BLAST FROM THE PAST: Quick kicks help win 1959 league titles
HERON LAKE -- Dwight Eisenhower was the U.S. President, Ford Motor Company was ending its one-year venture with the ill-fated Edsel, Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks (National League) and White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox (American League) had just g...
HERON LAKE -- Dwight Eisenhower was the U.S. President, Ford Motor Company was ending its one-year venture with the ill-fated Edsel, Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks (National League) and White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox (American League) had just given Chicago a pair of Major League Most Valuable Players, television quiz show celebrity Charles Van Doren was being investigated for his cheating exploits on "Twenty One," and Bobby Darin's classic "Mack The Knife" was the nation's top song, while "Mr. Blue" by the Fleetwoods was climbing the charts.
It was late October of 1959 and the high school football season was winding down.
Playing in soaking rain and a muddy field, Worthington celebrated its Homecoming by defeating Luverne 12-0, claiming the championship of what was then known as the Southwestern Conference.
The Trojans won their fifth straight game that evening and finished the campaign with a 6-2 record, going a perfect 4-0 in the five-team Southwestern -- which also included Pipestone, Windom, Jackson and defending champion Luverne.
The Cardinals, who had been undefeated in 1958 and had not lost in 22 games against Minnesota teams, posted a 26-13 victory over Pipestone the following week to finish second in the league with a 3-1 conference mark and an overall record of 5-2-1.
Utilizing the "Punt and Pray" philosophy of former University of Michigan coach Fielding H. Yost, Worthington quick kicked (punted) several times during the game on either second or third down -- once on first down -- surprising the Cardinals and helping win the field position battle.
"Keep your opponents in the hole and let them make the mistakes by handling the ball," was the philosophy preached by Yost, according to the Daily Globe's game write-up on Monday, Nov. 2, 1959 about that mud-filled contest.
Worthington coaches Milt Osterberg and Don Strom effectively implemented Yost's strategy that night and kept the Cardinals from crossing the Trojans' 40-yard line until late in the fourth quarter.
The Trojans, meanwhile, recovered four Luverne fumbles and scored a pair of touchdowns.
Worthington fullback Lyle Gerdes, who later would be named to the All-State defensive team, quick-kicked on first down from the Trojan nine-yard line late in the first quarter, starting the barrage of surprise punts.
After recovering a fumble at midfield, the Trojans quick-kicked again -- on the first play of the second quarter -- and downed the ball at the Luverne 10-yard stripe, having moved the ball 81 yards on two quick kicks.
A bit later, WHS junior quarterback Gary Ridge faked to Gerdes and streaked 48 yards for a Trojan touchdown, giving Worthington a 6-0 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, the Trojans put together a sustained drive behind a couple of runs by Ridge, a nice gain by halfback Bill Jafvert and several punishing runs by Gerdes, who capped the 12-play, 71-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown plunge after having carried nine times for 63 yards on the march.
Worthington's defense -- aided by two more fumble recoveries -- stopped Luverne's best two drives near the game's end and the Trojans hung on for conference-clinching victory and the first win by a Minnesota team over the Cardinals since early in the 1957 season.
Not a single pass was completed in the game, as the Trojans tossed a pair of incompletions and the Cardinals were 0-for-3.
Luverne did outrush the Trojans by a 179-156 margin and had 10 first downs compared to five for Worthington.
But those quick kicks and those six fumble recoveries by the Trojans helped WHS win the 1959 conference crown.
Adrian rallies to win Tri-County championship
On that same sloppy night, Adrian rallied from a 14-0 deficit to post a 19-14 victory over Hills and claim the championship of the seven-team Tri-County Conference.
Fred Lutjens and David Swanson scored second-quarter touchdowns for the Bluejays, building the lead for Hills.
But the Dragons came back with a pair of touchdowns by Glen Sell -- the second one coming after he blocked a Bluejay punt and recovered the ball in the end zone.
Still trailing 14-13 late in the fourth quarter, Adrian scored again after Steve Rust rambled 60 yards on a fumble recovery to the Hills' six-yard line. Three plays later, Dragon quarterback Ron Breuer tossed a touchdown pass to Art Bortz for the game-winner.
After a season-opening 14-14 tie with Edgerton, the Dragons won six consecutive games to finish the season with a 6-0-1 mark.
Breuer finished the season with 16 TD passes, while Sell scored 15 touchdowns.
In addition to Rust, Bortz, Breuer and Sell, the other starters on Adrian's 8-Man team -- coached by Lowell Barsness -- were Stephen Smith, Dale MacRunnels, Pete Marr and Delbert Gonnerman.
The Dragons racked up 271 points that season, while allowing their seven opponents a total of just 86.
Quick kick in East Chain mud helps HLHS extend win streak to 18 games
Speaking of quick kicks, one by Heron Lake senior quarterback Ray Diemer helped turn the tide in the "Mud Bowl" at East Chain that same night.
Both the Chainers and the Falcons were undefeated and were playing for the championship of the newly-created 10-team Southern Star Conference.
The league, which had a 22-year existence before being disbanded after the 1981 season, was split into two divisions.
In the west were the Heron Lake Falcons, Okabena Bluehawks, Sioux Valley Warriors, Brewster Bulldogs and Round Lake Wildcats (later the Thunderbirds or T-Birds).
In the east were the East Chain Chainers, Granada Eagles, Huntley Black Knights, Welcome Wildcats and Ceylon Huskies.
East Chain and Heron Lake had met in a non-conference game in 1958 and the Falcons had rallied from a 13-0 deficit to post a 19-13 victory on a cold night in Heron Lake.
That was East Chain's only loss that season and the Chainers were likely still "stinging" from that loss when the Falcons traveled east to cap the '59 campaign.
"I was at that game," recalls LaCrosse Township farmer Cletus Freking, who graduated from HLHS in 1950. "Man, that was the muddiest mess you ever saw for a football game. It rained hard the whole day and it just continued through the entire game, leaving the field full of mud."
The concluding paragraph of the Daily Globe game account reinforced Freking's memory:
"Most of the game was played in ankle deep mud in the middle of the field."
Neither team scored in the first half, and then -- just like in the Worthington vs. Luverne game -- a quick kick helped the Falcons gain field position advantage.
Diemer, who had missed his junior season with a knee injury, was a key contributor as both a runner and passer in '59. He also did the punting.
"Ray was a smart player," recalls Crosby's Lloyd Hallada, who coached the Falcons to a 23-2 record during the '57, '58 and '59 seasons. "I was going to send in the play for the quick kick, but he had already called it -- and it sure worked out in our favor."
Diemer's punt was downed by the Falcons at the Chainer two-yard line and on the next play, Heron Lake senior linemen Lew Kieffer and Bob Bauman teamed together to tackle an East Chain ball carrier in the end zone for a two-point safety.
Heron Lake later scored a touchdown when All-State senior halfback Kenny Freking -- who scored 26 touchdowns during the '58 and '59 seasons -- capped a Falcon drive with a two-yard plunge.
East Chain scored late in the game, but HLHS claimed an 8-6 victory, the conference championship, a second consecutive undefeated season and extended its winning streak to 18 games.
"That was quite a game," summed up Cletus Freking. "I remember one time when Kieffer came over to the sideline and all you could see was his eyes. The rest of him was coated with mud."
Pictures of Ridge, Dave Pint, Tim Koelz and WHS student manager Doug Greve in Monday's Daily Globe sports page showed those Trojans were coated in mud, also.
A front page story of that same edition referred to Friday's games as:
"Probably the rainiest, muddiest weather that football has been played in some time, no less than three conference titles were decided."
Turner scores winning touchdown for Round Lake
The sports pages capsulized the league titles won by Worthington, Adrian and Heron Lake.
In other games that same night:
Slayton outscored Pipestone 7-6, marking the first football victory for the Wildcats over the Arrows since 1946.
Trailing 13-0 at halftime, Round Lake rallied past Huntley, 20-13, as Denny Turner -- who had earlier tossed a TD pass to Craig Erickson -- scooted in from 10 yards out for the winning touchdown. Round Lake's Stan Hastings tied the game early in the fourth quarter with a 30-yard touchdown run.
Windom and Jackson played to a 13-13 tie.
The Bluejays took a 13-0 lead on 30-yard TD runs by Bruce Rasmussen and Dean Libra, with Mark Wilhelm kicking an extra-point.
Daryl Hanson passed to Dennis Cogley for a 15-yard Windom touchdown, while Phil Johnson scored on a five-yard burst and Mike Ratzloff tied the contest with an extra-point plunge.
The Fulda vs. Lamberton game was postponed until Tuesday night -- the only area game not played on that miserable night.
Falcons outscore 18 opponents, 549-162
Heron Lake entered the final game of the 1957 campaign with a 5-2 record, finishing the season with a 6-0 victory over Round Lake.
The Falcons won all eight games in 1958, posting victories over Ruthton (26-13), Lake Park (46-6), Ocheyedan (32-0), Okabena (19-13), Sioux Valley (33-7), East Chain (19-13), Brewster (43-20) and Round Lake (52-40), as the team outscored its opposition by a 270-112 margin.
In 1959, Heron Lake scored 273 points and allowed only 50, while recording a trio of shutouts. Only twice -- in nine games -- did the Falcons give up a pair of touchdowns.
The '59 wins came over Brewster (53-0), Okabena (33-7), Huntley (18-6), Round Lake (19-0), Sioux Valley (32-0), Granada (34-6), Welcome (45-12), Ceylon (31-13) and East Chain (8-6).