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Written by: Billy Splain on Friday, May 14th, 2021
In the heavy industrial cities and towns that prospered in the hills and river valleys of Pennsylvania for decades, scholastic football was the most important activity, excepting perhaps only family and church – and the gridiron sport was a religion of itself. Such was the case in the Flood City, Johnstown, hemmed in by narrow valley walls and dominated by the giant Cambria plant of Bethlehem Steel. In 1941 and 1958, the Johnstown Trojans fielded strong, tough elevens that were dominating AA champions of the WPIAL.
The 1941 team, coached by the wily Duke Weigle worked through a difficult all-winning schedule and then out-fought Mt. Lebanon at Jeannette’s McKee Stadium before 13,000 for a 7-0 victory and the AA crown. Little sparkplug quarterback Johnny Makar and rough tackle Larry “Sparky” Schellhammer led the Trojans as they won their first major championship after decades of frustration. Both were All-State first teamers.
Weigle, a native of nearby Windber and graduate of Schuylkill College – now part of Albright – later coached a successful McKeesport program for many years.
Seventeen years after the first title, 1958 Johnstown achieved the WPIAL AA heights again. These Trojans were an imposing team with one of the best forward walls in WPIAL history and a swift-running backfield labeled the “Trojan Horsemen”. This squad won ten straight in a perfect season – then, heavily favored, got by a feisty Clairton squad on a fourth quarter field goal by All-State and All-America guard George Azar. The final score in the AA title game at Pitt Stadium was 3-0.
Azar says today that the day contest at Pitt provided a “strange feeling” for the squad after ten night games. Johnstown home games were played in famous Point Stadium – then a double-decked baseball park as well as a gridiron site.
In the 1958 opener, a gritty Redstone club, featuring a sophomore quarterback, Fred Mazurek, later to become one of the WPIAL’s all-time greats, gave Johnstown all it could handle before succumbing 13-0. Another Coke Region team from Fayette County, German Township, went down 32-13. Always formidable neighbor Windber actually led the Trojans 13-0 before going under 36-13. 15,000 packed Point Stadium.
Bitter mountain rival Altoona was beaten at the Lions’ Mansion Park, 20-14, as Curry, the rangy Mountain Lion quarterback caused a lot of problems. The Trojans won the battle with 382 rushing yards. The AA championship game berth was secured with a workmanlike 28-7 win at Har-Brack.
Following the Clairton win, a state championship game with perfect record Easton or Central Dauphin in the East would have made for an exciting climax to the 1958 season.
The Trojans, a close-knit mature team, improved constantly as the season unfolded. Azar was the most recognized of the linemen, but Dean Stump, at center, was a brilliant pivot. The guard opposite Azar, Jerry Davitch, was a heady player as well. With end Bernie Solich and big tackle Ed Adamchik flanking Azar, and the Audi brothers, Norm and Dave on the other side, Johnstown was solid all the way across the front.
Among the backs, Bobby Bambino was a compact 136 pounds. He was quick, tough and difficult to bring down. Tom Runyon at quarterback was the field general of this powerful team.
Davitch, in a statement a few years ago, said, “I never played on a team after that where everybody’s effort was as continual as it was there ( at Johnstown ). It was just down after down after down. It was more than a game”.
Johnstown rolled to another perfect season in 1959, but came up short in the Gardner Point system, and Charleroi and Aliquippa played for the AA title. End Solich, named to the All-State second squad, was a mainstay of this team, with halfback Woody Barnette and fullback Gene Buchan, now juniors, the running stars.
The Trojan win streak reached 25 before Mazurek and his Redstone Blackhawks battled Johnstown to a 13-13 tie on their home field at Republic midway through the 1960 season
The coaching master of this great 1958 team was Dave Hart, a Connellsville native, who had been a Coker backfield teammate of Notre Dame and pro great Johnny Lujack. With Hart, Lujack, and Wally Schroyer, 1941 Connellsville was undefeated.
After making the Georgia squad as a freshman, Hart went into the Army Air Force in 1942 and returned to Georgia in 1946. He then transferred to St. Vincent’s College outside Latrobe and became team captain. He was named head coach at Mt. Pleasant Hurst and moved to Johnstown for the 1954 season.
In 1961, he became an assistant at Kentucky, then at Navy. He served as head coach at Pitt for three years, before entering athletic administration. Learning the business at Robert Morris, he was Athletic Director first at Louisville and then at Missouri. In 1986, he became Commissioner of the Southern Conference, finally retiring in 1991.
Hart ran a quality program at Johnstown, with three junior high squads working with the same system. Training and trainers were emphasized, and the players appreciated the extraordinary organization of which they were part.
George Azar starred at Michigan State, became a respected assistant coach, and served as an executive with the Philadelphia Eagles, assisting the late Harry Gamble for many years.
Jerry Davitch played at Arizona, became head coach at Idaho, and was finally the school superintendent at Richland, just outside Johnstown.
Bernie Solich went on to the Miami Hurricanes, while Ed Adamchik was a tackle on Pitt’s fine 1963 team. Among others, Stump and Runyon played at Bucknell.
The 1958 all-victorious Trojan starting lineup:
E 53 Bernie SOLICH 6-2 188
T 63 Ed ADAMCHIK 6-2 211
G 74 George AZAR 6-0 181
C 85 Dean STUMP 6-0 178
G 72 Jerry DAVITCH 5-10 168
T 61 Norm AUDI 6-0 190
E 54 Dave AUDI 6-2 185
Q 17 Tom RUNYON 6-1 166
H 23 Woody BARNETTE 5-10 157
H 36 Bobby BAMBINO 5-7 136
F 33 Craig MICHEL 5-9 166
Key defensive backs included 18 Fred PRUITT, 40 Lynn HOFFMAN, 24 Gene BUCHAN and 44 Charles LAPORTA. Pruitt weighed just 127 pounds, LaPorta 131, and Hoffman 143. Linebacker Buchan brought some bulk at 177. The starting line played on both sides of the ball.
Johnstown’s perfect 1958 record:
13 REDSTONE TOWNSHIP 0
32 GERMAN TOWNSHIP 13
41 NEW KENSINGTON 0
36 WINDBER 13
26 DUQUESNE 0
26 MCKEESPORT 0
39 MONESSEN 19
20 ALTOONA 14
28 HAR-BRACK 7
41 JOHNSTOWN CATHOLIC 0
WPIAL AA CHAMPIONSHIP
3 CLAIRTON 0
The movie “All the Right Moves”, starring Tom Cruise and a Hollywood scholastic football epic, was filmed in and around Johnstown. The old Central High School building was reopened for the filming and the climactic game was played in Point Stadium.
The assistance of Mike Mastovich of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat with this article is acknowledged and appreciated.
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