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Written by: Billy Splain on Saturday, January 18th, 2020
The starters for the 1931 East-West champions included: E 36 Julius Providence 160, T 23 Ken Fenical168, G 7 Sid Wagenheim 154, C 39 Charles Baltimore 165, G 40 Frank Barr,168, T 15 Clarence Turns 158, E 27 Ulysses Providence 165, Q 4 Dick Mauree 163, H 22 Dave Mitten 145, H 26 Max Johnson 148, F 10 Dick Felton 178
Beginning in 1926, the two new schools in Harrisburg, John Harris and William Penn, succeeded rapidly to the gridiron glory of Tech and Central in Pennsylvania’s capital city. Penn won the East-West title in 1928, led by the great back Don Watts. Then in 1929, John Harris, under Coach Harry Rote, entered a golden era and an unbeaten string eventually reached 29. Harris won nineteen straight games in 1930 and 1931.
In 1929, the Harris record was marred only by a tie with William Penn at the close of the season, as the Pioneers had won their first eight games.
Both the 1930 and 1931 Hill editions were great teams. The vagaries of the Eastern Conference ratings cost the 1930 squad a shot at the East-West Central Conference championship, but, in 1931, there was no stopping Harris and the Crimson and Silver defeated Western Conference representative Altoona, 13-7, in the mountain city to finally win overall conference honors.
Bethlehem finally brought Harris down and ended the streak at 20 with a 6-0 win in the second game in the 1932 season.
Fullback John Sturgis scored 127 points for the 1930 club. Important wins included a 14-0 triumph over Lancaster who had played a scoreless tie with Williamsport. Steelton and Penn were 7-0 and 6-0 victims. Then Williamsport was rated over Harris and played Johnstown for the Central championship.
The 1931 squad was deep with an excellent mix of veterans and talented newcomers. Harris was expected to be good. Charles Baltimore and Frank Barbush returned at center and linebacker. Robert Nye shifted from guard to fullback. Junior Dave Mitten became the star running back. Halfback Max Johnson’s speed and pass-catching were crucial. Captain Dick Maurer at quarterback was outstanding in all aspects of the game. New to the team, the Providence brothers, Julius and Ulysses, were brilliant at the ends.
The season began with a workmanlike win over stubborn Columbia. Bethlehem came to the Island Park stadium the following Saturday and were trounced 27-0. At Easton, however, Harris was pushed to the limit. Both teams went to the air as Maurer, Johnson and Roger Goldthwaite scored for the Pioneers. Easton scored itself on a pass and then returned an interception for a touchdown. The final score was 19-13.
York was bested 12-0 in a hard-fought battle. Reading went down easily 34-0, but Harris happiness was dampened when Mitten suffered a serious head injury. A week later, Carlisle frightened the Harris faithful with an early touchdown but Harris then rolled to four touchdowns, winning 28-6.
At Lancaster’s Williamson Field, the Pioneers faced a strong, highly-regarded opponent. Speedy Dave Mitten returned to the lineup. In its best game of the year, Harris played like a well-oiled machine, scoring early when Maurer passed to Johnson who made a great catch, reversed his field, and ran 25 yards through most of the home team to score. After a penalty placed the ball on the one, sophomore fullback Dick Felton plunged in for the second TD. Johnson scored again in the final quarter, going forty yards with an interception. Over two seasons, Harris had outscored Lancaster 35-0.
On the Island again, down-river rival Steelton held Harris to a scoreless tie at halftime. In the second half, a Maurer pass to Ulysses Providence took the ball to the Steelton 22. Then the Harris captain threw to Johnson who went the rest of the way to score. Johnson later, behind perfect interference, returned a punt 37 yards for his second touchdown.
A capacity crowd of 10,000 went to the Island to see Harris battle now arch-rival William Penn. After three scoreless periods, Maurer’s passes to Johnson and Bill Swartz provided the margin of victory and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. The final score was 13-0.
Coal region power Shenandoah also had a perfect record and strong team, but this time Harris won the ratings battle.
Two thousand Harris rooters traveled to Altoona for the Central Conference title battle. 12,000 packed Mansion Park Stadium. Captain Maurer, the outstanding player in the game, dove to recover the opening kickoff on the home three-yard line. He scored on the second scrimmage play. Altoona then drove the length of the field to tie the score. In the second half, a pass intended for Johnson brought an interference call. The ball was placed on the Altoona four and Maurer scored again. Harris had driven 70 yards. The final count was 13-7 and the Crimson and Silver had its “state” crown.
In 1933, a 7-0-2 Pioneer team, led by Jim Carchidi and Dick Felton, was defeated for the East-West crown by Windber, the Western king, 7-6.
Coach Harry Rote, a Harrisburg native, was a star for unbeaten 1915 Harrisburg Central, totalling 156 points. After starting his college career at Gettysburg, he transferred to Lehigh and graduated from the Bethlehem school. He then returned to Gettysburg as an assistant, and served a short term as AD at Juniata College. After two years at Lansford, he was in charge at Harris for 22 seasons, beginning in 1927. His five-year record – 1929 through 1933 was 38 wins, only four losses, and four ties. His overall record at Harris was 126 victories, 63 losses and 19 ties. His 1944 Pioneers won the Big 15 crown.
Charles DOWNIN had been a guard starter until breaking his hand in the Penn game. Joel SNYDER, elected captain for 1933, was a key player at end, along with big Oscar ERNST. Frank BARBUSH was a steady contributor at center and linebacker, and Bob NYE a 178 pound strong man at fullback. Bob CORNMAN and Bill RINEER often spelled the starters at tackle with little change in quality of play..
The Crimson and Silver perfect 1930 record:
25 COLUMBIA 0
33 BETHLEHEM 0
20 EASTON 12
41 YORK 0
26 READING 0
28 CARLISLE 2
14 LANCASTER 0
7 STEELTON 0
6 HARRISBURG WILLIAM PENN 0
1931’s championship tally:
18 COLUMBIA 6
27 BETHLEHEM 0
19 EASTON 13
12 YORK 0
24 READING 0
28 CARLISLE 6
21 LANCASTER 0
14 STEELTON 0
13 HARRISBURG WILLIAM PENN 0
Central Conference East-West Playoff
13 ALTOONA 7
The Central Conference was near its peak in membership in 1931. The schools belonging to the Eastern Conference included: Shenandoah, Lancaster, Harrisburg William Penn, Berwick, Wilkes-Barre GAR, Hazleton, Williamsport, Harrisburg John Harris, Shamokin, Lebanon, Scranton Central, Bethlehem, Mt. Carmel, Steelton, Wilkes-Barre Meyers, Sunbury, Allentown, Wilkes-Barre Coughlin, Mahanoy City, Easton, Scranton Tech, Nanticoke, Plymouth, York, Coal Township and Reading. Kingston, Dunmore and Larksville were added for the 1932 season. Western Conference members included: Jersey Shore, Tyrone, Altoona, Bedford, Portage, Windber, Clearfield, Lock Haven, Philipsburg, Huntingdon, Milton, Bellefonte, State College, Mount Union, Johnstown, Hollidaysburg, Lewistown, Williamsburg and Cresson.
A final state championship matchup of the Central winner with the WPIAL champion each season would have been a huge game. In 1931, Harris would have played perfect record Clairton. The Western Pennsylvania school had lost one game in six years.
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