Football game lingers: Memories of championship loss haunt player 53 years later
It was supposed to be no contest when Jamestown and Fargo Shanley played for the North Dakota state football championship in 1954. The Shanley Deacons were all-powerful, and the Jamestown Blue Jays - well, only six of the 14 seniors on the team h...
It was supposed to be no contest when Jamestown and Fargo Shanley played for the North Dakota state football championship in 1954.
The Shanley Deacons were all-powerful, and the Jamestown Blue Jays - well, only six of the 14 seniors on the team had played some varsity ball the year before.
One of them was Doug Larson, who played right tackle on offense and "as a last resort," he says, tackle or end on defense.
Doug, now of Portland, Ore., has vivid memories of that season and of that championship game, and he writes about it, Doug Larson style.
Jamestown was expected by the "experts" to have a rotten season, and it looked as though they were right when, in the Jays' first game of the season, they were shut out 12-0 by Fargo Central,
But then the Jays got hot, beating Dickinson, Mandan and Rugby, and tying Bismarck High School.
Then they played mighty Bismarck St. Mary's at Jamestown's homecoming. This was the game in which the Jays attempted three passes of which, Doug says: "I achieved heroic status by catching one of them. Unfortunately, as right tackle, I was an ineligible receiver."
But it counted anyway. Here's why: The Jays' quarterback, Louie Job, "tossed a pass that came wobbling over my head like a deflated Goodyear blimp," Doug says. "Rather than knocking the ball down so it wouldn't be intercepted, I decided to play 'Crazy Legs' Hersch and catch it."
But then, Doug says: "St. Mary's football phenom Dean Sharp tackled me brutally from the left side while a blue pickup truck with number 78 on its side hit me from the right.
"Stretched out on the turf, lying on my back with the ball clutched in my hands, I heard a distant voice coming from somewhere beyond the solar system asking, 'Are you the end?' It was a referee, bending over me and trying to yank the ball from my cold, dead hands.
"As the fog cleared, I lied for the first time in my life. I said 'yes.' The pass was ruled a completion." And the Jays won the game, 25-21.
The Jays won the rest of their games, too, and lo, were in the championship game at Jamestown, hosting Shanley, the powerhouse coached by Sid Cichy and loaded with talent, including four all-state players on its first team: Tom Wold at quarterback, "Terrible Ted" Campagna at right halfback, Jerry Lobsinger at right guard and Clarence Cossette at right tackle.
The Deacons averaged 36 points per game and allowed only 39 points all season. The Jays, coached by Ernie Gates, averaged 17 points per game and allowed 79 points during the season.
And it appeared it would be one ugly game for the Jays when, on Shanley's first possession, Campagna scored, and a rout seemed imminent.
But wait. The Deacons fumbled the ball and lost it twice. The Jays scored after the second recovery. Halftime score: Jays 7, Deacons 6.
It remained that way through the third quarter, because a Jay interception and touchdown was called back due to a penalty.
But in the fourth quarter, Shanley took the ball 60 yards and fullback John Kodelka rammed the ball through Doug's side of the line for a touchdown. Deacons 13, Jays 7.
Yet, even with less than five minutes to go, Gates told his guys they could still win. And the Jays took the challenge.
But disaster struck. As Job attempted a pass, he was hit; the ball flew out and landed in the hands of Cossette, who raced 30 yards for a touchdown.
The Jays tried to come back, but time ran out. Final score: Shanley 20, Jamestown 7.
Later, Gates said, "This was the most gallant team I have ever fielded." Yes, the Jays lost. But it had put up a good fight against an excellent and experienced Shanley team.
Shanley went on to be named the state's football team of the year, and Jamestown's Gates was named state coach of the year.
Gates died in 1978, Cichy in 2006.
Doug says the Shanley game "haunts me to this day. I periodically replay the game in my head, sometimes imagining myself catching two late-game touchdown passes to win the game for Jamestown and Ernie Gates. But unfortunately, reality intervenes."
Doug says Dan Buchanan is his only teammate he knows of who still lives in Jamestown. He also wonders how many of that Shanley team are still in the Fargo area.
One Deacon who sticks out in Doug's memory is Bill Kurkowski, Shanley's sophomore left defensive tackle, who faced Doug on the line.
"His quickness, agility and aggressiveness made him easily the best defensive linesman I had faced all season," Doug says.
"After the game, coach Gates knew who had won the battle between Kurkowski and me. All he had to do was look at the grass stains on the seat of my pants."
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Football game lingers: Memories of championship loss haunt player 53 years later Bob Lind 20071014