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Written by: Billy Splain on Thursday, March 5th, 2020
The Easton Red Rovers have had many outstanding teams in the past 100 or so years. The very best at the Forks of the Delaware may have been the great 1958 edition of the Rovers. This team marched through a difficult nine game schedule, climaxing a marvelous season with a stunning 26-6 comeback victory over equally unbeaten and untied cross-river rival, Philipsburg, New Jersey.
Easton was led by a stellar veteran backfield – where fullback Pete Americus and halfback Bill Houston were starting for a fourth year, and quarterback Terry Bartolet for a third season. Another veteran, junior halfback Charles Weaver, brought more speed to a fast and deceptive set of running backs. At the end of the 1958 season, Americus had amassed four-year totals of 2,296 rushing yards, averaging an amazing 8.1 yards per carry, and 213 points. Houston had averaged 7.9 and run for 2,237 yards. He had scored a total of 151 points for the Rovers in his three years in the starting offensive backfield.
Bartolet brought great all-around play with his ball-handling, passing and option ability.
His leadership, as co-captain with Americus, was crucial to the Red Rover success.
The Greek-born Americus was a unanimous choice on the 1958 All-State first team, while Houston made the second unit. Americus was actually considered a better defender than ball carrier. He excelled at linebacker, while Houston was a stellar safety.
The offensive line included veteran starters as well. Hopes were high as the Rovers entered the 1958 season.
In the opener at Reading, Americus charged 38 yards to a touchdown on Easton’s first offensive play. Neighboring rival Wilson Borough was beaten 59-7 in the final game of a long-standing series. At Pottsville, the Rovers humiliated the home team, 63-0, as sub Dave Cooper scored three times in the final quarter.
Old Forge from the Scranton area brought an undefeated team to Cottingham Stadium. The Blue Devils went home, stung by their only defeat, 32-7. At Bethlehem’s Liberty Stadium before 15,000, Easton won decisively, 33-7, as Houston scored three times.
Easton had not beaten the Allentown Canaries at Cottingham since 1928 and, with the scored tied late in the fourth at 13, the perfect season appeared doomed and the frustrating string set to continue. Then, on a brilliant pass play with 51 seconds remaining, Bartolet hit Weaver in stride at the five for a 49 yard touchdown. Weaver intercepted a Canary pass on the game’s last play and Easton had won, 19-13. The standing-room-only home crowd celebrated.
The traditional Thanksgiving Day game at Lafayette’s Fisher Field matched two perfect record teams, Easton and Philipsburg. 20.000 jammed the arena as the Garnet of Philipsburg dominated the first half and led 6-0 at the break, The Rovers, playing without Americus, had only 21 rushing yards.
Easton then launched a brilliant second half rally. First, Bartolet completed a 20 yard pass to junior end John Aviantos for the initial Rover score to tie the game. Then in the final quarter, Bartolet led a 91 yard march, climaxed with a nine yard toss to Pat Torquati, subbing for Americus. Weaver dashed 56 and 28 yards for two more TD’s and the jubilant Red Rovers had prevailed.
For the game, Weaver had averaged 16 yards per carry, running for 175 yards. Bartolet was outstanding with his overall play and generalship. These two were considered the difference between the rival teams. The injured Americus was able to appear as a flanker in the final minutes.
Coach Bob Rute was an Easton native and the All-State star halfback of the perfect record 10-0 1939 Red Rovers. He went on to play for Wallace Wade’s great Duke program. He was part of the undefeated, untied Duke 1941 team that played Oregon State in the Rose Bowl game at Durham, transplanted because of World War II concerns in California. After service in the U.S. Marines, he received his Duke degree and returned to Easton.
Rute joined the Easton staff as an assistant in the Fall of 1946, and also played for the professional Bethlehem Bulldogs. After two years as an assistant to Elmer Carroll and Frank O’Hora, he was appointed to the head job. He coached at Easton through the 1967 season. The winningest coach in Red Rover history, Rute’s teams won 138 games, lost 51, and played nine ties.
Rute was relentless in his approach to the game and his opponents. His teams were disciplined and well-conditioned. He was a man of few words – a “look” could convey the intended message. Easton ran primarily from the split T and belly series. Bartolet was trusted to call the plays himself, even using audibles when appropriate.
Rute’s punt return strategy was a special strength of his teams. Double receivers would criss-cross deceptively with a wall of blockers set up to send the man with the ball on his way.
Terry Bartolet says today that “ We had very talented athletes. Most of us played two or three sports. Our community had a unique spirit and will-to-win that inspired our athletic teams”.
The talented Red Rover starting offense:
E 51 John AVIANTOS 5-10 175
T 38 George HELLICK 6-2 195
G 42 Bob THOMAS 6-0 180
C 32 Barry PEARSON 5-11 165
G 48 Art NICHOLAS 6-0 195
T 45 Bob RENNER 6-2 205
E 21 Kirby KIICK 6-0 180
Q 30 Terry BARTOLET 6-0 175
H 35 Bill HOUSTON 6-0 185
H 22 Charles WEAVER 5-6 145
F 40 Pete AMERICUS 5-10 185
28 Dave COOPER was a valuable halfback, aiding when injuries sidelined a starter. 17 Pat TORQUATI was an able sub for Americus who struggled with injuries for part of the year.
The 1958 defensive lineup:
E 33 Joe MICKLEY 6-1 190
T 45 Bob RENNER 6-2 205
G 43 Ernie GUINTA 5-10 180
G 42 Bob THOMAS 6-0 180
T 44 Ray RISSMILLER 6-2 210
E 34 Fred MILLER 6-0 185
L 40 Pete AMERICUS 5-10 175
L 32 Barry PEARSON 5-11 165
H 25 Joe CREAZZO 5-11 165
H 23 Walt BRIGHT 6-1 185
S 35 Bill HOUSTON 6-0 185
37 Carl PISCATELLO spelled Americus at linebacker and kicked the conversions. 36 Bob FARBER and the veteran NICHOLAS logged significant time on the defensive line. 16 Felton GILBERT helped at both D-back and offensive end.
The 1958 perfect record:
20 READING 0
59 WILSON Borough 7
63 POTTSVILLE 0
55 PHILADELPHIA BOK VOCATIONAL 14
32 OLD FORGE 7
33 BETHLEHEM 7
19 ALLENTOWN 13
28 LEBANON 6
26 PHILIPSBURG New Jersey 6
In Keystone State scholastic football in 1958, both Central Dauphin, in only its fourth year, and Kingston also had perfect records. Playoffs, leading to a showdown with the formidable equally perfect WPIAL AA champion Johnstown Trojans, would have been special.
Easton also fielded perfect record teams in 1917, 1919, 1923 and 1925 under the coaching of the legendary Pat Reilly. Reilly mentored the Red and White from 1912, just one year after his graduation from Easton High School, through 1930 when he was forced to give up the post under newly-established PIAA rules. He had never been a school district employee.
Reilly’s brilliant overall record was 129 wins, 10 ties, and just 21 defeats. His teams went through 41 games without defeat – from mid 1921 until the third contest in 1925.
Ironically, Reilly passed away during the Fall of 1958.
Bartolet, who played both football and baseball at Harvard, is today a retired orthopedic surgeon. He is still very active, however, performing “locum tenens” services in areas of the country where orthopedic specialists are not available.
Houston, played at South Carolina State, helped coach Easton with Rute, and became a principal in the Easton Schools. He also was a member of the Easton City Council.
George Hellick faced Bartolet and Harvard, on the field for Dartmouth.
Sophomore Ray Rissmiller was an All-State first team tackle selection in 1960, an All-American at Georgia, and made it to the NFL.
Incidentally, Easton and Philipsburg will play for the 113th time in 2019.
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