(On Sept. 26-27, Ottumwa High’s 1963 state championship football team will hold a 50-year reunion. This is the last in a three-part series on that unbeaten season by former Courier sports editor Alan Hoskins)
Bettendorf at Ottumwa. It was the game of the year not only in the Little Six but the entire state considering the bearing the outcome would have on a mythical state championship.
“Never before have our boys been in a winner-take-all championship games such as this one will be,” said OHS Coach Gary Grouwinkel. “Seldom does a last conference game on the schedule decide the title, This one is unique.”
Not only was the Little Six championship at stake was so was the Bulldogs’ No. 3 rating in all three of the state prep polls – AP, UPI and Des Moines Register. The No. 3 rating was the highest ever for an OHS team (the 1961 Bulldogs finished No. 5).
The game, indeed, would live up to all expectations. But as history would show, it would not be the biggest game ever. That would still be to come.
OHS 47, BETTENDORF 21
“Scoring with assembly line precision as 5,500 wildly cheering fans could scarcely believe their eyes, the go-galloping Bulldogs hung a 47-21 crusher,” wrote Emmett Mowery in The Courier. “Had hurricane Ginny, that blustery and unpredictable storm on the eastern seaboard suddenly swept into Schaefer Stadium, it would have created no more havoc that the Ottumwa pigskin pushers cooked up for Coach Merritt Parsons and his single-wing equipped crew. Before the first half was over, Johnny Stater had scored on a 31-yard pass and again on a one-yard run, Mark Chedister had galloped 42 yards to punch the point register and Larry Baugh had scooted 58 yards to dig his cleats in pay dirt.”
The lead was 28-7 at halftime but could have been 28-0 had not Stater touched a punt at the OHS 3-yard to set up Bettendorf’s lone first half TD. “I guess I thought I was downing the ball; I was just sick about it,” said Stater. No matter, the Bulldogs made it 41-7 after three quarters on runs of six yards by Keith McIntosh and seven by Chedister and the second unit finished off the rout with a 2-yard run by Tim Timberlake on a drive led by third team quarterback Bill Miler, who took over when Bill Dull was sidelined by a hand injury,
Stater would more than make up for his miscue. Although he netted only three yards rushing, he caught five passes for 94 yards but most impressively, made nearly 20 tackles.
“We thought Stater was good offensively but we didn’t know he was so good defensively,” said Parsons. “We’d run a counter play and Stater would make the tackle from safety behind the line of scrimmage. I can best describe that Ottumwa team with one word: Wow! They had speed to burn. That team could almost play without a line, that’s how much speed they have in the backfield.”
“I’m so proud of you tonight I don’t know what to say,” said Grouwinkel, whose Bulldogs ran for 210 yards and Dennis Emanuel was 8 of 9 in the air for 155. “Now we’ve got two more games to show we’re the best in the state.”
OHS 28, WAHLERT 27
It was far from perfection but it was the most miraculous comeback in OHS history. Trailing 20-6 after three quarters, the Bulldogs rallied with three fourth quarter touchdowns, the last on the most memorable play in OHS history.
But first, the Bulldogs finally got their second touchdown with 10:53 left on a 30-yard Emanuel to Rocky Ryan pass only to give the score right back on Mel Cushing’s 80-yard run and only 5:12 remained when Wahlert knocked down a fourth down pass at its own 14. That’s when the defense came to the rescue. The Bulldogs quickly forced a punt from the 14 and Cushing’s punt soared straight up, Charlie Axmacher recovering at the 15, from where OHS scored on a 14-yard pass to Ryan and Stater’s one-yard run with 3:25 left.
Again, the OHS defense forced a three and out and this time Cushing’s punt sailed high to the OHS 35, from where Stater fielded the ball, somehow came out of a scrum behind blocks from Ed McHugh, Laris Roberts and Jon Brinegar and dashed 65 yards for a 27-27 tie. Just 56 seconds remained when John O’Dell kick his fourth straight PAT. “I was crying when I kicked off that last time because I was afraid I would miss the extra point,” said O’Dell.
Wahlert was the one team the Bulldogs had not scouted and it showed as the Eagles ran for 320 yards while limiting OHS to 108. Despite sitting out the week with an arm injury, Emanuel threw for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
“I remember at halftime Coach Grouwinkel telling us if we won that game it would mean something special,” said Emanuel. “If we didn’t win, it would still be a good season but it wouldn’t be special.”
OHS 56, OSKALOOSA 9
With No. 1 Davenport Central and No. 2 Des Moines Lincoln losing, the Bulldogs for the first time in history took a No. 1 ranking in the state into the final home game and then played like it.
Emanuel threw five touchdown passes, three to Ryan (21, 25 and 8 yards), a 36-yarder to Ed McHugh and a 64-yarder to Stater in a record 270-yard passing performance; tackle Laris Roberts returned a fumble 33 yards for a score; and O’Dell and Stater scored on short runs before 4,200 jubilant fans.
Assistant coaches George Magrane and Bill Kramer and Grouwinkel along with Bill Christensen were all dunked in the showers in the wildest locker room celebration in Schaefer Stadium history amid the chant of “We’re number one.”
The mythical state championship was affirmed four days later when both the AP and Des Moines Register made them No. 1 while UPI placed Mount Pleasant ahead of OHS. Mount Pleasant had gone unscored upon but its’ nine opponents were just 28-41 compared to a 38-36 record for OHS foes. Also, The Courier was an AP newspaper; the Mount Pleasant News a UPI paper.
Five Bulldogs were named to the All-Little Six team – Ryan, Roberts, Brinegar, Stater and Emanuel; three more on the second team – Terry Crow, Jim Young and Larry Baugh. Stater and Roberts were named to the IDPA All-State first team; Ryan to the third team and Emanuel to the fourth.
Statistically, the Bulldogs shattered 45 OHS records. Emanuel broke every passing record with 71 of 136 for 1,278 yards and 18 touchdowns; 12 to Ryan who had 36 catches for 606 yards. Stater led in rushing with 756 yards for a 6.9-yard average followed by Chedister (6.5), Baugh (6.0) and O’Dell (5.1).
Grouwinkel would coach OHS one more year, then was off to the college ranks, coaching a combined nine years at North Dakota, Arizona, Iowa, Northwestern and Florida State before finishing an 18-year high school career (184-99-3 and 11 conference titles and 11 play berths) at York in Elmhurst, Ill.
“It was a shame we couldn’t have played Mount Pleasant because we would have beat them,” said Grouwinkel. “I’ve had some real good teams but that one in Ottumwa was the most explosive I’ve ever had. It was awfully special.”