Flyers’ reunion recalls 1969 OVC Cinderella title season
If Cinderella went to the Ball in 1969, there’s a good chance she was wearing a purple and gold evening gown.
Never before or since has St. Joseph High School experienced a year like the 1969 Flyers’ football season.
Coaches and others experts predicted the graduation depleted Flyers would battle Symmes Valley for last place in the Ohio Valley Conference. It fact, it was hard to find a win looking up and down the schedule.
In the initial preseason meeting in the corner room of the second floor, first-year head coach Bob Lutz was outlining the upcoming two-a-day workouts. On the blackboard he had written the schedule. Upon completing the meeting, Coach Lutz asked the silent but attentive gathering of players if there were any questions. Only one hand went up. Coach Lutz acknowledged the player.
“Which game is homecoming?”
Coach Lutz gave the player that famous incredulous look, did a double take at the schedule and then circled the Symmes Valley game. It grew a laugh from the players because Symmes Valley was an away game.
Coach Lutz once said that the toughest he was in his coaching was his first year at St. Joe and his first year at Ironton. He wanted to let the players know he was in control and it was his way or the highway.”
The Flyers scrimmaged three teams that season. First was a Saturday morning workout at Portsmouth East, next was a night scrimmage at Piketon, and finally an evening scrimmage at Waverly against Carroll Hawhee’s team that was unbeaten the previous season.
The first team lost to Waverly but only by the score of 6-0. This was encouraging for Coach Lutz who said, “I knew we had a chance to be pretty good after the way we played against Waverly.”
The season began with a game at Meigs, a member of the large-school SEOAL conference. Jackson won the league that season at 7-0, Meigs was second at 5-1-1 and Ironton was third at 5-2, losing to Jackson and 26-13 to Meigs.
It was a tough opener for the Flyers with only five returning lettermen from the previous season when they were OVC contenders led by Division I Morehead State recruit Lou Mains, a quarterback and linebacker for the Flyers.
The Flyers ran the conservative T-formation known for a running attack, but the Flyers had trouble moving the ball on the ground and senior quarterback Andy Gagai threw for 190 yards as he complete 19 of 38 attempts. Tom Dressel caught nine passes for 65 yards. When asked about how much he threw the ball in his first game as a head coach, Lutz said, “We threw a lot of screens and double screens. It worked for a while.”
Johnny Crance got the first touchdown on a 2-yard run in the second quarter to cap a 16-play, 80-yard drive and it was 14-6 at the half. Gagai hit Dressel with a 28-yard TD pass and Rick Crance ran for the conversion.
The next week the Flyers opened OVC play at Chesapeake on Sept. 12 and posted a 26-2 win to give Lutz his first career coaching win. A mere 380 would follow over the next 39 plus years as he became the winningest coach in Ohio high school football history at the time.
The Flyers had four running backs were in double figures: Joe Haas 71 yards, John “We Must Destroy Them” Crance 45, Jim Rudmann 44 and Rick Crance 20. Gagai was 5-of-6 for 63 yards passing.
The next week was the showdown. The Flyers hosted the Oak Hill Oaks who were the favorite to win the league. Coach Lutz was an assistant football coach and head baseball coach for the Oaks for two years before coming back to his alma mater in 1968.
When Lutz met with the team on Monday for his pre-practice talk, it was short and to the point. “If you lose to this team, there will be hell to pay the rest of the year,” said Lutz who then walked out the door.
The psychological move paid off.
After a scoreless first half, the Flyers drove 63 yards in the third quarter with Gagai going the final yard on a quarterback sneak for a 6-0 lead.
Oak Hill came back with a drive to the 4-yard line. But the Flyers held on fourth down to halt the drive and preserve the win.
All of a sudden, the Flyers were tied for first place in the OVC at 2-0. But up next was the actual homecoming game against Rock Hill. The Flyers ran for 231 yards and Gagai was 7 of 11 passing for 118 yards. Johnny Crance had 79 yards on 10 carries and Haas 76 yards on 12 attempts.
One negative in the Rock Hill game was a late injury to Gagai who suffered a slight shoulder separation. Magnifying the problem was the Flyers next game against the toughest opponent on their schedule: The Boyd County Lions.
Boyd County led 34-7 at the half and went on to win 48-13. Senior center Tim Sheridan was also the team’s backup quarterback and he was 10 of 26 passing for 222 yards and three interception.
However, with only one week to prepare for his start, Sheridan turned the wrong way on the play 55 and found himself standing alone. He looked down the field and saw Tommy Dressel open behind the secondary and they clicked on a 73-yard touchdown pass. Coach Lutz actually added the play to his playbook and thus 55 and 54 bootleg pass were born.
Next up was a road game to Symmes Valley and the Flyers had very little trouble as they posted a 40-8 win. St. Joe had 111 yards rushing and Gagai was 11 of 17 passing for 265 of the team’s 275 passing yards. The win was the fourth straight OVC victory for the Flyers.
St. Joe went to Fairland the following week to face the Dragons who ran coach Jim Mayo’s single-wing offense. But the Flyers defense led by Larry Motycka’s play at defensive end handled the deceptive style offense while the St. Joe offense had three players rush for more than 100 yards in a 31-14 win.
Haas had 149 yards on 11 carries including TD runs of 50 and 62 yards. Jim Rudmann had his best game with 116 yards on 13 carries and Johnny Crance 104 yards on just nine carries including a 50-yard touchdown run. Gagai was 4 of 11 passing for 75 yards and a TD.
On Oct. 24, the Flyers played at Coal Grove in a showdown for first place in the OVC. St. Joe was 5-0 while Coal Grove entered the game 4-1-1. It was a must-win situation for the Hornets.
Defense dominated the game that ended in a 6-6 tie. Haas had a key interception early in the game while the Flyers got to the 6-yard line but were pushed back to the 16 and turned the ball over on downs. The Hornets used a 47-yard pass from Paul Harris to Joel Baker to keep a drive alive and Doug Malone ran 3 yards for the touchdown and it was 6-0 with 2:17 left in the first quarter.
The score remained that way until a disputed call on a Coal Grove punt led to the Flyers’ score in the fourth quarter.
A penalty was called when the Flyers deep man fumbled the ball and covered it, but a Coal Grove player was called for a penalty after diving after the loose ball. The penalty moved the ball to the Hornets’ 30 and Gagai hit Dressel with a crucial completion to the 5-yard line. The two teamed up again on the exact same play for the touchdown. The conversion kick failed.
The Flyers were limited to 83 yards rushing and 19 passing.
The final day of October at South Point High School field was the setting for the final OVC game as the Flyers would try to complete the improbable by winning the OVC title against a talented and improving South Point team led by Vince Chapman and quarterback Mike “Moo Moo” Pleasant.
The Pointers took the opening kickoff and scored when Pleasant hit Mike Stone on a 10-yard pass. Pleasant ran for the conversion and it was 8-0 with 9:01 left in the first quarter.
It proved to be the only score of the game for the Pointers.
An interception at the 19-yard line gave the ball back to the Flyers who marched 67 yards in nine plays culminating on a 6-yard scoring pass from Gagai to Dressel. The conversion pass failed and the Flyers trailed 8-6 with 9:02 left in the half.
Following a scoreless third quarter, the Flyers found themselves with the ball on their own 8-yard line. It was gut check time and that was nothing new to this young and gutty squad.
The Flyers drove 81 yards in 12 plays only to be stopped at the Pointers’ 11-yard line. Facing fourth and 8, Coach Lutz elected to go with freshman placekicker Joe Lutz to attempt a field goal.
It was Joe Lutz who failed to make the conversion kick the previous week at Coal Grove that could have clinched at least a tie for the title. Now he was facing a kick that would either win or lose the OVC championship.
It was a 28-yard field goal attempt and it might as well have been a 40-yard attempt. Joe Lutz boomed the ball and the kick split the uprights putting the Flyers ahead 9-8.
Neither team threatened the rest of the fourth quarter and as the scoreboard lights all hit zero, the Flyers began to celebrate.
The final game at home against Wheelersburg was anti-climatic. In an offensive affair as the Pirates beat the Flyers 30-25.
St. Joe had 139 yards rushing and 94 passing. Johnny Crance led the ground game with 93 yards in his final game. The passing game was hurt when Dressel suffered a broken ankle that forced him to the sidelines in his final game. However, Dressel did have a 27-yard touchdown catch.
The final record was 6-3-1 and 6-0-1 in the OVC. The Flyers had done what no one expected.
Cinderella had found her glass slipper.
St. Joseph Flyers
Ohio Valley Conference
1969 Football Champions
Mary Jane Dressel
FLYERS COACHING STAFF
Bob Lutz, head coach
Football Banquet Guest Speaker
Bill Rohr, Ohio University Athletic Director
Johnny Crance, Tom Dressel, Greg Mains, Andy Gagai, Jim Rudmann, Tim Sheridan
Gary Geswein, Steve Geswein, Joe Haas, Dave Cannon
Rick Crance, Bill Davis, Jim Hacker, Larry Motycka, Joe Stambaugh, Mark Unger
St. Joseph 14 at Meigs 28
St. Joseph 26 at Chesapeake* 2
St. Joseph 6 Oak Hill* 0
St. Joseph 20 Rock Hill* 6
St. Joseph 13 Boyd County, Ky. 48
St. Joseph 40 at Symmes Valley* 8
St. Joseph 31 at Fairland* 14
St. Joseph 6 at Coal Grove* 6
St. Joseph 9 at South Point* 8
St. Joseph 25 Wheelersburg 30
Totals 190 150
*-Denotes OVC game
Individual Season Statistics
Rusher Carries Yards Ave. TD
Johnny Crance 112 623 5.5 5
Joe Haas 83 519 6.2 4
Jim Rudmann 68 264 3.9 0
Rick Crance 26 120 4.6 1
Bill Davis 7 30 4.2 0
Bob Roberts 3 2 0.6 0
Dave Ackerman 1 1 1.0 0
Andy Gagai 52 -10 1-0.2 4
Greg Geswein 6 -18 -3.0 0
Passer Cmp Att. Pct. Yards TD
Andy Gagai 71 133 53 1,063 13
Tim Sheridan 11 26 42 232 2
Greg Geswein 0 1 0 0 0
Johnny Crance 0 1 0 0 0
Rick Crance 0 1 0 0 0
Receiver Catches Yards TD
Tom Dressel 30 595 10
Johnny Crance 21 332 1
Rick Crance 11 113 2
Jim Rudmann 10 137 0
Steve Geswein 8 93 2
Kevin Carey 1 15 0
Dave Ackerman 1 10 0
Individual Team Scoring
Tom Dressel 63
Johnny Crance 36
Andy Gagai 24
Joe Haas 24
Rick Crance 20
Steve Geswein 12
Joe Lutz 11
Individual Game Scoring
Meigs: Tom Dressel 6, Johnny Crance 6, Rick Crance 2
Chesapeake: Johnny Crance 6, Steve Geswein 6, Rick Crance 12, Tom Dressell 2
Oak Hill: Andy Gagai 6
Rock Hill: Tom Dressell 12, Joe Lutz 2, Johnny Crance 6
Boyd County: Tom Dressel 12, Joe Lutz 1
Symmes Valley: Andy Gagai 6, Joe Lutz 3, Steve Geswein 6, Tom Dressel 7, Joe Haas 6, Rick Crance 6, Johnny Crance 6
Fairland: Joe Haas 12, Johnny Crance 12, Joe Lutz 1, Tom Dressel 6
Coal Grove: Tom Dressel 6
South Point: Tom Dressel 6, Joe Lutz 3
All-OVC Team Selections
Andy Gagai, quarterback
Jim Rudmann, halfback
Tim Sheridan, center
Larry Motycka, guard
Joe Haas, fullback
All-Ironton Tribune Team
Lee Davis, Oak Hill, end
Jim Syar, Ironton, tackle
Greg Mains, middle guard
Larry Call, Wheelersburg, tackle
John Medinger, Rock Hill, end
Mark Wilkes, Chesapeake, linebacker
Bob Bentley, Ironton, linebacker
Doug Malone, Coal Grove, linebacker
Jim Denuit, Oak Hill, back
Don Wilson, Symmes Valley, back
Al Smith, Wheelersburg, back
Tom Dressel, St. Joseph, end
Stan Lewis, Oak Hill, tackle
Larry McCorkle, Oak Hill, guard
Tim Glass, Wheelersburg, center
Carl King, Ironton, guard
Rick Barton, Coal Grove, tackle
Mike Akers, Ironton, end
Greg Sternaman, Ironton, quarterback
Johnny Crance, St. Joseph, halfback
Rick Mader, Coal Grove, halfback
Jim Harrison, Oak Hill, halfback
Vince Chapman, South Point, fullback
Coach of the Year: Bob Lutz, St. Joseph
Lineman of the Year: Stan Lewis, Oak Hill
Back of the Year: Mark Wilkes, Chesapeake