday 10/2 to host Neshaminy. As with Pennsbury, the Skins were also having a down year, coming in 1-3. The final was 42-14 Bucks and I noted that both Redskin scores were against the subs. CB West was then ranked first in the state and I indicated that they executed flawlessly in my notes. They had very few miscues of any kind. Fullback Dustin Picciotti, linemen Carber and Joe and John Wilson, and Buckley and Edwards were all West roster names that I mentioned in my notes.
Next up for the Bucks was a trip to Crawford Stadium to meet the equally undefeated North Penn Knights 5-0; and the second father-son match up of Mike Pettine Senior versus Junior in his second year with the Knights. I had dinner at my Hatfield buddies home and then we went to Crawford Stadium. A rain-soaked crowd of about 9500 joined us. The Knights opened the scoring when a West fumble popped up in the air, was grabbed by a Knight lineman and returned 68 yards for a TD. The lineman might have been Dan Chang, the present Plymouth-Whitemarsh coach, I am not sure; he wore number 50. The PAT was missed. C B West answered with a sustained drive and Picciotti 6-yard blast. Tumelty kicked the PAT, 7-6 CB West. Just before the half the Knights executed a direct snap to the fullback in a tight-T formation. He then hit Fitzpatrick with a 17-yard pass TD. The Knights went for two, but a pass was close but dropped and it was 12-7 Knights at the half. C B West received the second half kickoff and a ball-control, line-surge game ensued; Piciotti eventually went in from 4-yards out. The PAT was muffed, and the game ended 13-12 Bucks’.
I had seen four of the Bucks first six games and opted for other matches the next three weeks. During this time the Bucks beat Bensalem 62-7 (away), Truman 35-0 (away), and Council Rock 21-17 (home). The Bucks were now 9-0, with only their last regular season match with C B East 7-2 remaining. East had only lost to North Penn and Norristown.
The East-West games were usually standing room only for an outsider like me. But one of our crew had obtained tickets this year and we had seats for the first time for this matchup. A pre-game unexpected shower did not last long thankfully. I did not write any notes on this game, but West prevailed 42-20. I noted that the crowd began to thin in the fourth quarter so it must have been decided. The 20 points were most given by CB West all season, so some might have been very late; I do not remember.
At 10-0 the Bucks would be home for the first two playoff games as the structure then provided. This was great for me, and the first game was a rematch with the North Penn Knights. Four of our regular “crew” and two guests took this one in. This time the Knights received and had two 10-yard first down runs. A few additional yards were added, but then the first of three NP turnovers put the West offense on the field. A drive netted only a field goal, 3-0 West. Then with only 1:57 left in the half a Picciotti short burst made it 10-0 at the half. But a Knight punt was forced and in only 3 or 4 plays the Bucks’ went 62 yards for a back-breaker and 16-0 halftime lead. I made no more notes but the final was 29-8 Bucks’.
Another rematch – this time with Norristown followed on the following Friday night in Doylestown for the District One title. Two crew members and I were there. C B West got off to a fairly quick 7-0 lead, but I remarked then looked a little flat. The Eagles’ speedy Swittenburg broke a 60-yard TD on the Bucks, and it was 7-7. But West answered quickly on a long Edwards’ run and went back up 14-7. They added another TD before the half to take a 21-7 lead to the locker rooms. On this night Picciotti would have four short run TDs to put it away. The final was 35-14 C B West.
I was thrilled to learn that the Bucks’ regional encounter the next Saturday would be at Council Rock, the closest stadium to me of all that I visit. It was still grass then, but a nice field. The opponent would be the Abington Heights Comets from District 2. A buddy and I sat on the away side as we always do, but the Comets brought a big crowd from the Scranton area and we moved to the home side as we were out of place. We settled in and soon our Lambertville buddies’ wife dropped him off and he found us for a threesome. The stadium was soon packed. The Comets came to play and dominated early play on both offense and defense, but could only get up 3-0. Midway in the second period they set up for a second field goal try. The snap was high and the QB-holder lobbed a pass to the end zone instead. But C B West’s speedster Dave Camburn picked the toss and returned it 100+ yards the other way for a TD. It was only 7-3 West at the half. But the second half was all West, especially on defense. The Bucks returned a punt for a TD. Another high snap cost the Comets a safety. It fell apart for the Comets and it was 30-3 before the Comets again made a valid score. But then Picciotti busted a long one and it was 37-10 Bucks which was the final score.
The eastern final would be at Neshaminy, another local stadium for me. The opponent was to be the Trojans of Parkland, and from seeing them in 1996, I thought this might be a tough one for the Bucks’. A different threesome of buddies including me made this one. I only wrote that the Bucks scored on their first three possessions and never looked back. It ended 34-7 Bucks, and they would be playing for their second state championship in a row in 1998.
Although I had seen these Bucks in 9 games this season including all of the playoffs so far, I did not yet go to any state championship games. The crew member that got me to the state title games was an old classmate of mine that had just hooked up 1997 and 1998 for two longer trips, but was not a “regular” yet. Other than me, none of the other gang was interested in a long late season trip for the championship no matter who was playing.
So, I had to depend on TV coverage for this state title game. New Castle, D7 was the opponent for the Bucks and they must have been good to be there, but they were undersized for this match. And this Mike Carey-coached offensive line was one of the best I have ever been witness to. The Bucks played what was nearly a perfect game, a marvel of efficiency. They got the ball 8 times and scored 8 times, the last two by the subs.
The Bucks received the opening kickoff and behind the line play drove the field with a Picciotti 1-yard plunge capping it. Tumelty then kicked the first of 8 PATs he would kick. On the next Bucks possession, Picciotti bolted 86 yards around the outside and the first quarter ended 14-0 Bucks’. West’s 3rd and 4th possessions were controlled drives punctuated with longer runs and ending in Picciotti 1 and 2-yard plunges for a 28-0 count. Next time the Bucks got the ball Dave Edwards scampered 70 yards for a 35-0 halftime lead. The New Castle possessions were not all three and outs, they did have a good QB running and throwing; but they could not sustain momentum enough to score. They got the ball to start the second half with the same result. When West got the ball Picciotti bolted 64 yards and it was 42-0. New Castle was able to hold the ball in the third quarter because it ended 42-0. The Bucks’ subbed now and Senior QB Bill Stone was still able to drive the team and plunge a yard for a 49-0 bulge. Full subs on defense for the Bucks’ now allowed the single Red Hurricanes score for a 49-7 count. Second and third teamers got the last score on the Bucks 8th possession, with a Damien Smith 5-yard TD; final 56-7 C B West.
New Castle simply had no answer for Bucks’ linemen Ben Carber, 6-3, 310; Jon Wilson 6-3, 255; Joe Wilson 6-4, 280; and Chris Havener 6-5, 285; all Pettine-Carey-coached and talented. West had 30 players that weight squatted 400 pounds.
This was the most points scored in 4A finals until North Allegheny’s 63 in 2012; and it is still the greatest margin of victory (49 points) in 4A title history. It was the Bucks 30th consecutive victory and 2nd consecutive state 4A title appearance and third 4A state championship.
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