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Throwback Thursday: The 1988 Suburban One National Conference Season

Written by: on Thursday, July 10th, 2014. Follow KMac on Twitter.


tbtThe 1988 season was one of great expectation for all high school football fans; this year we would crown on-field champions in all four classes for the first time.

At this time the Sub One League was divided into two conferences, each with two divisions. The National Conference was Patriot Division – Bensalem, Council Rock, Harry S. Truman, Neshaminy, Pennsbury, and William Tennent. The Colonial Division was Abington, CB East, CB West, Norristown, North Penn, and Pennridge. The American Conference had the remaining smaller Sub One schools split into the Freedom and Liberty divisions. I followed all of the 12 schools in the two larger divisions; some of them for the first time ever in 1988.

Gleaming new aluminum bleachers greeted fans at Doylestown’s War Memorial field this season where both CB West and CB East played their home games. There was no doubt who the favorite was in the Colonial Division. CB West was coming off an 11-0 record in 1987. In 1986 they had been 11-0; in 1985 11-0, and in 1984 10-0. They had last lost on Thanksgiving 1983 to CB East 7-6. They entered the season on a 43-game winning streak over 4 years.

Over in the Patriot Division there was more doubt to a favorite. In 1987 Neshaminy had gone 9-2, but had lost to division rival, Pennsbury (8-3) 18-0. Although Council Rock was 7-4 in 1987, they had beaten Pennsbury 21-0; and had a 14-13 loss to North Penn, along with losses to CB West, Neshaminy, and Abington.

It was only in 1987 that I started to get interested in the CB West machine; I saw the Bucks’ three times outside of other times when they played teams I traditionally followed. Additional interest to the new 1988 season was provided by the fact that in 1985 I was reunited with my old Bensalem buddy that I had last seen in 1964 before entering the army; and, through meeting his dad, I met my Hatfield buddy only in 1987. So I was looking forward to three people for company and football talk at the season’s games.

On Friday Sep 2, 1988 I opened with my Hatfield buddy and his dad at War Memorial for CB East hosting Archbishop Wood. Wood returned the opening kickoff for a TD! Is that a great way to start a season! But from then on it was the defenses that ruled. East moved the ball mostly through the air. The final turned out 10-7 CB East.

The following Friday I switched back to my normal Patriot Division area for Archbishop Wood’s visit to Neshaminy. I was still not writing detailed notes on games yet, most likely my Bensalem buddy was there as he followed Bensalem and Neshaminy closely, plus other various teams when they were away or off.

I only wrote, “looked like Neshaminy of old (meaning when I followed them in 1960’s), with a 48-6 thrashing of Wood. For an opener Neshaminy’s running, passing, kicking, and defense looked great”.

The next day, Saturday, Sep 10, 1988 I planned to catch Harrisburg at Pennsbury day, and motor to Lansdale for the CB West at Lansdale Catholic contest. This was common for me in the era that didn’t end until about the mid 2000’s. Harrisburg handled the falcons 20-3 as I noted the Falcons had trouble moving the ball on the ground. Andy Szarko, Falcon QB had a nice arm but I also noted that Harrisburg looked like a playoff contender. I did get out to Crawford Stadium to see CB West beat LC 17-0. This was my fourth visit to Crawford Stadium but I had never seen North Penn play there yet. I had seen two drum & bugle corps contests there in the mid-1970’s and Morrisville at LC in 1984. It was West’s opener and I noted penalties and dropped passes as the detriment causing the low score.  But LC was playing good ball at the time under Jim Algeo and was building to a state championship 16 years down the road. I thought that CB West would have to toughen up for their next two opponents – Cardinal O’Hara (1-0) and WC Henderson (1-0).

I saw the O’Hara game the following Friday night at War Memorial which CB West won 28-6, and in my notes I just noted the great improvement from opening night. I saw Wissahickon at Tennent the following Saturday, the first time I ever saw the Trojans. Tennent won 30-7.

On Friday Sep 23 Henderson (2-0) came to War Memorial for a battle of unbeatens and history. The Bucks handled the Warriors 21-6 in a game that was closer than the score. The Warrior’s swift, elusive back Reeves kept the game in doubt. The West win tied the state unbeaten record of 46 games held by Braddock High in 1955-1960.

The following Friday I attended my 4th straight CB West game, only to see a possible record broken. The opponent was cross-division Truman (1-2), and odds were heavy for the Bucks’. Although I was likely solo this time, about 5,000 other souls plus channels 3, 6, 10, and 29 sought to see the game. As anticipated, West won 50-19 unleashing a devastating aerial game not seen in the first three West contests. On the 11.00 PM Channel 6 news coverage I saw myself at the game; a rare TV appearance.

That Saturday I caught Norristown at Council Rock. The Indians prevailed 16-7 in what I noted as two sluggish offenses and two decent defenses. I also noted that the Indians were using two QB’s this season ala Neshaminy.

After seeing a Friday night CB East win over Tennent 10-0, I journeyed to Falcon Field for the Saturday afternoon CB West at Pennsbury contest. This was expected to be a good, close game. The reason was that the Falcons Szarko aerial game was decent and their defense good. They were 2-2, but lost to a fine Harrisburg club in their opener, and 17-14 to a strong NJ club.

But QB Szarko was not available for this game, and the usually sound Falcon defense yielded four TDs and the offense two safeties in a 32-0 rout. It would have been worse for two dropped passes by West.

I next saw West’s 49th straight win; a 21-0 score over Bensalem (2-3). I marked the Owls looked good for a 2-3 club which was often the case. Only a late, long Moylan to Pelczarski pass made the third score for West.

After six games of the 1988 season, CB West was 6-0. Over in the Patriot, Neshaminy was also 6-0. After I had seen their Wood opener, I had not seen the Skins again so far in 1988. They had beaten Abington narrowly 8-7, Downingtown 39-0, CB East 19-7, Norristown 20-7, and Pennridge 44-7.

All other teams in both divisions had at least 2 losses already, and by this 6th of 11-game regular season mark, it clearly looked like West in the Colonial and Neshaminy in the Patriot. Although there was a three-team crossover plan between the two divisions, Neshaminy and CB West would not meet this season.

On Saturday night October 22, 1988 I finally got to Crawford Stadium to see the Knights play. At halftime it was only 7-0 CB West on a Gilbert to Moylan HB to QB pass and PAT. Gilbert had a late game 63-yard sprint for the most exciting play of the game that ended 26-0 CB West. Meanwhile Bensalem had succumbed to Neshaminy 21-6 and both West and Neshaminy maintained status quo at 7-0.

After seeing the first 7 straight games for West I abandoned the Bucks for their games at Abington (14-0 CBW), and Pennridge (47-0 CBW). I filled these two weeks with Neshaminy at Council Rock (14-3 victory) and home for Truman (21-0 victory). Now both league leaders stood at 9-0 with two games to play.

On Friday Nov 9th I chose Norristown at CB West over Tennent at Neshaminy. The game turned into a battle. With less than 2 minutes left in the game it was only 12-10 CB West. But then West QB Moylan broke a 40-yard draw for the clincher; final 19-10 CB West. Neshaminy beat Tennent 14-0.

On Friday November 18 I took in the annual Neshaminy-Pennsbury rivalry at Neshaminy. Despite the intense nature of this rivalry, the Falcons came in 5-5 and the Skins 10-0. There was no doubt, 49-14 Neshaminy.   The Skins scored on three defensive plays including a 99-yard fumble return by Bob Gaul.

My wife and I departed the next morning for Florida, the first and only time we vacationed over the Thanksgiving Holiday week.

I mention this only because I would not be local for the results of the CB West – CB East Thanksgiving Day game played at Del Val College. The result of that game was a 14-14 tie. That left Neshaminy at 11-0 and CB West at 10-0-1.

The first year of the state championships was nothing like today with massive district playoffs. Two eastern teams and two western teams in AAAA were chosen to meet in the eastern and western final with the winners playing for the title. I assume that something like the eventual point system that soon became used was also used in the choosing process the first time out. Certainly the tie cost CB West the chance to go, but both Ridley and Neshaminy were 11-0 in 1988. If the later point system was used, it was the number of 4A versus the number of 3A teams on each of Neshaminy and Ridley’s schedules that sent Neshaminy. The Skins played only one 3A and ten 4A schools, while the Green Raiders had five or six 3A teams on their slate.

It would be Neshaminy versus Cedar Cliff D3 for the eastern title at J. Birney Crum. The Colts had Kyle Brady on their team and demolished the Skins 24-0. Brady went on to Penn State and 200 games in the NFL for the Jets, Jags, and Patriots for 1995 – 2007. I was out of the area for this game also.

Although the tie cost CB West a chance at the first PA Class 4A championship, a tie is not a loss, and their win streak ended at 53 games, but not their unbeaten streak. They ended the 1988 season with an unbeaten streak of 54 games.

Cross-division games counted in the league standings and the 1988 final standings were:

Patriot: Neshaminy 8-0; Council Rock 7-1; Pennsbury 4-4; Bensalem 2-6; Tennent 2-6; Truman 1-7.

Colonial: CB West 7-0-1; CB East 5-2-1; North Penn 5-3; Abington 3-5; Norristown 3-5; Pennridge 0-8.

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