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Written by: Billy Splain on Monday, December 7th, 2020
Great PA Teams
Coach Joe Moore’s 1968 McDowell Trojans “can only do one thing – and that is to knock ’em down; and we’re going to come a-hellin’ and a-hittin’ “. This team may have been the finest ever produced in Northwestern Pennsylvania. The 9-0 perfect record Trojans captured the Section One championship, carried away Number One in the Big Six and ranked high in Dr. Roger Saylor’s Pennsylvania ratings.
The original Millcreek Township High School became McDowell in 1953 when the new building was completed. Since then, the McDowell Trojan has become a symbol of athletic excellence.. In 1968, a dominant football team was fielded that created a perfect 9-0 record, defeating nemesis Cathedral Prep, the four Erie City high schools and neighboring Jamestown, New York.
The critical game for the Trojans cane at Erie’s Veterans Memorial Stadium – the opponent Cathedral Prep. 15,000 came on a cold rainy night to witness the battle featuring Prep’s great passer, Pat Steenberge, and McDowell’s great runner, Jeff Davis. The Trojan star opened the scoring with an 85 yard punt return followed by a short two yard TD and McDowell led 13-0 at the half. The score was 20-0 late in the fourth quarter before Steenberge was able to throw for two touchdowns. The rally fell short however and the Trojans prevailed 20-13.
This magnificent 1968 season began with typical workout schedules at Edinboro – three brutal two hour sessions each day for nine days, followed by a move to McDowell’s own fields. Juniors were stocked throughout, including an all-junior backfield – with veteran halfbacks including Jeff Davis who led the County as a sophomore. Coach Moore was not optimistic but Times Sports Editor Jack Polancy foresaw 9 – 0.
The opening game matched the hopeful Trojans with the Reynolds Raiders who were to become the Mercer County A co-champions. With a relentless rushing attack, the visiting Trojans rolled to a 33-0 triumph, Holding the Raiders to 30 rushing yards, McDowell had served notice to their remaining opponents.
In the following game, city rival East had beaten the Trojans eight straight times. A crowd of 6,000 at Gus Anderson included spectators standing six deep around the field. A Mike Peck interception and a Roger Gunesch fumble recovery set up the Trojans with opportunities and they cashed them with Davis going two and then 39. Two Doug Fabian runs added the PATs and it was 14-0 with 45 seconds left in the first quarter. A drive climaxed by Fabian’s two yards made it 20-0 at the half . Another Trojan drive at the beginning of the third made it 27-0. Precise blocking by quarterback Campbell and fullback Bricker enabled halfbacks Davis and Fabian to make steady gains.
Academy were beaten handily. The confident Trojans were then shocked by the Titusville Rockets whose repeated forays into Trojan territory finally resulted in a fourth quarter touchdown and the Rockets became the first to score on McDowell. Davis had three touchdowns before the Titusville TD. Davis followed with four TDs against the Strong Vincent Colonels and 174 yards on just six carries in the rain at Corry.
Cathedral Prep was eager for revenge but the sensational work of Jeff Davis led the way in frustrating the Ramblers. His 85 yard punt return TD probably covered 140. At one point he carried on 25 of 28 Trojan plays. His performance was considered perhaps the greatest in Erie history.
In this game, safety Steve Blackman played sensationally as well, as ace Steenberge was held to 210 yards. Coach Moore had high praise for his work in the secondary.
New York neighbor Jamestown proved stubborn and led 3-0 after reaching the Trojan four late in the third quarter. The Trojans didn’t blink and despite a holding penalty got back to the Raider four and pushed it home. A clutch fourth and 12 pass Campbell to Davis.was the key play. Another grind-it out drive resulted in another score with seconds remaining and a 13-3 victory – and the perfect season was history.
The all-winning 1968 offensive Trojan lineup:
E 80 Mike Peck 6-2 190 Sr
T 74 Ken Merz 6-2 218 Sr
G 67 Dave Penman 5-8 175 Jr
C 50 Joe Robson 5-10 170 Jr
G 64 Don Shaner 5-11 185 Sr
T 76 Bob Mckeag 6-4 192 Jr
E 84 Roger Gunesch 6-2 210 Sr
Q 21 John Campbell 5-10 165 Jr
H 42 Jeff Davis 5-10 170 Jr
H 40 Doug Fabian 5-10 165 Jr
F 22 Pete Bricker 5-9 170 Jr
55 Tate FEASLER 5-10 168 JR was an able backup to Kupetz.
44 Phil POIRIER,a 5-10 178 JR letterman could play capably in multiple positions on both offense
and defense. McKeag and Poirier handled the punting.
McDowell’s unbeaten defense:
E 86 Bernie Bartoszek 6-1 185 Sr
T 84 Roger Gunesch 6-2 210 Sr
Nt 31 Randy Corvino 5-10 195 Jr
T 70 Eric Bucheit 6-3 220 Jr
E 67 Dave Penman 5-8 175 Jr
Lb 20 Earl Anderson 5-11 178 Sr
Lb 18 Bill Engle 5-9 160 Sr
Lb 80 Mike Peck 6-2 190 Sr
Cb 40 Doug Fabian 5-10 165 Jr
Cb 42 Jeff Davis 5-10 170 Jr
S 32 Steve Blackman 5-9 160 Sr
In addition to his duties on defense, BUCHEIT served as backup to Bob McKeag. When Penman was injured, 60 Larry BAYLE 5-9 165 SR filled in.
Post-season honors included seven Trojans named to the All-City team including Mike Peck, Roger Gunesch, Ken Merz, Don Shaner, Dave Penman, Doug Fabian and Jeff Davis.
Junior Davis’s superlative year was rewarded with first team All-State honors, while Mike Peck was named to the third unit.
The Jeff Davis three-year career totals were 3,045 rushing yards on 510 attempts, 54 touchdowns, and 356 total points. As a senior, he was again honored on the All- State first team.
Davis became a starting defensive back at Ohio State while sophomore Mike Bartoszek became a starting receiver for the Buckeyes.
Among other Trojans who played college football were Roger Gunesch at Colorado, Mike Peck at Duke, Bob McKeag with Virginia,. Doug Fabian at Syracuse, Ken Merz at Kent State, Dave Penman with Miami of Ohio, and Steve Blackman at Clarion State.
End Bernie Bartoszek became a Penguin at Youngstown State and teamed there with the great pro quarterback Ron Jaworski.
The 2019 Trojan perfect record:
33 REYNOLDS 0
27 ERIE EAST 0
33 ERIE ACADEMY 0
18 TITUSVILLE 7
26 ERIE STRONG VINCENT 0
48 ERIE TECH 6
20 CORRY 0
20 ERIE CATHEDRAL PREP 13
13 JAMESTOWN New York 3
The next year, 16,000 saw the McDowell 20 game win streak end as Erie East and its little Eddie Woodard defeated the Trojans 33-18. Woodard scored five touchdowns, gaining 255 yards on 16 carries. Trojan end Mike Bartoszek caught three touchdown passes but it wasn’t enough. This was McDowell’s only loss in an 8-1 season
Coach Joe Moore was a native of Pittsburgh. A running back, he had starred with Henry Ford on the undefeated untied 1950 City Champion Schenley team. He then played and graduated at Penn State and entered coaching. Working first in upstate New York, then at Towanda, he came to McDowell as head coach in 1963. He was in charge of the Trojan program for nine years, with a total record of 65-15-1, including the record 20 game winning streak built around the great 1968 team. The record his final four years at McDowell was 41-4.
He was hired by Upper St. Clair in 1972 and shared in two WPIAL championships. He was named assistant coach for running backs at Pitt in 1977 and after three years he became the offensive line coach. He worked at Temple in 1986 and 87 and then at Notre Dame from 1988 to 1996. He developed outstanding lines including many All-Americans, The Joe Moore Moat Outstanding Offensive Line Award is named for him. He is considered by many to be the greatest college offensive line coach in history.
Coach Moore was tough but fair – and he recognized his McDowell players long after he became part of the college ranks.
Coach Moore’s son Jim quarterbacked Mt. Lebanon to the WPIAL AAAA title in 1984.
Trojan two sport great Laban Marsh set a new PIAA State pole vault record of 16 feet one inch in 1987, a mark that stood for seven years. The previous Fall he had three interceptions that he returned for touchdowns and gained 1,402 rushing yards. He was named to the All-State first team defense. Marsh went on a fine career in both sports at UConn.
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