Throwback Thursday: The Decade of the Bucks – Part Two
Following the Bucks as I did in the mid-1990s you got the sense of a snowball rolling downhill gathering momentum and size. The coaching situation was stable and committed, not that there weren’t changes as assistant and special coaches came and went. But there was also a sense of community, a very active booster club and website, spirit galore, and a drive by the kids to “want” to win in order to not let the program down. Not every participant on the team each year was a superstar; but all seemed to give it 100% in the weight rooms and practice, and constantly strive for perfection. I was only an outsider looking in, but this was my perception.
The 1995 Bucks had lost 24 seniors from the past season, and there were 14 on the 1995 roster. The new QB was junior Travis Blomgren, a 6’1”, 180-pound junior. Also on the roster was a sophomore FB/LB by the name of Dave Armstrong, 6’3” and 245 pounds. A freshman making this team was Ben Carber, OT/DL at 6’3” and 280 pounds. Fifty-two bodies were on the roster at playoff time. I caught my first-ever pre-season scrimmage this season, Phillipsburg, NJ at CB West. I did not see the home opener again against Chester, won by West 27-6. I did see them at Falcon Field the next Saturday afternoon when they beat the Falcons 16-6. I noted that the lines had to be rebuilt and that it looked like they would depend on a power running game this season. I noted that I thought that Norristown, Council Rock, and CB East might challenge. And Norristown was the following Friday night in Doylestown, both coming in 2-0. The Pettine coaching influence was noticed on the coin toss won by the Bucks’. They almost always deferred in order to get the ball first after the half, but this time took the ball to keep it away from the known speed of Norristown. And D1 prospect Daimon Carroll was a big part of that speed. Using ball control offense on the ground and running the clock the Bucks got up 21-0 by halftime. When the Bucks kicked off to start the second half, the ball inadvertently got to Carroll who promptly returned it 90+ yards for a TD. It ended 21-7 CB West. Threat one averted. On Friday September 29th the 4-0 Bucks hosted the 2-1 North Penn Knights and I soloed to this one. In a role reversal, the Knights played flawless, mistake-free ball while the Bucks fumbled three times in the first half. The Knights premier RB Harold Padgett was a bludgeon and both lines equaled if not excelled the Bucks’. For the first time since 1981 the Knights beat the Bucks 19-14. I didn’t see that one coming. This was an upset as the Knights (7-4) promptly went to Pennsbury the next week and lost to the 0-5 Falcons in a game I witnessed. The Council Rock-CB West matchup was affected by heavy rain and mud at the Rock grass field. A scrum-oriented pushing contest resulted with the only score one drive off of an Indian fumble for a CB West 7-0 win. The CB East game, no longer on Thanksgiving for some years now was CB West 9-0 versus CB East 7-2. Only one East loss was in the league.
I stood alone near one end zone and got some close up action. The Patriots opening drive looked great, but it was stopped on fourth and one just near the West goal line. The quarter ended 0-0, so West was now driving towards my end zone, and they scored. It was 7-0 West at the half. The Bucks’ received the second half kickoff and used almost the entire third quarter on a drive featuring numerous successful fourth down conversions and finally a fake punt on fourth. They scored three more times including a long interception return to win going away 26-0. At 9-1 the Bucks would be hosting Coatesville in the District One playoff, a foe getting all too familiar. The Red Raiders had at least one loss. The Raiders came in with linemen at 315, 295, 280, 280, and 275 and they looked every bit of it. Behind this line the always capable backs moved the ball and the visitors probably had more offense than West at game’s end. But it had long held that, “make a mistake on West and it’ll kill you” prevailed. The Raiders turned the ball over five times. West capitalized on four of them. The final was 25-6 CB West. I did not follow the Bucks out to Plymouth-Whitemarsh for the District One championship. But, not only did the Colonials beat CB West, but also shut them out 12-0. (Some sources have 16-0).(a) It was the Bucks first shutout since losing to North Penn 18-0 in 1981. They had to settle for a 10-2 in 1995. The strong underclassman nature of the roster saw no All-state choices in 1995.
The 1996 Bucks traveled to Cumberland Valley, the 1992 4A State Champion, to open the 1996 season. A host of returning, experienced, players were on hand among the Bucks’ 79-man roster. There were 22 “unnumbered” players listed, all sophomores which were probably not included in prior years numbers counts taken from various sources. Travis Blomgren was back for his senior year at QB. Other stalwarts to-be back with their class were Bryan Buckley, so; Steve Patterson, sr; Dennis Cliggett, sr; Corey Potter, jr; Dave Armstrong, jr; Scott Warden, jr; Mario Palena, jr; Dave Edwards, so; Nick Crognale, jr; Matt Volitis, jr; Adam Domurad, jr; Jon Wilson, so; Adam Buckley, sr; Joe Wilson, so; and Ben Carber, so. Having seen the CV Eagles in 1992 and knowing of the fine program they had I was none too sure of a West win out there first game of the season. But win they did 34-12. I soloed to the home opener against Pennsbury due to remnants of hurricane Fran deluging the area. I only noted that “they (Bucks’) are big and experienced and should be an odds-on favorite to win the league and go on to states”. The Bucks indeed were not challenged for the first nine games piling up a 9-0 record and putting up scores of 48-14, 35-8, 27-0, 41-0, 21-0, 56-13, and 49-7. They entered the game versus CB East who was also 9-0. This game is covered pretty well in my article “A Super Season”. So is the loss of both playoff games by East and West ending both 1996 fine seasons; West at 10-1. Dave Armstrong made 1st team All-state at DE as a junior, and senior Travis Blomgren was 1st team All-state as a DB. Who could have guessed that Coach Pettine had lost his last game as coach at CB West.
By 1997 the Bucks had not been to states since 1993 in a losing effort, and perhaps some wondered now whether they would ever get back again. But, as can be seen by the prior years’ class standings, a lot of experienced Bucks’ came back in 1997.
And FB/DE Dave Armstrong, sr, was now 6’4” and 255 pounds. OL/DL Ben Carber, jr, now tipped 300 pounds on his 6’3” frame. An understudy FB/LB was sophomore Dustin Picciotti, 6’3” 220 pounds. Junior lineman Chris Havener checked in at 6’4” and 255 pounds. The Wilson brothers were linemen; both juniors and scaled at 6’3”, 225 and 6’4” 250. Senior QB Corey Potter was more of a run threat than passing at 5’11” and 200 pounds. It was a ground oriented offense, but when they threw the Bucks were usually on the mark. But it was basically the Dave Armstrong show in 1997. His size and strength plus the size and the strength of the line out ahead of him were too much for most teams to cope with. Cumberland Valley was in Doylestown for the opener and took a 6-0 halftime lead as I noted, “West had an uncharacteristic half with fumbles, penalties and inefficiency.” But the Dave Armstrong show got in gear in the second half and the Bucks power-footballed the eagles into submission 21-6. At Pennsbury in week three CB West was ranked 5th in the Nation and 1st in the East by USA Today. I called them sound if not spectacular with Armstrong a big part of both O and D. He beat the Falcons 21-0, scoring all three TDs and he had scored 10 of West’s 12 touchdowns on the season to date. Mike Pettine Junior had moved from Head Coach at Tennent to North Penn for the 1997 season setting up a most-hyped game of unbeatens between CB West 5-0 and North Penn 4-0 with the father-son coaching rivalry. About 7000 people, TV6, TV29, and USA Today were at the game. The Knights proved a little mistake-prone and West controlled the ball and the game. Two picks and a fumble recovery were converted to scores by the Bucks’. It was 21-0 Bucks after the first quarter. The Knights had had the ball for 6 plays and two punts total in the first quarter. It climbed to 35-0 at the half and at the three-quarter mark. At the end of the third the Knights had the ball on the Bucks one yard line. They converted that and later scored on the subs; final 35-14. The Bucks were not challenged again regular season.
The Bucks at 10-0 would meet the Hatboro-Horsham Hatters in one D1 semi final at Doylestown. Not only Armstrong, but Potter, Warden, and Ortiz moved well behind the massive offensive line. It ended 41-8 Bucks with the lone Hatter score versus the subs early in the second half. A mixture of subs and a few veterans played the whole second half for the Bucks’. This set up the Bucks for a match with the particularly pesky Plymouth-Whitemarsh Colonials who had lost twice to West by only one point each, and beat the Bucks in their last two meetings, including shutting them out in 1995. Although the Colonials could not shut down the running of Armstrong, Potter, and Warden, they again came to play. West got up 13-0 after one, and 21-7 at the half. But the Colonials showed their speed and quick-score capability pulling to 28-22 with about 7 minutes left in the game, West leading.
Another long West drive, Armstrong plunge, and Potter 2-pt PAT sealed it at 36-22, but even so P-W drove to the West 5 and a fourth down pass was incomplete with 10 seconds left in the game.
I had no intention of going to Wilkes-Barre for the CB West – Wyoming Valley West regional the next week. But an old classmate of mine who I occasionally saw at games called and said he would drive and needed company for the long haul. He became in a few years the 6th and final “crew” member that I write about in my narratives.
A good crowd on a damp, dark day saw a heretofore missing element in the CB West attack, an aerial game. Solid running and wide open receivers led to a 28-0 CB West halftime bulge. In the second half second and third stringers for CB West played and it went to 35-14, before a late defensive score made it 42-14 Bucks’. With exactly 1:00 left in the game the Spartans scored again to make the final 42-21. We enjoyed the game/trip so much, we returned to Wilkes-Barre for the 3A Berwick-Manheim Central Eastern final the following weekend.
That same weekend the Bucks just got by the Central Dauphin Rams 27-24 in overtime at Hershey. The state finals were still in Altoona in 1997 and predicted snow made that out of the question for me. But even Upper Saint Clair was a little under-sized against this massive CB West team. This was still only the 10th annual championship, and the Bucks set records for rushing yards (508), individual TDs (Armstrong 4), and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd longest runs for TDs from scrimmage for class 4A. Scott Warden had two of these, 80 yards and 78 yards; and Corey Potter had the third at 46 yards. Although West was never behind, two of the three Panthers scores were controversial. The first was a non-starting clock error allowing the score with 5 seconds that shouldn’t have been there; and the other was a kickoff return where the receiver’s knee was down on receiving the ball. This is what I wrote from write-ups in the papers about the game; it didn’t matter, and perhaps there were clarifications that straightened it out; who knows.
Nevertheless, the Bucks had annexed their second state championship in 4A. Three Bucks’ were first team All-state, Ben Carber (jr) OL; and Dave Armstrong LB and Corey Potter SPEC.
I detailed the 1998 CB West Bucks season in an article on this website. A second straight appearance and second straight championship was won in a decisive manner 56-7 over greatly undersized New Castle in 1998. Five Bucks’ were All-state: Ben Carber, Dustin Picciotti, Joe Wilson, Bryan Buckley, and Greg Kinzel.
The 1999 Bucks’ had a 30-game win streak and double state championship record to defend. They also had a nice mix of seniors and underclassmen to attack the job at hand. Perhaps the job of rebuilding the offensive line was the greatest challenge; the 1998 line was among the best I have ever seen.
More than anything, the defense was supreme in 1999. A fine placekicker was senior Bobby Tumelty. FB Dustin Picciotti was a 6’3”, 245 pound battering ram his senior go-around. Mike Orihel, 6’3”, 175 was QB and juniors Phil DiGiacomo and Dave Camburn added a speed element to the offensive and defensive backfields. Picciotti was also listed as a defensive end. Bob Bowser, OL-DL, 6’2”, 250 was a force for the Bucks’. Senior Angelo Palena, senior, at 6’ and 200 pounds was a running back and defensive lineman. This was an unusual coupling of positions, but as I said earlier; Mike Pettine’s teams adapted the athletes to the need and used skill sets to the maximum. Other underclass linemen with size were Gene Rich, Jeff Antunes, Justin Outten, Josh Sands, and Mike Ward. The roster contained 26 players on the 400-pound squat club. The Bucks reloaded.
They opened the 1999 season at Upper Darby. I did not go and I do not remember the post-game news accounts, but the Royals scored 27 points on the Bucks’. That was more points scored on a Bucks’ D since the fifth game of 1990’s loss to Council Rock 40-33. The Bucks won 54-27 and possible a big early lead led to wholesale substitution and the resulting scores; but I do not know. However, for the next 12 games for the Bucks the opponents score was either 0 or 7. I saw the next four Bucks’ contests, 3 in Doylestown and at Neshaminy.
The Abington game was begun among an atmosphere of thunderstorms in the area. It stayed dry until 2:12 left in the first half, and then lightning and rain stopped play. I noted that the Bucks looked sloppy with two lost fumbles, a poor kick snap, and penalties. But at the point the game was stopped they led 21-0 with the Ghosts still looking for a first down. Picciotti had two TDs on 21 carries for 93 yards. Dave Camburn returned a punt for a TD, and amassed 83 yards. DiGiacomo had just ran 12 yards to put the Bucks at the Ghosts 2-yard line when the heavens opened up, stopping the game. After waiting an hour, the game was announced as official; 21-0 CB West.
The Bucks next handled Bensalem 44-0 followed by Tennent 46-7. I was at both and just noted for the Tennent game the Bucks were without Picciotti (disciplinary) and Orihel (injury); but still looked very West-like with Dave Camburn doing most of the damage and DiGiacomo doing a fine backup QB turn.
The 4-0 Bucks next traveled to the equally 4-0 Neshaminy Redskins and of course it was billed as a “big game.” And the Bucks were banged up – Camburn was nursing an injury, Orihel was just back from an injury, and Picciotti had a bout with strep. But, the Bucks were ready and with DiGiacomo starring hammered the Skins 38-0.
I did not see the next two games when CB West beat Council Rock 17-0 and CB East 42-0. I tried for Truman at West, but was again thwarted by rain and lightning after seeing the first quarter and half the second, and beating it soaked.
The Bucks D bottled up Rondel Bradley, the Tigers 1,000-yard running back while Picciotti, DiGiacomo, and Camburn each had two TDs in repeating the 42-0 score of the prior week against CB East.
On October 30, 1999 I noted that it was a beautiful, warm fall day at Falcon Field, and this would be missed when the Falcons went to lights (for 2000) after all those years. The tempo for this one was set when Pennsbury fumbled the opening kickoff and West recovered. On the first play from scrimmage, Ryan Blomgren raced 29-yards, and the Bucks led before a minute elapsed 7-0. The Bucks got up 14-0, but then the Falcons put together a 10-play, 73-yard drive to narrow it to 14-7. After getting up 21-7; with 6 seconds left in the half, Orhiel hit Ted Kinyon with a perfect 30-yard aerial in the left corner of the end zone and it was 28-7 Bucks’ at the half. The second half was routine Bucks and for the third game in a row the Bucks had 42 points; 42-7 Bucks’.
The next game was billed as “The High School Game of the Century” by some local newspapers. It was the fourth meeting of father versus son as the 9-0 North Penn knights were coming to CB West 9-0. The crowd estimated at 8,500 included TV channels 3, 6, 10, 29, ESPN, and local cable channels. Junior had yet to beat Mike senior in three previous tries, and he would not this night either. The workmanlike Bucks led 14-0 at the half; surrendered a late 3rd Quarter NP drive and score to close it to 14-7. The Bucks then ate up the clock with long possessions, and iced with a late Bobby Tumelty FG, final 17-7 Bucks’.
The Bucks’ semi-final D1 playoff game was versus the Pennridge Rams. The Rams were 9-1 with only a loss to Norristown on their slate. The Rams won the toss and deferred. The Bucks’ responded with an opening drive and score to go up 7-0. The Bucks drove again but a fumble deep in Rams territory kept it 7-0 at the quarter. Early in the second quarter the rams connected on a beautiful 73-yard run/pass TD to knot it at 7. That seemed to ignite the Bucks’. A quick drive with big yardage-gain plays quickly made it 14-7 Bucks’. The CB West D held and then Orhiel hit Kinyon with a wide-open 59-yard strike to make it 21-7. Two more quick drives with Picciotti plunge cappers made it 35-7 at the half. In the second half Orhiel hit Colahan for 14-yards and a TD, and Dustin Picciotti got his 4th TD of the game and it was a 49-7 Bucks’ final. A rematch with North Penn for the District One Championship loomed.
Unbeknownst to anyone else at the time; when the Pettine’s, senior and junior, met at mid-field prior to this game Mike Senior told Junior that it was likely his last chance to get a win over pop. I do not know the exact words; Mike Senior revealed this at a later date publically. Although the game was stubbornly battled, 0-0 at the quarter; 7-0 West at the half; the final was as all the other father-son battles, Mike Junior would go 0-5 versus pop. The final was 21-0 CB West. There was not quite as much hype of crowd along the fence as the prior meeting. Both stands were capacity however.
That was the last time I saw a CB West Mike Pettine-coached team. Although I had been to the Wilkes-Barre Stadium twice in 1997 I did not get up there for CB West at Abington Heights this season. The Bucks prevailed 35-7.
This game ended the 12-game streak of CB West allowing either 0 or 7 points to their opponents. They had shut out 7 opponents and allowed 7 points to 5. At this point the Bucks were 13-0 and allowing 4.8 points per game on defense. The offense was scoring at a flat 36 points per game average.
The Bucks were to meet the Golden Hawks of Bethlehem Catholic for the Eastern final at Lehigh Stadium. The Hawks were 11-2 but played a National schedule against Cincinnati Moeller, Cleveland Saint Ignatius, and Oxen Hill, Maryland(a). I did not venture up for this one either, even though I had been there twice, but the Bucks did prevail 26-14.
The story of the Bucks’ third consecutive state championship is now familiar, a 14-13 very late win on an Andrew Elsing blocked punt and recovery for a TD and the accurate kicking of Tumelty for the winning PAT. This was in the first year for Hershey championships; a third stadium I had been to, but did not go again.
So, Mike Pettine Senior closed out his career with a decade of 121-8, a 45-game win streak, three consecutive state championships, and total coaching record of 326-42-4. On Thursday January 13, 2000 at a 3:30 PM press conference, Mike announced his retirement. I noted that the 13th was a gray, cold, snow flurry-day; likely typical of the mood that must have prevailed for the announcement.
(a) All marked stats are courtesy of the fine Don Black high school football history publications or his fine website ePASports.com.
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