Trojans share 1967 Southwest Conference football title withTigers
WORTHINGTON -- During the 1960's, Jackson High School was the dominant football power in the Southwest Conference. Under head coach Wes Wistrom, the Bluejays won the league championship in five out six seasons, claiming the crown in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1969.
So who won the conference in 1967 -- the last year that the Minnesota Gophers shared a piece of the Big 10 championship?
Why, the two schools facing each other in Friday evening's Trojan Homecoming -- the Marshall Tigers and the Worthington Trojans.
"We beat Slayton on a miserably cold and windy night on the last game of the season," recalled Heron Lake State Bank insurance agent Gary Schimbeno, who was a junior defensive back for the Trojans that fall. "Then we heard on the radio that Luverne had beat Marshall, which meant that we tied for the conference championship."
After going 8-1 with a senior-laden squad in 1965, the Trojans had an exciting campaign in '66 that produced an overall mark of 5-3-1.
The '65 team lost only to Jackson and the '66 Trojans tied Luverne (0-0) in the last game of the season -- tying the Cardinals for second-place in the conference with a 4-2-1 league record.
A highlight game for Worthington in 1966 was a 27-14 victory over Pipestone in Week 8 -- coming on the heels of a 7-2 loss to Windom on the night of the terrible homecoming blizzard.
Worthington YMCA physical director Wayne Klumper was a running back for the Trojans during those '66 and '67 seasons, before he did the same for the Worthington State Junior College Bluejays in '68 and '69.
"We had some memorable games late in that '66 season," said Klumper, who was praised by Daily Globe Sports Editor Corky Brace (in his game writeup) for chasing down Pipestone's Leo Hess, who had intercepted a Trojan pass and ran the ball for 56 yards before Klumper knocked him out-of-bounds at the 6-yard line. "We ended up keeping them from scoring and then we went on a drive ourselves and scored."
Graduation again took a heavy toll on the Trojans and 1967 was expected to be a "rebuilding" year.
But with long-time coach Milt Osterberg working his 29th season as a high school football coach -- his 17th as the head WHS mentor -- the Trojans enjoyed a banner campaign while "The Letter" by the Boxtops was topping the charts.
The Trojans were small in numbers -- returning just nine lettermen -- but were bigger than the '66 squad.
"We only had 11 seniors, but we had a good junior class with some size and things just meshed together real well for us," recalled Klumper. "Winning the game at Jackson, the night before Turkey Day was really a thrill for us."
The '67 season opened with a 13-6 victory over Minneapolis suburb Mound, but was followed by a 33-13 setback at Fairmont.
Sharing time on the offensive and defensive lines for the Trojans were juniors Steve Wemple (165), Bill Horak (170), Doug Hinsch (180), Tom Fauskee (200), Lee Nystrom (215) and Gordy Hughes (205), along with senior lettermen Dallas Hallstrom (160), Jeff Hochhalter (205), John Osterberg (185), Bruce Lohr (160), Steve Nelson (200) and Kris Svingen (160).
Four lettermen returned in the backfield for the Trojans, as junior John Ireland (150) had three good options to hand the ball off to in senior veterans Steve Ahlberg (170), Tomm Smail (180) and Klumper (180).
"Those three were all good backs," recalled Schimbeno, who has been a basketball referee for the past three decades. "We were not fancy, we just powered the ball forward -- three yards and a cloud of dust -- those three backs were hard to bring down."
Worthington cross country coach Mike Traphagen was a new kid in town that fall, having moved to Worthington from Renville, and agreed with Schimbeno.
"I remember how each of them could stay on their feet, they did not go down easy," said Traphagen, who was a sixth-grader that fall. "It was fun watching that team."
As Klumper mentioned, the team's signature game was likely played at Jackson on September 15 -- the conference opener.
Holding the Bluejays to a mere 11 yards of total offense and giving up just two first downs, the Trojan defense dominated the contest.
Worthington scored three touchdowns -- two by Smail and one by Klumper -- in the second quarter and opened up a 20-0 halftime lead. Klumper added two more third-quarter TD's and the Trojans won big, 34-0.
Worthington had not scored on Jackson in the previous three seasons and only had one victory over the Bluejays during the past 15 years.
Riding the momentum of that victory and playing at home, the Trojans earned a 14-0 lead on Marshall. But the speedy Tigers roared back and defeated Worthington, 18-14. giving MHS its first victory over an Osterberg-coached team since 1954.
The Trojans bounced back with consecutive victories over Redwood Falls (47-13), Windom (35-18), Pipestone (34-3) and Luverne (14-7) to improve to 5-1 in conference action.
But Marshall was 6-0 and only one game was left on each team's schedule.
The night before that last game of the '67 season, eight inches of snow fell in much of Southwestern Minnesota, making field conditions treacherous and the weather cold.
"It was cold and windy," said Klumper. "But not nearly as bad as that homecoming game the year before."
Playing at Slayton against a Wildcat team that was 5-3, things were not easy for the Trojans in the first half.
Greg Johnson was a fleet-footed running back for Slayton and John Larson kicked a 31-yard field goal, helping the Wildcats stay close. The Trojans held a 14-10 halftime lead and outscored their hosts, 24-0 in the second half, ending their season with a 34-10 victory.
Meanwhile at Marshall, Luverne spoiled the Tigers' undefeated season with a 14-6 victory, giving the Trojans a share of the conference title.
With the victory, the Cardinals improved to 5-2 in the league and tied Jackson for third place.
At least two players from that '67 Trojan team went to enjoy stellar post-high school football careers.
Smail starred as a linebacker at powerhouse North Dakota State (Fargo, N.D.) and Nystrom shined at Macalester College in St. Paul and later had a brief stint as an offensive tackle with the Green Bay Packers.
"Playing on that team and winning the conference title was a great experience." concluded Schimbeno. "I just can't believe that it's been 40 years since we practiced and played together."
By the way, who was a starting defensive back for that '67 Gopher team that shared the Big 10 title with Indiana and Purdue?
WHS football coach Dennis Hale, who racked up 3,937 all-purposes yards at Jackson and was named All-State in 1964, was a starter in the secondary, while Heron Lake's Wally Pribyl was a back-up defensive back and would start -- with Hale -- the next season when Minnesota hosted O.J. Simpson and the USC Bruins at old Memorial Stadium.