Flyin’ High Again
Ironton St. Joseph played football from 1925 to 1992. And like any other program, the Flyers had seasons of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the average.
But it was the 1964 team that stood above the rest.
St. Joseph went 9-0 in that memorable season 45 years ago and nine of the 11 senior team members got together during a class reunion Saturday.
The Flyers boasted a lot of talent on the team as evidenced by three Division I college signings. Linemen Pat Myers and Jack Davis, now an Ironton dentist, signed scholarships with Ohio University.
Mike Holtzapfel was signed by Notre Dame and later earned a ring when the Fighting Irish won the 1966 national championship.
But the talent ran deeper than just the three major signees.
“The closeness of the team was big, and it was a football savvy class,” said Bob Carey who was a running back on the team.
“Everyone knew the game and knew how it was played. It was a very smart class. Everyone had speed, even our big guys like Jack (Davis).”
Pat Sheridan was in his fifth season as the Flyers head coach and he knew the team had a lot of potential.
“We had some good individual players, but it was the best collection of talent (St. Joseph) ever had. We had a lot of guys who could have played at the next level even if it was smaller colleges,” said Sheridan.
But the players said Sheridan has more to do with the team’s success than he was given credit. Sheridan was the only paid coach and had two full-time assistants, Roy Riley and Bob Haas. Part-time help came from former players who were in college such as Bob Lutz and Iowa State linebacker Jim Wipert.
“Coach doesn’t get the credit he should,” said Mike McFann, a guard and linebacker who returned interceptions for touchdowns twice during the season.
“We had a good team, but Pat did a great job. Pat made us believe in ourselves.”
Davis — team co-captain along with Holtzapfel — echoed McFann’s sentiments.
“Pat put it together,” said Davis. “He never took credit, but he deserves a lot of credit. We were a small school going against much bigger schools. It was a David and Goliath. We didn’t have the coaching staffs they have today and he was a step ahead of everyone. He did a great job.”
St. Joseph won two Tri-State Catholic League titles and two County League championships. They lost 16-14 at Coal Grove in 1963, but the Hornets used an ineligible player all season and were forced to forfeit the title.
The players said the title in 1964 was the most rewarding in the two-year span because it was won on the field.
The Flyers later won OVC title in 1969, 1971 and 1974. The Flyers left the OVC in 1983 and dropped football following the 1992 season.
During the 1964 season, the Flyers beat Winfield, W.Va., the defending Class A state champions with a large group of veterans returning.
Quarterback Pete Kratzenberg — who signed to play baseball at Bowling Green — ran for one score, Holtzpafel ran for one and threw 21 yards to J.C. Medinger for another, and fullback Dan Geswein rambled 29 yards for the final scored.
“Put in (the story) that I carried three guys into the end zone,” said Geswein with a laugh.
“Yeah, but it was three of his own guys,” said Carey. “We were doing and end zone celebration dance. We invented it.”
While the group joked about plays, there was no joke about how they played. Sheridan recalled guys like Joe Doughman who weren’t very big but hit like linebackers.
“They were a tough bunch. They all liked to hit,” said Sheridan.
The offense used 10 seniors and two juniors. Only left end Don Rist and left tackle Jim Meehan were underclassmen.
Davis was the center, McFann and Doughman shuttled plays at right guard, Meyers was the right tackle, the sure-handed Medinger was the right end, Kratzenberg played quarterback, Geswein was the fullback while Holtzapfel was the left halfback and Carey was his running mate on the right side.
Most of the players flipped over to play defense with Joe Rudmann playing in the secondary and junior Jeff Handley a down linesman in the 6-3 alignment.
“Teams didn’t throw much back then, so we played a lot of 6-3 and 5-3,” said Sheridan who posted a 50-33-1 record in eight seasons with the Flyers.
Like their counterparts, the Flyers relied on the running game but weren’t afraid to go to the air. Not only did Kratzenberg pose a dual threat as a runner and passer, Holtzapfel threw from his halfback position as well.
The Flyers were 6-0 when they hosted Coal Grove at Tanks Memorial Stadium in a showdown for the conference title. St. Joseph took a 14-0 lead on a 20-yard pass from Kratzenberg to Holtzapfel and a 5-yard keeper by Kratzenberg with 5:05 to play.
Coal Grove finally scored with 50 seconds left, but the Flyers ran out the clock.
St. Joseph came back to beat South Point 34-12 the next week as Carey, Rist and Medinger all caught touchdown passes. Medinger had two TDs and Kratzenberg returned a punt for the only score via the ground.
“South Point tried to cover our backs out of the backfield with their middle linebacker. He was a big kid and we just got our backs one-on-one with him,” said Sheridan.
The final game of the season was at Northwest and the emotionally flat Flyers actually trailed 13-12 at the half. In the locker room, Sheridan got the players’ attention.
“I just said, ‘Go get ’em guys,’” said Sheridan with a smile. “Well, there might have been some profanity in there, too.”
Medinger chuckled when he recalled the halftime talk that sparked a 27-0 second half blitz that led to a 39-13 win.
“He had a few choice words and he asked us, ‘Are you going to let this undefeated season go down the drain?’” said Medinger. “We came out and dominated them in the second half.”
It was a second half that reflected an entire season. Their domination earned them the title of “The Team.”