By ALAN HOSKINS
Special to the Courier
---- — (Editor’s Note: On Sept. 26-27, Ottumwa High’s 1963 state championship football team will hold a 50-year reunion. This is first in a three-part series on that unbeaten season by former Courier sports editor Alan Hoskins)
It was a season that started without great expectations – at least on the state level.
Despite coming off a Little Six co-championship in 1961 and an outright Little Six title in 1962 and returning a dozen lettermen, Ottumwa was listed among the “also-rans” when the Associated Press released its first poll of the season.
Perhaps it was the schedule. The Bulldogs had to play its first two games on the road – at Newton against a Cardinal team that had finished unbeaten in 1962 and was seeking a third straight Central Iowa title; and at Cedar Rapids Regis, a perennial parochial power – before returning home against Little Six favorite and No. 9 ranked Muscatine.
The rugged road schedule also included Little Six tests at Keokuk and Burlington, where OHS had not won since 1938; a major showdown with another Little Six power, Bettendorf; a lengthy road trip to Dubuque Wahlert; and battles with traditional rivals Fairfield and Oskaloosa..
The Bulldogs were coached by Gary Grouwinkel, a standout guard on Iowa’s 1957 Rose Bowl championship team, and assistants George Magrane (line) and Bill Kramer (backs). A Wapello native, Grouwinkel had coached three years at West Branch before replacing Jack Fisk, who moved to Cedar Rapids Jefferson after coaching OHS to a 7-2 record and a co-Little Six title in 1961. Graduation had left Grouwinkel with almost no experience but nevertheless, the 1962 Bulldogs won OHS’ first outright Little Six title in years with a 6-3 record.
“Just because they didn’t play a lot doesn’t mean they’re not good players,” Grouwinkel said in his first interview with this writer. “The reason they didn’t play a lot was because there were some good players ahead of them.”
The Bulldogs opened the season with an all-senior offensive lineup. Bob Wilkerson and Howard (Rocky) Ryan manned the ends with Laris Roberts and Terry Crow at the tackles, Dan Matheney, Jon Brinegar and Syd Guest at the guards and Jim Young at center. Dennis Emanuel edged Bill Dull at quarterback with John Stater and Mark Chedister getting the nod over veterans John O’Dell and Keith McIntosh at halfback. The fullback back job went to Tim Timberlake with Larry Baugh, a transfer from Cardinal and top sprint, as his backup.
Defensively, juniors Ed McHugh, Bill Miler and Mike Fisher joined Roberts, Crow, Brinegar, Wilkerson and Matheney up front and the linebacker positions while Stater, Baugh and O’Dell formed the secondary.
OHS 26, NEWTON 14
Despite being outgained 328 yards to 225, the Bulldogs never trailed in front of a huge Newton home crowd. Leading 7-0 at the half on a 13-yard scoring run by Stater, the Bulldogs scored on their first three possessions of the second half on 4 and 2-yard runs by O’Dell and a 6-yard scamper by Chedister after Stater had returned an interception 39 yards to the six.
However, it was the Bulldog defense that turned the tide. Newton had the ball only twice the first half but the Bulldogs stopped the Cardinals at the 3 and 1-yard lines. The Cardinals fumbled away a punt on their only other opportunity, Rocky Ryan recovering to set up the first touchdown, a 12-play, 67-yard drive capped by Stater’s 13-yard run.
OHS 14, REGIS 6
The headline in The Courier said it all.
“Ottumwa nips Regis in Story Book Style.”
A year earlier, Regis had taken a 14-12 fourth quarter lead over OHS only to have Emanuel and Ryan hook up on a 65-yard scoring pass to set up a 24-14 win. This time, Emanuel twice found Ryan with touchdown passes – both in the final three minutes.
For three quarters, the Bulldogs were their own worst enemy, turning the ball over three times including a fumble at the goal with five minutes to go. Quickly forcing a punt to the Regis 46, Stater ran six yards and then Emanuel faded to pass for the first time in the second half. Split wide to the right, Ryan outraced a Regis defender to make a leaping catch at the 10 and shook off a tackle at the two for the tying touchdown. Only 2:33 remained when O’Dell kicked the go-ahead extra point.
Stater then ended any hopes Regis might have by intercepting a pass and returning it to the Regis 30. A 13-yard run Baugh got it deep into Regis territory before Emanuel and Ryan struck again, this time a 14-yard scoring pass on fourth and seven with 31 seconds to go.
“I’ve never seen a bench so alive, they really fired everybody up,” said Grouwinkel, after telling the Bulldogs: “I only hope this teaches you a lesson that you can’t relax. You do and it takes three quarters, maybe a whole game to catch up.”
OHS 40, MUSCATINE 24
The battle for the Little Six, No. 9 Muscatine at defending champion Ottumwa. Big enough The Des Moines Register made it its spotlight game.
As it turned out, it was never close. Chidester ran eight yards and Emanuel threw 38 yards to Stater for a 13-0 lead just 4:12 into the game and a personal offensive assault by Stater boosted the lead to 34-6 going into the fourth quarter. Stater took another scoring pass from Emanuel, this time for 29 yards for a 20-6 halftime lead, then added 12 and 50-yard scoring runs in the third quarter. Emanuel finished the scoring with an 11-yard TD pass and finished with an OHS record 201 yards on 12 of 24 passes.
Defensively, the Bulldogs forced five fumbles, recovering three by McHugh, Wilkerson and Ryan, and got a pass interception from Jon Brinegar. It was the ninth straight win over two seasons for the Bulldogs and vaulted them all the way to fifth in the second AP poll – and in pursuit of only the fourth unbeaten season in OHS history. The others came in 1933, 1938 and 1943.