If you’re Cliff Pope, memories of his Purcell Marian football glory days never get boring.
Two years after Springsteen wrote the song, the Purcell Marian High School football team became prep legends for life by winning the Ohio Division II state title over Willoughby South. That same year, Fairfield beat Lakewood St. Edward for the Division I title and now-closed Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education defeated Kingston in Division III.
Pope was the nose guard for the 1986 Purcell Marian Cavaliers and is regarded as the team historian by his former coach Herb Woeste. Pope went on to coach at his alma mater for 15 years and now is at Elder.
“I remember it all like it was yesterday,” Pope said. “I started all 14 games. I’ve got the Cincinnati Enquirer article framed in my office.”
The state title game against Willoughby South was the icing on the cake, but not necessarily the key ingredient of what the Cavaliers had cooking in 1986.
As independents, they had an undefeated season and finished the season ranked No. 4 in USA Today. The bigger accomplishment in some minds was taking down the Greater Catholic League and Greater Miami Conference champs in the same season.
Not only did Woeste’s Cavaliers beat eventual DI champion and GMC champ Fairfield in double overtime at Fairfield; they also beat GCL champion Moeller in overtime. Not bad for a team that wasn’t ranked in the 1986 preseason city poll.
“Some referred to us as the Cinderella team that just couldn’t lose,” Woeste said. “No one could say we played the ‘Little Sisters of the Poor.'”
Others referred to them by a nickname older Cavaliers earned in years gone by; “The Hackberry Assassins.”
“Everywhere we went, that was our logo,” Pope said
Purcell Marian’s toughness began in the dog days of summer when practices commenced at Eden Park. Back then, the routine was to load a school bus full of Cavaliers in pads, hang a left on Victory Parkway and then drive past the Conservatory down to the stone wall at the park.
Between the wall and Mirror Lake, there was enough dried-up grass to make tackling uncomfortable. Similar to Bear Bryant’s “Junction Boys,” lessons in teamwork began on the sun-drenched hard ground.
“We bused to and from practice every day,” Pope said. “No grass. By the end of August it’s all dirt and rocks. We ran that hill every single day. We ran it for conditioning at the end of practice and ran it for punishment during practice.”
A football player with a Harvard education and literary flair gave the Cavaliers some early press for their efforts.
“(Former Bengal) Pat McInally wrote a great story about us because he lived in Mount Adams,” Woeste said. “From his perch he was able to look down at Eden Park and see us practicing.”
Among the Cavaliers he likely saw were quarterback John Paul Case, tight end Jay Koch, running backs John Kennedy and Jeff Freeman, lineman Matt Tepe, kick returner John Chambers linebacker Tony Adkins and nose guard/future collector of recollections Cliff Pope.
The regular season
The practice paid off and the hard work was rewarded as Purcell Marian got out of the gate early in ’86. They won three straight and then took down Fairfield on the road in double overtime. Two weeks later, they led Moeller 7-0 until the Crusaders tied it late to force an overtime.
About 18 years later, Woeste recalls what transpired as if he’s standing on the sidelines watching it again.
“We were able to complete a pass to Jay Koch for a touchdown,” Woeste said. “In overtime, Jay (Koch) caught a nice pass and then John Paul (Case) carried it in on the quarterback draw. That was history making not only for our school but for our city. Up to that point it was either Moeller or Princeton that was considered the No. 1 team in the city.”
Woeste estimates the Cavaliers dressed about 55 guys that season. Back then, the spread was what the boys ate after a game or practice. For the bulk of Woeste’s 16 years as Purcell Marian head coach, they toted the loaf offensively and played smash-mouth defense.
“We definitely liked to pound the ball,” Pope said. “We weren’t very flashy. We were a hungry group and very well-coached.”
Added Woeste, “We had a defense that kept us in every ballgame. Our defense was a big key to our success all year long. They played so well together.”
The grand finale
After 13 straight wins, game No. 14 for Purcell Marian was on a Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium, home of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Back then, it was old school Astro Turf which some will argue was as hard as the dried clay of Eden Park.
About 20,000 Purcell Marian fans were reported to have been there, but Pope didn’t see them until after the game.
“I remember turning around and seeing a sea of red,” Pope said. “During the game, you don’t look in the stands. We were so focused on winning the game.”
The game was close for awhile, but Purcell Marian won 26-7 and John Paul Case set records with field goals of 44 and 42 yards away. There was no welcoming parade home, just a celebration in the gym on Sunday.
The Cavaliers made playoff runs in later years, but have never yet been able to recapture the glory of a state title. Coach Woeste moved on to Winton Woods to become athletic director and accompanied the Warriors to Massillon in 2009 when they won a state title.
As proud as he was, it didn’t compare to walking off the field that Woody Hayes coached.
“No question about it,” Woeste said. “During football season no one puts in more time than the coaches and the kids playing the games.”
In 1986, Geraldo Rivera opened up Al Capone’s vault on national TV and found a bottle of moonshine, Oprah Winfrey’s syndicated talk show began and Bill Buckner of the Red Sox opened the door for a New York Mets World Series title by letting a routine ground ball run through his legs.
On Hackberry Street, an inner-city Catholic school took down two area powerhouses and finished a perfect season in Columbus with a trophy.
“We got the team work to make the dream work” – 1986 Purcell Marian playoff slogan.
Purcell Marian’s 1986 season record
Purcell Marian 38, Norwood 0
Purcell Marian 35, Oak Hills 7
Purcell Marian 23, McNicholas 0
Purcell Marian 23, Fairfield 17 (2 OT)
Purcell Marian 37, Badin 0
Purcell Marian 13, Moeller 10 (OT)
Purcell Marian 13, Alter 6
Purcell Marian 49, Wyoming 0
Purcell Marian 42, Portsmouth Trojan 0
Purcell Marian 47, Roger Bacon 7
Purcell Marian 29, Wapakoneta 6
Purcell Marian 37, Lemon Monroe 14
Purcell Marian 33, Wooster 10
Purcell Marian 26, Willoughby South 7
To read the entire article posted by Scott Springer please click the link below: