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Written by: Billy Splain on Saturday, April 25th, 2020
Hal Wilson is a member of the Mt Lebo Hall of Fame and currently resides in Exton PA
MT. LEBANON 1981
Penn State’s Coach Joe Paterno was reported to have termed the 1981 Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils to be as good a high school team as he had ever seen. Others who saw this splendid team play felt the same way. Mt. Lebanon sped through a tough WPIAL AAAA schedule without a close game and then outscored perennial powers New Castle, Gateway and North Hills 78 – 15 in the playoffs to finish 13-0 and win the AAAA title going away.
On a cold night at Pittsburgh’s South Stadium, the Blue Devils broke from a 6-6 second quarter tie with North Hills to fashion a 13-6 half-time lead on a Chris Jelic to Paul Ranalli pass. Then, running right at the vaunted Indian defense, the Blue Devils rammed through three more TD’s to close out the AAAA championship contest, 34-6.
In 1979, the Blue Devils were 10-0, won their first playoff game and then stumbled against Gateway in the AAAA semi-final. In 1980, Mt. Lebanon went all the way to the AAAA crown, despite a 13-9 mid-season loss at AAA Aliquippa, finishing off neighborhood rival Bethel Park, 30-14, at Pitt Stadium in the final. Penn Hills, the four-time defending WPIAL champion, led by giant tackle Fralic, was eliminated 21-7 by the Blue Devils in the semi-finals.
John Frank, tight end for the Super Bowl champion 49ers and twice All-Big Ten for Ohio State, was a 1979 first team All-Stater. 1979 QB Mike Eck made the second team. In 1980, the Aldisert twins were both honored as first team All-State, Richard at end and Caesar at linebacker.
A solid nucleus of veterans led the 1981 squad. Quarterback Chris Jelic, halfbacks Paul Ranalli, Mark Hart and Rick Bonelli, along with fullback Tom Welsh were nearly unstoppable. In addition to magnificently managing the intricate quick-hitting Y- backfield offense, Jelic passed, ran, punted, and place-kicked. The New Castle News referred to his performance against the Red Hurricanes as a “clinic”. In that game, Mark Hart had a stunning long punt return for a TD, one of his specialties. The unit’s breakaway catalyst, he was named to the All-State second team.
Perhaps the brightest star on this team was tackle Bob Schilken, a three year starter, who led the offensive line and blocked viciously. On defense, from his nose-guard position, he terrorized opposing backs. Schilken was first team All-State and played at Pitt.
Jelic, although under six feet, played quarterback at Pitt before pursuing a pro baseball career.The coaching mastermind behind this great team was Art Walker, who won a total of five championships for Mt. Lebanon in 21 years of coaching at the WPIAL’ s highest level. A strong focus and fine football mind enabled Walker to turn out consistently excellent teams at Mt. Lebanon.
His units played for the biggest WPIAL title eight times, winning five, including a brilliantly coached 10-0 championship in 1970.
Walker, a native of the Pittsburgh South Hills, was a quarterback at Waynesburg College. He was promoted in early 1967 from a junior high coaching job in the Mt. Lebanon district to mentor the Blue Devils’ defending WPIAL champions. The 1967 championship game with New Castle at Pitt Stadium is considered one of the all-time classic title games in the annals of the WPIAL. The Red Hurricanes prevailed, 20-14.
At the time Walker retired as head coach after the 1987 season to become Mt. Lebanon AD, his 1981 Blue Devils were recognized as a one of the ten best teams in WPIAL history.
Art Walker was later head coach at Shadyside Academy and asssisted his son, Art, Jr., who was head coach at Pittsburgh Central Catholic.
Speaking of his 1981 Blue Devils, Walker said, “We were blessed with a strong nucleus of talented, relentless players who had been together for six years. We expected to be good in 1981 – and we were determined to honor the memory of Richard Aldisert who had died suddenly in late winter of 1981.”
The Blue Devil 1981 offensive starters included:
E 82 Chris ECK 6-0 185
T 71 Bob SCHILKEN 6-2 218
G 67 Mark BANBURY 6-0 212
C 54 Greg STELIOTES 6-0 210
G 75 Wayne HUNLEY 6-2 215
T 78 Andy CLINE 6-4 218
E 86 Dan SMITH 6-1 165
Q 13 Chris JELIC 5-11 180
H 34 Paul RANALLI 5-11 180
H 28 Mark HART 5-11 182
H 33 Rick BONELLI 5-8 165
F 22 Tom WELSH 5-10 185
Mt. Lebanon’s first line defenders were:
E 87 Paul LUTKA 5-11 175
T 55 Dale KORDING 5-7 170
G 71 Bob SCHILKEN 6-2 218
T 77 Steve KLINE 6-2 215
E 82 Chris ECK 6-0 185
LB 66 John MAXWELL 6-0 205
LB 44 Al AGOSTINELLI 5-11 190
LB 85 Shawn COYNE 6-0 180
CB 31 Karl GEISLER 6-0 176
CB 27 Dan RYAN 5-11 160
S 24 Kevin WARMBEIN 6-1 185
S 20 Phil ESKEW 5-10 160
Other key players included tackle 76 Rusty SCHNURR, guard 56 Ken FETTERMAN, and end 84 Jim STEVENSON.
The road to a 1981 13-0 record:
34 PITTSBURGH BRASHEAR 0
21 CHARTIERS VALLEY 0
20 UPPER ST. CLAIR 0
31 RINGGOLD 7
49 TRINITY 6
23 BETHEL PARK 0
41 CANON-MCMILLAN 13
35 ALIQUIPPA 8
28 BALDWIN 14
23 KEYSTONE OAKS 0
WPIAL AAAA PLAYOFFS
30 NEW CASTLE 3
14 GATEWAY 6
34 NORTH HILLS 6
John Frank and Bob Schilken are now each a practicing physician. Frank and Schilken were the subject of feature articles in Sports Illustrated following the completion of their football careers.
In addition to the seven championships won in the WPIAL’s top divisions, Mt.
Lebanon was ranked No. 1 in Roger Saylor’s PA ratings three times – in 1958,
1970 and 1981, and second another three times – 1960, 1966 amd 1980.
Mt. Lebanon had strong teams from the very beginning of the school’s existence.
Henry Luecht had begun the entire Mt. Lebanon athletic program in 1928, His
1937, 1938, 1940 and 1941 teams were Saylor top tens.
Up to the beginning of the PIAA State playoffs in 1988, the Blue Devils had achieved a place in Saylor’s state-wide top ten 20 times.
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