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Written by: Billy Splain on Friday, July 10th, 2020
The 1957 Cass Township, high school football team exclusively used single-wing offense, now referred to as “wildcat” . The Cass (Schuylkill County) PA Condors rolled through a season unbeaten, untied, and unscored upon over 50 years ago, going 9–0 in the regular season before defeating Shamokin 2–0 in a special playoff on December 7, 1957 held in Pottsville, for the Eastern Conference Southern Division Class A title for a season of 10–0. They are the only known high school football team in Pennsylvania that can lay claim to being unbeaten, untied, and unscored upon. The late Coach Pat Droskinis, listed in the PA Sports Hall of Fame, coached them, and led by a strong 4-5-2 defense that featured All-State ends in 6-foot-3 team captain Russ Frantz and 6-2 Harry Butsko, the Cass Twp Condors blanked Minersville, Nescopeck, West Mahanoy Township, Schuylkill Haven, Ashland, Blythe Township, Mahanoy Township, Lansford and Saint Clair, and then Shamokin in the playoff game (2-0). Harry Butsko is the only known Cass Twp resident to play football in the National Football League, playing for the Washington Redskins in 1963.
A great scholastic football season can sometimes be defined by a single remarkable play. In 1957, tiny Cass Township won a special Eastern Conference division playoff game by blocking a punt in the final seconds. The ball rolled through the end zone and the Condors had defeated mighty Shamokin, 2-0, and preserved an unbeaten, untied and unscored-on championship season.
In the Fall of 1957, a flu epidemic had ravaged much of the country. Schools were closed and many scholastic games were postponed or cancelled. When the Eastern Conference season had reached the final stage, Shamokin, a one-time Big 15 member, was ranked a few points ahead of Cass in the Southern division standings. However, if one Cass opponent were to complete its schedule, Cass would finish on top, and possibly play Northern division champ Scranton Central for the Eastern crown.
After a series of meetings with much debate and no replay arranged of the postponed games, Shamokin and Cass agreed at a final session to play a few days later – a Saturday afternoon – for the Southern title. The game site was Pottsville’s Memorial Stadium.
In terms of enrollment and physical size, this was a unique David vs Goliath match-up. Cass had about 200 students in grades seven through 12, while Shamokin had 950 in its high school alone. On the other hand, the Cass starting eleven had a 15 pound-per-man weight advantage.
On game day, it poured. The field was a sea of mud. A crowd of 2,500 braved the cold and wet. There were ten turnovers. Cass threw five passes. Four were intercepted by the Greyhounds. The Condors intercepted two Shamokin throws. Each team recovered two opponent fumbles. Amazingly, the two teams together gained more than 500 total yards.
Turnovers came at critical times.
At one point late in the third quarter, Shamokin actually crossed the Cass goal but the play was recalled because of an illegal formation. A pass interception finally ended this advance.
In the fourth period, it was Cass all the way. Condor halfback Tony Antonelli broke free and ran 45 yards to the Greyhound ten. A pass interception ended this threat. However, Shamokin could not move and a partially blocked punt set Cass up at the Greyhound 31. The Condors reached the six – and lost a fumble.
Three plays netted three yards and Shamokin lined up to punt from its own end zone. Less than 30 seconds remained. Then big tackle Joe Hydock broke through and smothered the kick. Guard Ed Gressick and end and co-captain Russ Frantz tried desperately to recover the slippery ball, but it was captured just beyond the end line. The referee signaled the two-point safety.
After Shamokin’s free kick from the 20, the game ended and Cass Township began the celebration of its superb season. A final conference championship game with Scranton Central could not be arranged.
Cass had had a good season in 1956 and many veteran starters returned, particularly up front. With 14 letter-men, expectations were high. The Condors had size and strength and this, plus a determined will-to-win and team unity, proved decisive.
In 1957, big end Frantz was a first team All-Stater. His 190 pound mate at the other end, junior Harry Butsko, won a first team place the next year. Sophomore Walter Brennan stepped in and did the job at quarterback after Ted Wannisky was injured early in the season. Guard Gressick’s punting was a key factor.
Cass won nine games in the regular season, shutting out such reputable foes as Lansford, Minersville, and Ashland. Only the game with Mahanoy Township was close with the Condors prevailing 7-0. St. Clair, beaten 13-0 in the final regular season game, had been Southern division champion the previous year.
In 1958, the first five Cass games were shutout victories and the unscored-on streak reached 15 – believed to still be a Pennsylvania record.
Cass was not well-known. To reach the school at the small anthracite village of Primrose, the trip began in Pottsville, the metropolis of Schuylkill County. After passing through Minersville, the school was reached a few miles further on PA route 901.
Cass in 1957 included students from Foster and Reilly Townships. The school was merged into the Minersville Area District in 1966.
Coach Pat Droskinas orchestrated this extraordinary team. A native of Minersville, Droskinas had an extraordinary story as well. He first played at Kutztown State. After a promising three-sport freshman year, a cutback in scholarships forced him to return home. Eight years in the anthracite mines followed. Then World War II intervened and Droskinas and his five brothers all served in the U.S. Army.
The GI Bill enabled him to return to Kutztown. Although offered a place on the football team at age 32, with a wife and daughter to support, he became an end and team captain with the PA Pro League champion Pottsville Maroons. He helped coach football and basketball at Kutztown and was a varsity baseball player at 35.
In only his second season as head football coach at Minersville, his Battling Miners won Minersville’s first Schuylkill County League championship. The opportunity to coach three sports then brought him to Cass.
Droskinas was determined and could relate to the backgrounds of his players. He battled for his squad. His persuasive appeals helped win the decision to schedule the Shamokin game.
With a 1957 varsity that numbered only 20 players, he conducted “half-scrimmages”. Cass still ran from the single wing and often used an unbalanced line. A few reverses and an occasional pass were included.
The 1957 Cass “perfect” starting lineup included:
E 28 Russ FRANTZ 6-3 190
T 24 Joe HYDOCK 5-11 205
G 17 Steve KATCHMAR 5-10 180
C 16 Dave GAUNTLETT 5-10 168
G 22 Ed GRESSICK 6-0 189
T 23 Tony PHILLIPS 6-1 195
E 21 Harry BUTSKO 6-2 190
Q 10 Walter BRENNAN 5-10 159
H 13 George RYAN 5-7 148
H 26 Tony ANTONELLI 5-11 170
F 18 Harry HEFFRON 6-0 175
Other important Condor players, in addition to injured 11 Ted WANNISKY, included linemen 19 Charles ZURATT, 12 Steve YUSCHAK, 24 Frank MITCHELL, 25 Ron NEY, and back 20 Frank MACHITA.
The Condor ten 1957 shutouts included:
27 MINERSVILLE 0
32 NESCOPECK 0
34 WEST MAHANOY TOWNSHIP 0
40 SCHUYLKILL HAVEN 0
19 ASHLAND 0
35 BLYTHE TOWNSHIP 0
7 MAHANOY TOWNSHIP 0
14 LANSFORD 0
13 ST. CLAIR 0
EASTERN CONFERENCE SOUTHERN DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP
2 SHAMOKIN 0
Harry Butsko went on to become a star linebacker at Maryland and play in both the NFL and Canadian League. Russ Frantz played collegiate football at Villanova.
Today, Cass Township would be a Class A school and the opportunity to be a playoff giant-killer would be lost. On the other hand, a game with the 1957 equivalent of Southern Columbia might have been something to behold.
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