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Written by: Hal Wilson on Tuesday, November 26th, 2019
We are pleased to run a series, Great PA Teams, by the great Hal Wilson, a long time contributor to PA High
School Football. Hal has written many stories in the past for PAFootballNews dating back to
our print days.
The 1983 Berwick Bulldog National Champion Squad. Players in the first row include #88: A.J. Thomas, #5 Joe “Bo” Orlando, #31 Andy Mills, and #50 Lou DiPippa. Coach George Curry and his assistants are in the back row
A primary exemplar of Pennsylvania football for decades, the Berwick Bulldogs have been named mythical national champion by USA Today an astonishing three times – 1983, 1992 and 1995. Legendary coach George Curry believes that still other Berwick teams were just as good as these powerhouses. When the state playoffs began in 1988, the Bulldogs, a perennial contender, proceeded to win six AAA state championships in the next ten years, the first in 1988, another in 1992, then four in a row – 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997.
To focus on any one of these teams is difficult, but the 1983 team may have been the first truly great Curry era Berwick squad.
The 1983 Bulldogs dominated a bruising eleven game schedule, then cruised through the Eastern Conference A playoffs. Rival Wyoming Valley West went under 27-0 in the semi-final. In the title game, North Pocono was demolished 41-0 before a 10,000 plus crowd at Berwick’s own Crispin Field. The only close game in the regular season came at Sunbury against Shikellamy where the Bulldogs got past the Indians, 16-14 when Scott Ratamess burst through the line and sacked the Braves quarterback as time expired. The Bulldog defense posted an amazing 11 shut outs that year.
Joe “Bo” Orlando and the Legendary George Curry
Quarterback Joe “Bo” Orlando was the most outstanding player on a team of many talents. In the North Pocono title game, he passed for three touchdowns, two to end A. J. Thomas, ran for another, and totalled 85 yards on the ground to become the game’s leading rusher. For the 1983 season, Orlando passed for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000. Even with his obvious offensive prowess, Orlando was named to the All-State team as a defensive back. He went on to become a star defender at West Virginia and in the NFL.
Speed was the hallmark of this spectacular team. After the North Pocono game, Coach Curry said, “Bo is not all Berwick has. You stop him – you don’t stop Berwick. We have too many weapons. Also, that defense was just super.” Orlando’s backfield helpers included speedy halfback Mike Dalberto and big fullback Andy Mills, also a first team All-State defensive end.
Center Lou DiPippa anchored the quick and powerful offensive line. He was also a top linebacker and was honored for that work on the third All-State team.
The next year, Joe Favata, a star linebacker on the 1983 club, made the first All State team, while 1983 nose guard Scott Ratamess was recognized on the second team.
A few years later, in 1988, the Bulldogs made their mark in the first state playoffs when a supposedly invincible Aliquippa team led by huge Sean Gilbert was humbled 13-0 by Coach Curry’s inspired squad. Quarterback Jake Kelchner, later of West Virginia fame, undersized lineman Chris DiPippa, and split end and D-back Lance Evina each were named to the All-State first team.
1992 brought the next super team led by all-everything quarterback Ron Powlus. Berwick trampled western hopeful Blackhawk 33-6 in the state final. Powlus, after Berwick trailed for the first time that season, threw four touchdown passes, including three to Chris Orlando in the first half.
Powlus was not only the All-State quarterback and PA Player of the Year but also Parade Magazine National Prep Player of the Year as well. He went on to set many passing records at Notre Dame.
Chris Orlando maintained the family “tradition” by being named All-State defensive back while 6-2, 205 pound, Jason Soboleski won similar first team honors at linebacker.
In 1994, Berwick reached the AAA throne again with another great team, hammering Sharon, 27-7, in the title game. Curry believes the 1994 outfit was his most physical team with the best offensive line. Each member could bench press over 400 pounds. Major victories were won over two strong opponents, Allentown Central Catholic, 29-18 at Lehigh and perennial Distrct Three hopeful Manheim Central, 37-30 at Hershey.
Josh George, at 6-2, 247, and Vinnie Kishbaugh, 6-1, 300, led the O-line with first and second team All-State honors. Dave Robbins, a third team All-Stater, was the junior QB.
In the 1995 national championship season, Berwick blasted Sharon again for the state title, this time by 43-6. Robbins was now the All-State quarterback and Brian Remley, another first team All-Stater, was his featured end. Dave Robbins is now a Curry assistant.
Bull-like Mannie Henrie in the offensive line and Jeremy Kishbaugh at defensive tackle received second team recognition. Talented Bryan Smith, a 155 pound junior, was honored on the second team.
This was Curry’s best defense. However, the 1995 Bulldogs had to overcome a 17-0 Manheim Central lead to win 18-17 at Wilkes-Barre to win the Eastern title.
In 1996 and 1997, Berwick won two more AAA titles – in the 1996 finals beating Blackhawk again, 34-13, and edging Pittsburgh Perry, with current Pitt star, Rod Rutherford, the opposing quarterback, 17-14, in 1997. Both years, the Bulldogs overcame Strath Haven, a rising power from District One, winning by 29-2 in 1996.
Henrie at 5-11, 250, was advanced to the 1996 All-State first team. Ryan Mason, 6-2, 240, whom Curry calls “my best-ever defensive lineman” was also a first-teamer. Barney Bowman made the second team DL and now senior Bryan Smith was a third team running back.
1997 stars included stellar kick-returner Chris Banyas, an All-State first team choice, as well as two named to the second team – huge Gus Felder, later a star offensive tackle at Penn State, and linebacker Jeremiah Dyer.
In those 1996 and 1997 seasons, Berwick faced five future College Division I-A quarterbacks including Dave Ragone of Cleveland St. Ignatius; Byron Leftwich of Washington, D. C.’s H. D. Woodson; Matt Senneca of Allentown Central Catholic; Matt Smoker of Manheim Central; and Rod Rutherford of Pittsburgh Perry. Four were defeated. Only Ragone was able to master the Bulldogs.
Late in the 1996 game with Woodson, D-back Tom Lockard intercepted a Leftwich pass, returned it for a touchdown, and Berwick won 26-22.
In 1998, St. Ignatius, the perennial Ohio power, came to Crispin Field again. Berwick gained an astounding 511 yards and won 30-28.
Coach George Curry, the builder of these great teams and sustainer of the overpowering Berwick dynasty, is a native of Larksville, another anthracite community outside Wilkes-Barre. He was a star lineman at Temple, graduating in 1966. After a short stint at Lake-Lehman, he began his work as head man for the Bulldogs in 1971.
This is his 33rd year at Berwick. His overall coaching record is 365 wins, 76 losses and five tied games. He is the seventh winningest coach in U. S. scholastic history and is No. 1 all-time in Pennsylvania. He has coached eleven teams that were undefeated and untied in the regular season. Four of his six state champions had perfect records. He has received many Coach-of-the-Year honors.
Curry brings an unmatched intensity and understanding of the game to his program.
The Bulldogs’ 1983 offensive starters were:
E 84 Tony DEWEESE 6-2 195
T 75 Kevin COMSTOCK 6-4 245
G 73 Ron MILLER 5-9 220
C 50 Lou DIPIPPA 6-0 205
G 78 Scott RATAMESS 6-0 225
T 76 Jody HUTCHINGS 6-4 255
E 88 A. J. THOMAS 5-9 165
Q 5 Joe ORLANDO 5-10 175
H 33 Mike DALBERTO 5-9 175
H 81 Scott EVERETT 6-2 175
F 31 Andy MILLS 6-1 213
Manning the defense for that great team were:
E 89 Jamie SLUSSER 6-3 220
T 65 Dennis TUZA 6-1 205
G 78 Scott RATAMESS 6-0 225
T 73 Ron MILLER 5-9 220
E 31 Andy MILLS 6-1 213
LB 50 Lou DIPIPPA 6-0 205
LB 51 Joe FAVATA 6-1 190
CB 22 Jack HUSAK 6-1 180
CB 23 Scott HIPPENSTEEL 5-9 175
S 33 Mike DALBERTO 5-9 175
S 5 Joe ORLANDO 5-10 175
Other key players on this great team included 25 Dave REAGAN and 44 Dirk PENNINGTON.
The 1983 national championship record:
25 HARRISBURG 0
34 SELINSGROVE 0
28 HAZLETON 17
41 DANVILLE 0
25 MT. CARMEL 0
28 WILLIAMSPORT 0
47 POTTSVILLE 0
16 SHIKELLAMY 14
58 MILTON 0
47 TAMAQUA 0
48 SHAMOKIN 0
EASTERN CONFERENCE A PLAYOFFS
27 WYOMING VALLEY WESY 0
41 NORTH POCONO 0
Through these wonderful years, many Berwick players have gone on from the scholastic ranks to play important roles in many college programs, at all levels – Divisions I-A, I-AA, II and III.
The contribution to this article by Jim Doyle, who has been the Berwick Bulldogs play-by-play broadcaster at station WFYY for more than 30 years, is very much appreciated.
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