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McDonell football 1969

The 1969 McDonell football team advanced to the first-ever WISAA State Championship game. Members of the team were (front row, from left): Terry Durch, Bob Probst, Jon O'Connell, Jim Potter and Dave Harings. Second row: Mark Geissler, Jim Altman, Ron Lurk, Steve Bischel, Joe Hamilton, Jim Haley, John Bromeisl, Jack Stelter, Scott Hebert and John Young. Back row: Jeff Pulver, Dave Gee, Pete Rushman, Dan McCombs, Steve Rubenzer, Mike Rubenzer, Bob Kelly, Bob Franz and Louie Gelina.

The 1969 McDonell football team made a lot of history.

And Friday, the team will be honored for those achievements during halftime of the program’s 8-man matchup with Elkhart Lake/Glenbeulah.

The Macks of 1969 went 8-0-1 during the regular season, winning the Central Wisconsin Catholic Conference championship and ending the regular season as the top-ranked small school team in the United Press International state coaches poll. The Macks went on to defeat fellow CWCC school Prairie du Chien Campion 38-16 in the Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association playoff semifinals to advance to the first-ever WISAA state championship game where they fell to Manitowoc Roncalli.

That McDonell team was known for its chemistry and tenacious defense led by second-year coach Jim Jolliffe.

“We were a lot of pretty decent athletes that were a lot better because we played with each other,” John Bromeisl said.

Off and running

McDonell finished 4-4 in Jolliffe’s first season in 1968 and returned contributors from that season. The Macks started the season strong with sizable nonconference wins over Glenwood City (41-0) and Thorp (38-0) but faced tighter competition in the CWCC.

The team picked up confidence-boosting victories over Eau Claire Regis (8-6) and La Crosse Aquinas (15-6) in games three and four, the first time in school history the Macks beat both programs in the same season. The team improved to 5-0 with a 3-0 victory over Marshfield Columbus on Oct. 4, the only scoring of the game coming on a 17-yard field goal by Jeff Pulver while the defense pitched its third shutout of the young season.

The Macks earned win six in memorable fashion with a 20-18 win at Wausau Newman on Oct. 11. Pulver booted a 20-yard field as time expired for the victory. In the closing seconds of the game, Jim Haley caught a pass from quarterback John Young and fought to get out of bounds with the ball at the Newman 4-yard line, short of a first down that would have stopped the clock. Originally the referee ruled the game was over when Haley was tackled before a field judge said Haley had made it out of bounds. Officials resumed the game, setting the clock back two seconds after the referee was unaware of the field judge’s signal. Wausau Newman officials said on film Haley did not get out bounds, but an official’s judgment can not be the basis of a protest. Wausau Newman unsuccessfully protested the game.

“All I know is the referee called me out of bounds,” Haley said of the play with a smile.

Bromeisl left the game with a concussion, but was allowed to peek out of the locker room to see the scoreboard as it read 18-17 in favor of Wausau Newman with no time left. Soon after as teammates returned to the locker room he was surprised at their upbeat demeanor and was informed by teammate Ron Lurk how the Macks won. Opposing fans were not as pleased, as they egged the student bus after the game.

One week later, the Macks overcame a 12-0 halftime hole at Wisconsin Rapids Assumption to win 28-12, a game Young said the fans helped McDonell win with their spirited cheering, including forming a tunnel for the players as they hit the field for the second half.

“The fans won that one,” Young said.

The victory over the Royals improved the Macks to 7-0 and set up a high-profile matchup with also unbeaten in CWCC Prairie du Chien Campion. The lone score of the game came on a 30-yard touchdown catch from Pulver while the defense held its sixth opponent to six points or fewer in eight tries in front of nearly 4,000 people at the fairgrounds in a 6-0 win.

“At that time if you had a (defensive) line that averaged over 200 pounds it was a rarity,” Joe Hamilton said of the powerhouse Macks defense. “Not so much anymore but back then for a small school like we had the guys up front were really big and could move.”

The Macks made believers of people throughout the season, including Chippewa Herald-Telegram sports editor Mike Lucas, who received a postgame shower from the team after a win over Campion. A photo of a smiling Lucas can be found in the Oct. 28, 1969 edition of the Herald-Telegram.

McDonell played to a scoreless tie at a muddy Stevens Point Pacelli in the final game of the regular season, a result that still gave the Macks the outright league championship.

McDonell ended the regular season as the top-ranked team in the UPI small schools poll, earning 12 of 24 first-place votes to finish in front of Gale-Ettrick and Auburndale.

The Macks were one of four teams from across the state chosen for the WISAA state football tournament and earned a rematch against Campion, this time with a berth in the state championship game on the line.

Leaving no doubt

Both McDonell and Campion dealt with injuries during their first meeting of the season at the fairgrounds on Oct. 25. Young was injured during the contest while Jack Stelter was also hampered during the game while Campion was without top rusher Mike Miller and his backup Steve Peterson.

The rematch was not nearly as close as the regular season battle as the Macks jumped out to a 21-8 halftime lead on the way to a 38-16 triumph over Campion in the semifinals in La Crosse. Young found Hamilton for a 27-yard scoring pass before Young added a 1-yard scoring plunge to take an early 14-0 lead. Campion answered with a touchdown before Jack Stelter scored on a 9-yard run to help take a 21-8 lead into halftime.

McDonell put the game out of reach in the third quarter with a 23-yard field goal from Pulver, 17-yard fumble return for a score by Dan McCombs and a 41-yard scoring pass from Young to Hamilton.

“That was really satisfying, the result,” Jim Altman said of the win. “If it had been another nail biter one way or the other it would’ve been something. But we went down there and owned them.”

Stelter ran for 51 yards while Young threw for 147 yards and the two scores to Hamilton. The Macks more than doubled Campion in total yards (317-145) and forced six turnovers in the dominating win.

“It was like everyone expected us to get beat,” Bromeisl said. “That wasn’t the case, (it was) probably the best game we played all year.”

And it also set the Macks up into the first WISAA championship game against Roncalli, a matchup to take place at historic Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

The first

Roncalli upended Milwaukee Pius 14-7 to advance from the other semifinal.

Both schools advanced to state despite smaller enrollments compared to their conference counterparts. The Macks had the smallest enrollment in the CWCC while Roncalli was sixth among male enrollment in the nine-team Fox Valley Catholic Conference.

A tight game early, Roncalli scored twice in the second half to pull away to a 28-8 win for the first WISAA title in front of 5,255 fans at Lambeau Field. McDonell scored its lone touchdown on a 3-yard scoring run by Young. Turnovers and mistakes proved to be the difference as they fumbled four times and overall had four turnovers as well as a blocked punt.

“For a team that didn’t make mistakes all year, we saved them up for one game,” Bromeisl said.

Bromeisl felt the teams were even, despite the scoring difference. Roncalli outgained McDonell by a modest 261-231 yardage margin, but was able to take advantage of miscues for points.

The Macks were disappointed after the game, but not despondent.

“I don’t remember anybody being totally down and leaving there like it’s the worst day of our lives,” Pat Bischel said of the defeat.

“People were mad, but not exceptionally mad,” Stelter added. “We got over it in an hour.”

One thing that helped the Macks was the response throughout the community, something Jerry Cherrier and others said has stayed with them ever since.

“It brought the whole town together,” Young said. “All the businesses were closed up to go to the game.”

The team bus stopped on the way home under the guise of mechanical problems but in reality it was used to call ahead to the high school to make sure people were ready for the team’s return. The bus met others near Lake Wissota, and they accompanied the Macks back to the high school for a pep rally welcoming the team home.

The 1969 McDonell football team broke new ground as it ran to the program’s first state championship game. And it helped forge a tight-knit bond among the players that still endures 50 years later.

“It was a close-knit group and I think those friendships are still (here) today,” Stelter said.

Chippewa_Herald_Telegram_Mon__Nov_17__1969_.jpg

A page from the Nov. 17, 1969 edition of The Chippewa Herald detailing the WISAA State Championship Game.

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