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Looking Back at the OHSAA’s Football Championships

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Looking Back at the OHSAA's Football Championships - No. 1
A centennial moment - Popularity

By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
www.SportsHeritagePublications.net
 

The first game of what is considered American football was played between Rutgers and Princeton in November of 1869, with Rutgers winning by a score of 6-4.  The game, at both the college and high school level, remained pretty much confined to the East for some years after that, but gradually started to spread across the rest of the country.  By the late 1880s football had made its way to Ohio, where a few college teams were starting to play the new game. 

The first high school football game in Ohio, in fact, the first high school game in the Midwest, was played between the oldest public high school in the state, Cleveland’s Central High School, and the newest high school, Cleveland’s University School, which had been open for barely six weeks.  The game was played on October 25, 1890, and was won by University School by a score of 20-0.  Football gradually spread throughout the rest of the state as interest in it grew.  For example, Massillon High School (now known as Massillon Washington) played its first interscholastic game in 1893, Canton High School (now Canton McKinley) staged its first game the following year, and Fostoria High School kicked off its interscholastic program in 1896.  By the turn of the century most public schools in the state, as well as some private and parochial schools, were also fielding teams.

Before we get much further along in our story of Ohio’s high school football champions, it should be mentioned that the game being played back in those earliest days had little resemblance to the game we now watch every weekend during the Fall.  Football was all very new - and very basic - back then.  There was no high tech equipment, no fancy scoreboard in a stadium for upwards of 20,000 people, the players had no uniforms to speak of, and coaches were not yet “invented.”  The football field was just that, a field, hopefully pretty flat and open (although one college in the South in the early 1900s actually had a large oak tree sitting in the middle of its football field just short of the 50-yard line), on which a gridiron was laid out with crushed chalk.  If you wanted to watch the game you just stood along the sidelines, or pulled your horse drawn carriage up to the edge of the field.  This “seating arrangement” could cause a problem or two, as games were often interrupted after a touchdown or field goal when fans ran out onto the field to congratulate their team.  There was no passing either; the forward pass was not legalized until 1906 and did not gain wide acceptance until almost 1920.

Nor was there anything like a statewide poll ranking the best teams.  However, even if just two teams are playing, one usually has to be known as the best.  That first game in Cleveland, for instance, was known as a “game of the championship series,” the championship being that of the city of Cleveland.    It stands to reason, therefore, that a best team in the state would eventually be named, and that occasion first came about in 1895.  However, when something like this is done for the first time, the method used can seem to be just a bit “unusual” when compared to how it is done today.  The naming of that first state high school football champion is a case in point.   On November 23, 1895, in the final game of the season, University School defeated Cleveland Central by a score of 14-0.  University School’s record stood at 4-0-0, while Central slipped to 3-2-1.  However, Central was declared the champion of the state of Ohio, the first team so named.  By the standard then used, a distinction was made between University School, a “prep” school, and Central, a “high school.”  University School was considered to be the “prep” champion of northern Ohio, while to Central High went the title of “high school” champion of the state.    

Saying that Central High was “declared” the state high school football champion is the key here.  As mentioned, there were no polls, and certainly no statewide playoffs, at this time.  If a sportswriter or group of them said that a team was the state champions, then they usually were unless someone came along to challenge it.  Quite often, too, a school that felt that its team was the “king of the hill” often issued on open invitation to any team from around the state that wished to challenge it on the gridiron for the state championship.  This quite often resulted in some exciting last minute, end of the season games to settle the issue of who was the state’s champion that year.  For all practical purposes, this system of a popularly declared state football champion remained in effect until the era of the AP and UPI polls, which began in 1947.

For about the next 10 years following Cleveland Central’s state championship in 1895, those teams named as state champion are not what we would consider household names in the current era of Ohio high school football.  In 1896 Sandusky High School (5-0-0) was named state champion.  No team was declared state champion in either 1897 or 1898, but 1899 saw the state’s first football “power” named champion, with the honor going to Oberlin High School.  At this time the city of Oberlin was a hotbed of high school and college football, with both Oberlin High School and Oberlin Academy among the state’s better schoolboy teams, while the Oberlin College eleven pretty much dominated the state’s college ranks.  (The legendary John Heisman, a Cleveland native, was the head coach at Oberlin College in the early 1890s.)

The year 1900 was interesting for the fact that three different schools claimed to be the state champion.  Cleveland Central defeated Columbus North, 6-0, in mid-November.  Since North was considered the champion of southern Ohio, Central (4-1-1) felt that this win gave them the right to claim the championship for the whole state.  However, both Oberlin High School (5-0-1) and Youngstown Rayen (4-1-1) were also claiming to be state champions.  Much arguing went on back and forth, especially between Oberlin and Central, who had played to a 5-5 tie earlier in the season.  It was eventually decided that all three teams would share the state championship.

A similar situation occurred the next season, when Rayen and Toledo Central shared the title.  In 1902, Fostoria High School (8-0-1) was declared the state champion, the opening round of what would prove to be the first great dynasty in Ohio high school football.  Kenyon Military Academy of Gambier, Ohio, was named the state champion for 1903, while Toledo Central claimed the title in 1904.  No team was named the state’s high school football champion for 1905, but the following season would see the arrival of the state’s first truly dominating team, the Redmen of Fostoria High School. 

The Fostoria football team played only eight games in 1906, winning seven, but dropping a 19-8 decision to Oberlin Academy.  Even so, Fostoria was still declared the state champion that season.  In 1907 they repeated as state champions, but it was again a team from Oberlin that ruined an otherwise perfect season.  The Redmen finished with an 8-0-1 record, with only a 5-5 tie with Oberlin High School keeping the Redmen from enjoying a perfect season.   

In 1908 Fostoria again won eight games, including a 110-0 victory over Defiance, but a 14-5 loss to another top team of the day, Cleveland’s East High, prevented the Redmen from winning a third consecutive state title.  As it was, no team was awarded the championship that season.  In 1909, Massillon High School interrupted Fostoria’s run of state titles by winning it’s first, posting a record of 9-0-1 in the Tigers’ first true winning campaign.

For the next half dozen years the Fostoria Redmen pretty much owned the state as far as high school football was concerned.  Under head coach Lawrence C. Boles, who had been guiding the Redmen since ’07, Fostoria regained the state championship in 1910 despite a 2-0 lost to Findlay in an otherwise great 8-1-0 campaign.  In 1911, coach Boles’ team finally did what it had come so close to doing in the past, posting a perfect 10-0-0 season to win another state title.  (Akron Central High School, 8-0-1, shared the state crown with Fostoria that year.)

If the Fostoria fans liked the 1911 season, then they must have been truly overjoyed with the results of 1912, a season that was literally one for the record book.  The Redmen won all eight of their games, and all by shutout, making it 14 consecutive shutout victories.  For the season they outscored the opposition 596-0 (twice scoring more than 100 points), one of the most dominating seasons in the history of high school football in the U.S.  Adding not a little, but a lot, of icing to its championship cake, Fostoria was also named the national champion in 1912, the first in a long line of Ohio teams to be so honored. 

Fostoria’s bubble temporarily burst in 1913, as the team dipped to 5-3-0, but no state champion was named that season.  In 1914 and 1915 the Redmen were coached by George M. “Red” Trautman, his only two years directing Fostoria’s football fortunes, but he made them count.  In 1914 the Redmen, 10-0-0, posted their third perfect season out of the last four.  This was another shared championship, however, as Bellaire High School (9-0-1) and Lisbon High School (9-0-0) were also accorded state championship status.  In 1915, with a 0-0 tie with Columbus North as the only blemish on their otherwise perfect 8-0-1 season, the Redmen again captured the state championship. 

For the next nine years the center of Ohio high school football would shift to the state’s extreme northwestern corner.  Toledo Scott High School reigned as state champion in 1916, 1918 and 1919. (Strangely, there was no state champion named in 1917, while there was one in 1918, even though most teams had at least half of their games cancelled due to the great Spanish Flu epidemic.)  That 1916 title was shared with Massillon Washington, even though Scott High School was also declared the national champion that same season. 

 The Bulldogs lost their state championship crown in 1920 (shared by Canton McKinley and Cleveland East Tech), and no champion was declared for 1921.  However, the Bulldogs came back even stronger in 1922 and 1923.  Going 19-0-0 those two seasons, not only were they named state champions (sharing the honor with Massillon Washington in ’22 and East Cleveland Shaw in ’23), but each season Toledo Scott was also named the national champion.  (East Cleveland Shaw also shared in the 1923 national championship.)  And, unlike today, Scott High School won those national championships on the gridiron.  In 1922 the Bulldogs defeated the team from Corvallis (Ore.) High School, 32-0, and in 1923 defeated both Washington High School of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 24-21, and Columbia Prep of Portland, Oregon, 20-17, to earn the national title.

While Scott High School did not win either the state or national championship in 1924, those two championships did not leave the Glass City.  Scott’s archrival, Waite High School, went 10-0-0 and was named both the Ohio and the U.S. champion that year.

Over the next 24 years before the advent of the AP and UPI polls, two teams would rise to dominate Ohio high school football.  In 1924 and 1925, Paul Brown was the quarterback of the Massillon Tigers, leading his team to a record of 15-3.  Good, but not nearly as good as his record would be when he returned to the school in 1932 as the Tigers’ head coach.  Taking over a team that had been just 2-6-2 the year before, coach Brown led the Tigers to a 5-4-1 record in 1932, 8-2-0 in ’33 and 9-1-0 in ’34 – and then they got really good.  From 1935 to 1940, Paul Brown’s Massillon Washington Tigers posted a record of 58-1-1, going a perfect 10-0-0 in five of those six seasons.  That record earned for the Tigers six consecutive state championships and four national titles (1935-36-39-40). 

As we know, Paul Brown was just getting stated on his brilliant coaching career.  After leaving Massillon he took on his “dream job” as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, where in his second season he led the Buckeyes to a national championship.  After serving in the military during WWII, Brown became the head coach of the newly established Cleveland Browns, winning championships in each of his first five seasons, four in the All American Football Conference and one in the NFL. 

One of the truly great coaches and innovators in the game of football, and the only coach in U.S. history to ever win national championships at the high school, college and professional levels, in 2001 Student Sport Magazine named Paul Brown the “Coach of the Century.” 

Massillon’s success did not end with the departure of Paul Brown.  Playing for new coach William “Bud” Houghton, the Tigers went 28-1-1 from 1941-1943.  The Tigers were named state champions in both ’41 and ’43, giving Massillon eight titles in nine seasons.

The second of the two great teams at this time were the Lions of Cleveland’s Cathedral Latin School.  Playing for the legendary Herb Eisele, who had been the coach of the Lions since 1928, Latin had pretty much dominated Cleveland area football.  In early 1937, coach Eisele signed an unprecedented 10-year contract to coach football at his alma mater, and the Lions got even better.  From 1943 to 1947 the Lions won a record five consecutive Cleveland city championship Charity Games, putting together a string of 38 straight games without a loss (36-0-2).  In 1944, 1945 and 1946 the Lions added state championships to their trophy case, giving Latin a total of four state titles (1927) in its history.  The Lions are one of only two non-public schools (Kenyon Military Academy being the other) to win a state title over the first 62 years in which a state football champion was named.

Looking Back at the OHSAA's Football Championships - No. 2
A centennial moment - Polls

By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
www.SportsHeritagePublications.net
 

The wire services – Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), International News Service (INS) – began doing a weekly poll of college football’s top teams in 1936.  The idea of doing this with the state teams, in our case Ohio, finally took hold in 1947.  No longer would a school be able to simply “declare” itself state champion, or challenge any other school to play them to decide the issue.  Now, a poll of sportswriters and broadcasters from around the state would decide the issue based on their expertise.  Although this would eliminate a lot of exciting late season match-ups, it did add some much needed organization and stability to the state championship process.

The International News Service put out its state football poll for only a few years, before merging with United Press International.  However, it was mainly the Associated Press whose poll determined the state champ, while the United Press International also put out a state football poll from 1953 until about 1971.

Whether or not this was the best way to determine the state champion can be endlessly debated, but it was the system in use from 1947 thru 1971.  In part because of some of the flaws that were seen in this system (for example, teams locked into league schedules or playing all of their games against local opposition, etc., often felt that they were “penalized” in the poll for not playing a more varied schedule), is why we now have the playoffs for determining the state football champions.

Since the team from Cleveland’s Central High School was named the first state champion back in 1895, every team recognized as the state football champion had come from a city in the northern half of the state.  From 1934 to 1946 the titleholders were centered even closer to the state’s “north coast,” coming as they did from either Stark or Cuyahoga County.  Little would change in this regard during the first 20 years of the “poll era.”  In fact, during those years the teams from Stark County would have a virtual lock on the state championship, much to the dismay of some who thought otherwise (and thus adding more fuel to the growing playoff fire).

When the final rankings came out that first poll season of 1947, the Magics of Barberton High School were sitting at #1 – the only time that the Magics would win a state football championship.  Following in order from 2-10 that year were Elyria High School, Canton McKinley, Cathedral Latin, Columbus West, Hamilton Public, Warren Harding, Salem High School, Upper Sandusky and Toledo Libbey.

In 1948 Chuck Mather took over as the head football coach at Massillon Washington.  Mather was not Paul Brown coaching under another name, but you probably would have had a hard time convincing the Tigers’ opponents that Mr. Brown was no longer in Massillon.  Coach Mather got off to a faster start than even the great coach Brown had enjoyed.  With a record of 9-1-0, the Tigers were named state champions in Mather’s first season of 1948, after having been out of the top spot for the five previous years.  Their lone loss had been a 14-7 defeat at the hands of #7 Alliance.

The Tigers would go on to reign as Ohio’s top schoolboy football team for the next six seasons, five of them under the direction of Chuck Mather, the only coach in state history to lead a team for at least six seasons and win a state title each time. 

In 1949 the Tigers again finished 9-1-0, but that lone defeat was not enough to cost them their top billing in the AP poll. That loss, a 16-12 decision, came at the hands of Mansfield Senior High School, which had been voted #1 in the INS poll, but only came in second in the AP balloting. In 1950 the Tigers took no chances, and no prisoners, as they posted a perfect 10-0-0 season to win a third consecutive state title, as well as being named the national champions.  In 1951 Massillon slipped to 9-1-0, this time a 19-13 loss to Warren Harding costing them a perfect season.  Nonetheless, the Tigers were again ranked #1 in the AP poll to claim a fourth consecutive state championship.  Warren Harding finished seventh. 

The 1952 and 1953 seasons probably rank right up there with 1935 and 1936 in Massillon football history.  Two consecutive perfect 10-0-0 seasons, two consecutive state championships (ranked #1 by both AP and UPI), and two more national titles. 

The Tigers cruised through most of the 1952 campaign, but in week #5 they again came up against the Alliance Aviators, this time led by their great quarterback, Len Dawson.  Even though Dawson sat out practice all week with a sore left shoulder, come game day he gave the Tigers almost more than they could handle.  However, it would be a couple of second half kickoff returns for touchdowns that would save the Tigers this day.  Massillon led 14-7 at the half and was on the receiving end of the second half kickoff.  The Tigers’ John Francisco took the ball four yards deep in his own end zone and returned it all the way for a 104-yard score and a 21-7 Massillon lead.  Len Dawson brought the Aviators right back to make it 21-14, but on the ensuing kickoff Lee Nussbaum returned the ball 77-yards for another Massillon TD.  Len Dawson would add a third touchdown for Alliance on a short run, but that would end the scoring, leaving Massillon with a heart pounding 27-21 victory.  

The 1953 season would see the Tigers even more dominating.  While the offense averaged 40 points per game, the defense only allowed one team to score more than seven points, with the team’s lowest margin of victory being 21 points.   Chuck Mather’s team rolled to its 17th state title and seventh national championship.

Tom Harp replaced Chuck Mather in 1954, Mather going on to the college ranks as the head coach at Kansas University.  Harp’s Tigers stumbled in week three, suffering a 19-7 set back at the hands of the Alliance Aviators.  However, they rebounded to win their last seven games and gain a seventh consecutive poll championship, finishing first in both the AP and UPI polls.  The “Tiger Tamers” from Alliance finished second.  

In 1955 and 1956 the Massillon Tigers would relinquish their top spot in the polls to Stark County neighbor and archrival Canton McKinley.  Under the direction of coach Wade Watts, the Bulldogs were unstoppable both seasons as they outscored the opposition by an average score of 44-5.  In 1955, the Bulldogs’ 13-7 victory over Massillon in a driving snowstorm cost the Tigers a state title as they finished second in the polls to McKinley.  In 1956, McKinley scored 490 points and no one was exempt from their scoring onslaught, which they proved by drubbing Massillon 34 to 7 in the season finale.

In 1957 the state championship momentarily left Stark County when Cleveland’s Benedictine High School won its first state title as coach Augie Bossu’s Bengals dominated both polls. 

From 1958 to 1964 the championship hardware spent most of its time back in Stark County, but those teams were beginning to loose their tight fisted grasp on the state title.  Alliance finished atop the AP poll in ‘58, but shared state honors with UPI winner Marion Harding.  In ’59 and ’60 Massillon Washington took first place in both polls, but in 1961 Niles McKinley gained the top spot in the UPI poll, while Massillon again grabbed top honors in the AP poll.  In 1962 a powerful Toledo Central Catholic squad took top honors in both polls, while Niles McKinley did likewise in ’63, with Massillon back on top in ‘64.

In 1965 two big changes occurred with the polls.  The first was the dividing of the schools into two classes, AA and A, based on enrollment.  For the first time, the smaller schools around the state, put into Class A, would now get the recognition due them that the bigger schools, Class AA, had been pretty much keeping to themselves. 

The second change was that the center of Ohio high school football, at least as far as the “big school” Class AA was concerned, began a gradual, but prolonged, shift to the south.

For the moment, however, in 1965 it was still “business as usual” in Class AA as Massillon Washington gained the top ranking. 

In Class A in 1965 it was time for some real celebrating by some of the state’s smaller schools, as teams that had never before even dreamed of making the top ten, much less being named “State Champion,” finally had a well earned day in the sun.  The honor of being named the first Class A State Champion went to Dover St. Joseph High School, while the following schools rounded out that first Class A top ten:  Marion Catholic, Millersport High School, Hartville Lake, Hanoverton United, Johnstown-Monroe, Fairport Harbor, Lancaster Fenwick, Frankfort Adena and Portsmouth Notre Dame. 

Over the next four seasons many of the same teams that had made the first Class A top ten would repeat.  While no school repeated as Class A champion during those years (Marion Harding, 1966; Portsmouth Notre Dame, 1967; Newark Catholic, 1968, Norwalk St. Paul, 1969), this repetition of top ten entries only further fueled the call for some kind of a state football playoff system.

Getting back to Class AA, the Stark County hold on the poll championship came to a decisive halt in 1966 when Columbus Bishop Watterson High School finished first in both the AP and UPI polls.  The Columbus area then seized the poll championship by the throat with the arrival of those great teams from Upper Arlington High School to close out the decade.

The Golden Bears of 1967-1970 are some of the greatest teams in Ohio high school football history.  In 1967-68-69 the Golden Bears put up identical 10-0-0 seasons, finishing first in both polls all three seasons.  In 1970 the Bears again had a perfect season, 10-0-0, but failed to convince the media experts voting in the polls that they were still the state’s best big school football team.  The nod that year went to another 10-0-0 team, the Massillon Tigers, with Upper Arlington finishing what had to be a very disappointing second.  Disappointing not because of how they played, but because they were still undefeated – yet dropped a place in the polls.  The Golden Bears finally lost a game in early 1971, but not before extending their phenomenal win streak to 42 in a row.

That 1970 season saw yet another change to the polls when the schools were further divided into three classes – AAA (big schools), AA (mid-size schools), A (smallest schools).  This further breakdown of the classifications made it possible for more schools to participate in the glories of high school football by making the polls even more relative to schools and their size.  The Class AA poll champion for 1970 was New Lexington High School, and the Class A title holder was Portsmouth Notre Dame.

The 1971 season would be the last in which the state football champions were determined by the polls.  The polls would remain and are still with us, but with the coming of the OHSAA sanctioned playoffs, that format would now be used to determine the official state football champions.  The final poll state champions were: Class AAA – Warren Harding, Class AA – Steubenville Catholic Central, Class A – Marion Pleasant.

Looking Back at the OHSAA's Football Championships - No. 3
A centennial moment - Playoffs

By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
www.SportsHeritagePublications.net

As has been mentioned, the system of using the wire service polls to determine the state football champions was much better than what had previously existed, but the poll system also had its faults and detractors.  Some schools continually garnered poll votes because they were “supposed to be good,” whether or not they actually were as strong as their record might indicate.  The same could be said for a team with a winning “reputation.”  Regional biases also occurred in the form of some members of the media, intentionally or not, favoring their local teams, conferences and coverage areas.  On the other hand, those teams, conferences and areas without a direct representative among the media voters tended to suffer accordingly from a lack of recognition.  For example, Cleveland area fans were especially sensitive to being shortchanged in this way, as no doubt were others, and the smallest schools were left out of the equation altogether, no matter how good they might have been.

This situation, then, led to the third and final phase of state football championship determination, the playoff era that began with the 1972 season.  To be technically correct, the playoffs actually began in December of 1971, when the board of the OHSAA voted to establish a football playoff system to determine the state champions.   Using the poll nomenclature, all high schools were divided into the three recognized classes of AAA, AA and A, based on their enrollment, with each Class subdivided into four regions.  An early computerized system developed by Jack Harbin assigned point values to each school in an attempt to mathematically determine a team’s strength and that of its opponents.  At the end of the regular season, the team with the highest point total in each region qualified for the playoffs.  In those earliest days of the playoffs, therefore, only 12 teams from the entire state qualified for post-season play - three classes of four regions each - with only one school from each region able to qualify.  This system remained unchanged from 1972-1979. 

In 1980 the categories of the schools were renamed from “Class” to “Division,” and were increased in number from three to five, with Division I representing the biggest schools, down to Division V for the smallest.  Each division was still broken down into four regions, but now the top two schools in each region qualified for the playoffs, for a grand total of 40 schools now eligible for the post-season.  In 1985 a further expansion of eligible schools took place when it was decided that the top four schools in each region would make the playoffs, doubling the number of qualifying schools to 80.  In 1994 a sixth division was created, adding 16 more schools to the state football tournament. 

Finally, in 1999 the number of qualifying schools was again doubled when it was determined that the top eight teams in each region would play for a state championship, for a grand total of 192 teams. 

The AP polls are still with us.  In the pre-playoff days the polls provided us with what is known as the “mythical” state champion, because the title had not been decided on the field of play.  With the coming of the playoffs the question as to who is the best can now be decided on the gridiron.  However, it is very natural to ask just how accurate the current polls are.  Are the teams ranked #1 in the polls really the best in their division?  The answer to that is: only sometimes.  Of the 143 teams that have finished first in the AP polls in their respective class/division since the playoff era began in 1972, only 47, or 33%, have lived up to that lofty rating by also winning the playoff championship.  In no year has every poll winner gone on to also win the playoff title, and in a few seasons none of the poll champions were able to also take home a playoff title. 

The playoffs have also served to vindicate the ability of many teams.  It goes without saying that many teams in Divisions III-IV-V-VI would probably have never received the credit due them had it not been for the playoffs.  The same can, to a lesser degree, be said for the entire city of Cincinnati.  Not one Queen City team was ever named a poll champion, in any class, in the 25 years of the poll era.  In fact, no Cincinnati team had ever been named state football champion since champions were first declared back in 1895.  All that, however, has changed with the coming of the playoffs.  In the 34 years of the playoffs (thru 2005), Cincinnati teams have taken home a total of 19 state championship trophies. 

Whether you hail from a small school or a big city school, the playoffs have certainly made it a level playing field and truly allowed the cream to rise to the top.

While every school in the state has not qualified for the football playoffs, almost all of them have.  Of the 713 schools that support a football team, approximately 610 have at one time or another enjoyed the excitement of post-season play.  Some have made this trip just once, and one school made the most of its singular opportunity.  In 1974, the Truckers of Norwalk High School fell behind Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas 10-0 early in the second quarter of the Class AA final.  The Truckers regrouped, and over the next two quarters ran off 20 unanswered points to lead 20-10 heading into the last quarter of play.  St. Thomas made it a 20-17 game early in the fourth quarter, but midway through the period the Truckers’ John McCarty scored on a 12-yard touchdown run.  That TD sealed Norwalk’s 27-17 victory, giving the Truckers a Class AA state championship in their only playoff appearance to date.

At the other end of the championship spectrum are the powerhouse, dynasty teams.  These are the teams that have dominated their division, or divisions in some cases, for a number of years before finally relinquishing what looked to be a strangle hold on the championship trophy.

The first of these great playoff teams comes from one of the relatively new schools in the state.  Archbishop Moeller High School opened its doors in September of 1960, and fielded its first varsity football team in 1963.  From the get-go the Crusaders were winners for coach Gerry Faust, losing only 14 games in their first 10 seasons, while twice posting perfect 10-0-0 records.  Moeller first qualified for the Class AAA playoffs in 1973 and 1974, but lost its first round (semi-final) game each time.  It would be a completely different story over the next ten seasons.

In 1975 the Crusaders posted another 10-0-0 regular season record, but this time their success would carry over into the playoffs.  In the finals against Lakewood St. Edward, the Crusaders held on for a 14-12 victory and their first state championship.  In 1976 it was more of the same - another perfect regular season and a second straight Class AAA title.  In 1977 coach Faust’s boys successfully completed the hat trick.  After posting a fifth consecutive undefeated regular season, the Crusaders dominated Toledo Central Catholic 42-14 in the Class AAA semifinals.  It would not be as easy against Canton McKinley in the finals, but the Crusaders got the job done by a score of 14-2.

The Crusaders’ win streak was halted at 37 in the second game of the 1978 season.  That loss, to Cincinnati Princeton by a single point, 13-12, not only cost the Crusader’s another perfect season, but it also kept them from making the playoffs.  But in 1979 coach Faust had his team back on track as the Crusaders again went 12-0 to win another state title.

In 1980, the first expansion of the playoffs meant that a team now had to win three playoff games in order to take home the top prize.  Not a problem for the Crusaders, who posted their first 13-win season and took home the Division I championship hardware with a 30-7 victory over Massillon Washington.  In 1981 the Crusaders were again perfect – until the last game.  This time, in a rematch of their 1977 title game encounter with Canton McKinley, it would be the Bulldogs coming out on top, as they handed the Crusaders their first shutout since 1972, 13-0.  Moeller, now playing under coach Steve Klonne, bounced right back in 1982 by posting a perfect 13-0 season and winning another Division I championship.  The Crusaders lost first round playoff games in both 1983 and 1984, but in 1985 they successfully regrouped to win their seventh state championship.

From 1975-1985 the Crusaders had won seven Class AAA/Division I state football titles, and had been named national champions five times.  The run was now over, but the standard had been set. 

While we normally identify a state power with an extended run of success like that enjoyed by Moeller in the ‘70s and ‘80s, that is not always the scenario.  Take the example of Benedictine High School.  A power in the Greater Cleveland area for more than a half century, the Bengals are the only team to win a playoff championship in every decade that the playoffs have been held. 

Under legendary coach Augie Bossu, the Bengals first qualified for the playoffs in 1973, and promptly won the Class AA state title.  It would take Benedictine seven years to return to post-season play, but then they would win back-to-back titles, in two different divisions.  In 1980, the Bengals handed Hamilton Badin its first loss of the season in winning the Division III title game, 9-3.  The next year, having moved up to Division II, coach Bossu’s defense scored two touchdowns as the Bengals overcame Trotwood Madison’s early 7-0 lead to come away with a 28-7 championship game victory. 

Over the next 15 seasons Benedictine would qualify for the playoffs seven times, but the Bengals would have to wait until 1996 to win their fourth state championship, a 14-3 victory over Columbus DeSales in the Division III final.

Since ’96 the Bengals have qualified for the playoffs all but three times, and have advanced to the Division III championship game three more times.  In 2002 the Bengals lost to Columbus Watterson, 28-7, in the title game, but each of the next two seasons they took home the championship hardware.  In 2003, not even Kenton’s great quarterback Ben Mauk could keep the Bengals from a state championship, as Benedictine’s defense shut down Mauk while defeating the Wildcats by a score of 12-0.  The next year it would be St. Mary’s Memorial losing to Benedictine in the Division III final, 27-14, as the Bengals took home their sixth state championship – the third most titles in the state. 

Benedictine may not win the title every season, but there is a reason for that sign over the school entrance that reads “The Home of Champions.”

Benedictine has shown that you do not have to be one of the so called “big schools” to win championships, and a school with one-third the number of boys as Benedictine in some regards may possess the most successful playoff era football team of all.  Newark Catholic High School has only 111 boys and plays in Division V, but the Green Wave has practically made the playoffs their own personal second season.  In the 34 years that Ohio has had the football playoffs, the Green and White has qualified for the post-season an unbelievable 28 times. 

Once they are in the playoffs, Newark Catholic is not satisfied with just sticking around for the proverbial cup of coffee.  The Green Wave has advanced to the championship game more times than any other school in the state, playing for Division V honors a record 12 times.  Over one eight year stretch, 1980 to 1987, they advanced to the finals each season, winning five of those eight championship games, including a then record four in a row (1984-1987).  The Green Wave has also won titles in 1978 and 1991, tying them with Moeller for the second most state championships at seven. 

Beginning in 1985 another small school started its own fabulous run of success, across two different divisions.  Playing in Division IV, the Versailles Tigers steadily advanced through the playoffs each season, finally making it to the championship game in 1988.  They lost that one to Canton Central Catholic, 21-6.  In 1989 the Tigers lost out in the semi-finals; but, coach Al Hetrick’s team finally struck gold in 1990 when they defeated Loudonville, 29-26, in a very exciting Division IV championship game. 

The 1991 and 1992 seasons were off years for the Tigers as they failed to qualify for the playoffs, but they were hardly finished winning state championships.  After losing its season opener in 1993, Versailles won out over the rest of the season to finish 13-1 and win its second state title.  The following year the Tigers moved to Division V, where their win streak reached 27 in a row as they won a second straight title.  In 1995 Versailles was back again in Division IV.  Another 14-0 season stretched their win streak to 41 in a row, but it very nearly did not happen.  In two of the three playoff games leading to the state title game the Tigers won by just a single point.  In the Division IV championship game that season, the Tigers had to battle Bellaire’s Big Red through two overtime periods before finally coming away with a 50-44 victory and their third consecutive football championship.   In 1996 Versailles ran its win streak to 54 in a row before seeing it all come to an end with a 26-14 defeat at the hands of Marion Pleasant in the Division V title game. 

Coach Al Hetrick’s Tigers have qualified for the playoffs six of the last nine years.  In 1998 they again took top honors in Division V, and in 2003 and 2004 they played for the title in Division IV.  They lost in ’04, but in 2003 the Tigers took home state championship trophy #6.  Only four schools in Ohio have won as many state titles as the Versailles Tigers.

If you measure success simply by state championships, then the hands down winner in Ohio is Cleveland’s St. Ignatius Wildcats.  While the Wildcats have been a power in the Cleveland area since the late 1940s, and playing football for more than 90 years, they are a relative newcomer to the world of Ohio playoff football.  A newcomer, yes, but hardly unsuccessful.  The Wildcats did not advance to Division I post-season play until 1988, but since then they have not missed a year, playing in a state record 21 (thru 2008) consecutive playoffs.

Once St. Ignatius did make the playoffs it looked as if not only would they never leave, but that no one would ever beat them.  In both 1988 and 1989 the Wildcats won all eight of their playoff games to win back-to-back Division I titles, as well as the national championship in ’89.  In 1990 they lost their first round playoff game, but that proved to be merely a fluke.  From 1991 thru 1995 coach Chuck Kyle’s Wildcats won 20 consecutive playoff games, leading to an incredible five consecutive Division I championships, perhaps the greatest playoff era accomplishment to date.  In 1993 and 1995, Coach Kyle’s team also added two more national championships to its trophy case.

The Wildcats’ playoff win streak hit 23 in a row before they were defeated by Lima Senior High School in the 1996 championship game, 38-30.  The Wildcats continued to make the playoffs each season, but did not return to the Division I finals again until 1999.  Led by sophomore quarterback Nate Szep, starting his very first varsity game in the Division I championship game due to an injury to regular starter Bryan Panteck, the Wildcats defeated a tough Huber Heights Wayne team, 24-10, to earn a record eighth state championship.

In 2000, the Wildcats seemed destined to win another state title when they were upset in the regional finals by the Comets of Solon High School.  In 2001 the scenario was quite different.  The Wildcats completed the regular season at 6-4 and just barely qualified for the playoffs on the very last day of the season.  The playoffs are often referred to as a second season, and the 2001 Wildcats took full advantage of this fact.  Averaging just under 45 points per game, the Wildcats destroyed some of the state’s top Division I teams along the playoff trail.   In the finals St. Ignatius even manhandled Cincinnati St. Xavier, which had defeated St. Ignatius during the regular season.  The Wildcats made it look easy as they defeated the Bombers in that title game by a score of 37-6 to bring home an unprecedented ninth state football championship. 

From 2002 to 2007 victories were a bit hard to come by for St. Ignatius, but they continued to make the playoffs every year.  In 2008, after an opening night loss to Glenville the Wildcats ran off 14 consecutive victories, culminated by a 28-20 victory over Cincinnati Elder in the Division I championship game – the Wildcats 10th state title.

The playoffs have added five weeks to the high school football season, but you will hear few, if any, complaints from those schools that have qualified for post-season play.  In the big cities it is the individual school where most of the excitement takes place.  However, it is a much different story for the schools in some of Ohio’s smaller communities.  There, when the local team makes the playoffs it is like the 4th of July and the Super Bowl all rolled into one.  Everyone in town gets behind the team, and it does not matter whether the team is the first seed or the eighth, just making the playoffs is all that matters.  Of course, they all hope – and expect – that their team will go all the way to a state championship; but, whether or not they bring home a state title, or bow out in the first round, for as long as their team is in the playoffs they are the local heroes and will remain so until the next season rolls around, and perhaps beyond. 


 

Looking Back at the OHSAA's Football Championships - No. 4
A centennial moment - National Champions

By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
www.SportsHeritagePublications.net
 

It seems that every Fall the debate resumes: which state has the best high school football?  Many claim that honor belongs to the Lone Star State of Texas, while California, Pennsylvania, and Florida also have their solid backers.  However, the numbers tell it all, and when you look at the numbers there can only be one answer: OHIO

 

National champions in high school football have been named since 1897.  At first this was not a yearly thing, but since 1910 only the war years of 1917, 1944 and 1945 have passed without a national high school football champion being named.  These champions have come from 23 different states.  Of the 128 schools (thru 2008) that have been named, or shared, the title of national champion, 27, or a whopping 21%, have come from the Buckeye State.  To illustrate how dominating a figure that is, the state with the next most champions is California with 16, while Texas has 15 and only two other states can claim as many as ten national champions. 

 

Ohio’s national champions have not been limited to any certain period of time.  The first titleholder, Fostoria High School, won its title back in 1912, while Ohio’s most recent national champion, Canton McKinley’s Bulldogs, grabbed top honors in 1997.  In every decade between those two years, a total of eight Ohio high schools have been good enough to place national championship hardware in their trophy cases.  Leading the way with a national record of nine titles is Massillon Washington High School, followed by Cincinnati Moeller (5), Toledo Scott (4), Cleveland St. Ignatius (3), Toledo Waite (2), Canton McKinley (2), East Cleveland Shaw (1) and Fostoria (1). 

 

While each of these schools has had its own era of national prominence, the fact that an Ohio school is always somewhere near the top of the national charts is the most telling evidence for the outstanding quality and consistency of the high school football played in the state.  Furthermore, it is not just the so-called big schools that have garnered this national acclaim.  Several of the teams from Ohio’s smaller school divisions have been good enough to occasionally land on the national charts as well, demonstrating that football excellence in the state is not limited to just a few, or to just one division. 

Today we have what are called the “mythical” national champions in high school football because the winners are taken from the various nationwide polls, rather than winning their title on the field of play.  However, believe it or not, in the earliest days of high school football the national championships were actually decided on the gridiron, and Ohio schools were in the thick of it.  From 1897-1927 a total of 16 games were played that are today recognized as having been for the national championship.  Ohio schools were very involved in these games, having played in ten of them.  Our record was a good one, too, as Ohio high schools posted five victories and one tie, while losing just four times.  

The first national championship game took place in 1897, when the team from Madison (Wisc.) High School defeated North Tonawanda (N.Y.) High School by a score of 14-0 to claim that first national championship.  It would not be for another seven years before another national champion was named, and this, too, would be as the result of a championship game.  That game, played in Saturday, November 5, 1904, would pit a couple of “neighbors” against each other, Toledo Central High School against Detroit Central High School. In this late afternoon game the Toledoans scored a first quarter touchdown, but missed the “goal kick” to leave the score at 5-0 (touchdowns were only worth five points back then).  Later in the first half the Detroiters recovered a Toledo fumble and returned the ball 55 yards for the game tying TD.  The Detroiters made their goal kick to take a 6-5 lead.  That was how the game would end, one in which the final ten minutes were “played in almost total darkness,” there being no lights for the gridiron in ’05.  (The first night game to be played under the lights in Ohio would not come until October of 1929 in Cleveland, when St. Ignatius defeated Holy Name by a score of 24 to 7.)

In 1912, the Redmen of Fostoria High School under the direction of their great coach Lawrence C. Boles, were on their way to a third consecutive state championship, and scoring points almost faster than the guy running the scoreboard could post them.  In their eight games they would amass 596 points, for an unbelievable average of 74½ points per game, while yielding zero.  Twice they scored more than 100 points, defeating Crestline High School, 131-0, and Prairie Depot by 103-0.  When a game was arranged with Buffalo (N.Y.) Central High School, one of the better teams in the east, to decide the national championship, it was hoped that the Redmen would finally face some stiff competition.

New team, same score.  It was not even close as the Redmen’s vaunted passing attack destroyed the New Yorkers by the team’s weekly average, 74-0.  How good was this Fostoria team that ran up one of the greatest point differentials in national high school football history?  George Little, then the head football coach at the University of Cincinnati and who had officiated at several Fostoria games during the season, said that Fostoria had the best passing attack of any team he had ever seen (only six years after the forward pass had been legalized) and that the Redmen could defeat the majority of the college teams in Ohio.

Fostoria shared the national title that season with the team from Oak Park (Ill.) High School, which defeated the team from Everett, Mass., 32-14, in another national championship game.

From 1916-1923, Toledo’s Scott High School possessed quite possibly the most dominant high school football team in the nation, during an era that saw the emergence of several great high school teams around the country.  Scott also has the distinction of having never lost a national championship football game – and they played in four of them, more than any other school in the country

In 1916, Coach Tom Merrell’s team put its 9-0-0 record (which already included victories over teams from Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois) on the line when it traveled to Massachusetts via rail.  There they would take on Haverhill High School of the Boston area on Saturday, December 9, before some 7,000 mostly local fans – although a contingent of Scott loyalists had also taken the train to Massachusetts for the game.  The weather was perfect for football, even if the warmer temperatures of the early afternoon thawed an early season frost, making the field just a bit slippery.  Scott took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, then added another six-pointer in the final frame to post its sixth shutout of the season, 13-0, to claim its first national championship.   

In 1919 Scott High again really earned its national championship.  After playing, and defeating, a slate of seven teams from around Ohio and Michigan, the Bulldogs again traveled to Massachusetts, where it defeated the team from Somerville High School, 13-0, for the right to travel to the other side of the country to play for the national championship.  The Toledoans were supposed to play the California champions from Long Beach, but that game fell through at the last minute.  Instead, they journeyed up the coast to Everett, Washington, for a game with that city’s team, one of the best contingents on the west coast, if not the whole country.  The contest was a bitter struggle that ended in a 7-7 deadlock.  Both teams shared the national title that year, along with the team from Harrisburg, Pa. (12-0, outscoring the opposition 701-0).

The following year Everett (Wash.) High School again played a team from Ohio for the national title, Cleveland’s East Tech High School.  Unfortunately for the Scarabs, it was a long trip that ended in a 16-7 defeat.

In 1923, Scott High School played host to the team from Washington High School of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in another game billed as being for the national championship.  Played before some 20,000 spectators at Toledo’s new stadium, the locals were stunned as Cedar Rapids’ Elmer Marek scored 21 points within a 10 minute span of the third period to tie the game at 21-all.  But with just 36 seconds to play, Scotts’ captain, Eddie Evans, booted the field goal that gave Scott High School a 24-21 victory. 

The season was apparently now over for Scott, until the challenge came from undefeated Columbia Prep of Corvallis, Oregon, which also wanted to play Scott to decide the national title.  That game, played on January 1, 1924, was a bit anti-climatic when compared to the game against Washington High.  After a slow start, in which Scott led 6-0 at the half, the Ohioans poured it on in the second session to come away with a 32-0 victory. 

And this time there were no more challengers, the national championship was theirs - almost. That same year, Shaw High School of East Cleveland hosted the team from Salem (Mass.) High School, the only undefeated team in the Bay State.  Before some 12,000 fans at Shaw Stadium, the East Clevelanders handily swept aside their visitors by a score of 26-0.  Toledo Scott and Shaw are recognized as co-national (and Ohio) champions for 1923.

In 1924 there was no recognized game for the national championship, but if ever a team had earned that title it was the team from Scott High School’s archrival from across town, Waite High School. You will probably never find a more truly national schedule than that of the 1924 Waite football team.  Off their ten games, only three were played in Ohio, the rest being composed of teams from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana and Massachusetts.  Waite no doubt clinched the national title when they defeated two-time defending champion Scott, 13-6, in their next to last game.  They then added an exclamation point to the season by thrashing one-time national power, Everett (Mass.) High School, in their season finale, 46-0.  (Yes, strange as it may seem, two high schools with the name “Everett,” one from Washington and the other from Massachusetts, were national powers at roughly the same time.)

After owning the national championship for three years, 1922-1924, Ohio fell out of the picture until 1927.  That year, undefeated state champion Cleveland Cathedral Latin was challenged by the team from Waco (Tex.) High School to play in Texas for the national championship.  The game was played on December 26.  The Latins, not having had their uniforms on for almost three weeks, and not having practiced outdoors for that same period due to the weather in Cleveland, held their own early in the game.  But eventually Waco’s superior size and conditioning, and the sweltering 80+ degrees in Waco’s Cow Palace Arena, finally got to the Clevelanders as they lost the game, 44-12.  In this, the last game recognized as a national high school championship game, Cathedral Latin became the only private school to play for national honors.

The 1930s were anything but depressing for Ohio high school football fans, as Ohio teams dominated the national polls throughout the decade.  In 1932, Toledo Waite (12-0) won its second national championship, sharing the title with the team from New Rochelle, N.Y.  In 1934 Canton McKinley went 11-0 to win its first national championship.  The next two years the Bulldogs’ archrivals, Massillon Washington, dominated the national scene as Paul Brown’s Tigers posted back-to-back undefeated seasons to capture consecutive national titles. The Tigers came back to again post back-to-back national championship seasons under Coach Brown in 1939 and 1940. 

That championship posted by the Tigers in 1940 would prove to be Ohio’s only national title that decade, but in the early ‘50s the Tigers, now playing under head coach Chuck Mather, were once again back at it.  From 1948 thru 1953, Mather’s Tigers won 57 of 60 games, adding national championships in 1950, 1952 and 1953.  Later in the decade, under the guidance of Coach Leo Strang, the Tigers took home a national championship in 1959, and again in 1961.

From 1962 to 1975 Ohio would experience its longest period, 14 seasons, without a national champion, but all of that would come to a screeching halt in 1976 with the emergence of the Cincinnati Moeller Crusaders under the leadership of head coach Gerry Faust.  Moeller won national championships in 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1982, becoming only the second parochial school to do so. 

In 1989, Cleveland’s St. Ignatius Wildcats became only the third parochial school to grab national honors, and coach Chuck Kyle’s Wildcats repeated as national champions in 1993 and 1995.  For their efforts and outstanding success the Wildcats were named the national “Team of the Decade” for the 1990s by Student Sports magazine

Ohio’s most recent national championship is owned by the Bulldogs of Canton McKinley, Coach Thom McDaniels’ team taking the nation’s top spot in 1997. 

With the outstanding caliber of high school football that is yearly demonstrated throughout the Buckeye State, it is only a matter of time before another Ohio high school rests atop the national charts.

 

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