1967 Slicer football: “Nobody expected us to be so successful”

From the notebooks of Greg Fruth:

Greg Fruth, a self-described “Slicer football pack rat” and a retired La Porte High School teacher, has compiled a series of stories gleaned from countless hours of research. He shares his love for LPHS football with WNLP readers by allowing us to post his collection. This is the eighth in the series.

A note from Greg: Don Ferrell provided the research for this article. Athletic Director Norm Hubner had compiled a scrapbook of the 1967 season and gave it to Stan Klimczak. After Stan died, the Klimczak family gave the scrapbook to Ferrell, who loaned it to me.

The 1966 Slicer football team was 8-2 and ranked #16 in the state final polls. For 2 weeks, the 1966 squad had been #1 in state polls. 21 seniors, 10 of them 3-year lettermen, had graduated. So many shoes to fill! The 1967 team returned 14 lettermen and carried only 46 players. Besides losing so many seniors, the 1966 junior quarterback, Jerry Swain (who had set the single-season Slicer passing record of 14 TD passes), had moved to Oklahoma.

Such situations motivated head coach Stan Klimczak, entering his 11th season. Stan refused to say rebuilding. That word implied some losses were in the future. “We haven’t used the word rebuilding yet—it means you’re going to lose some and we never practice losing,” stated Stan. Still, with so many players with little varsity experience, many Slicer fans agreed with two-way starter Don Ferrell’s assessment: “Nobody expected us to be so successful.”

 

During preseason, signs of hope began to emerge. First-year player senior Joe Cash (5-6 151 pounds) showed promise at fullback. Former center Jim Magnuson was converted to the backfield, joining junior Dave Miller. 1966 linebacker Jack Kaminski emerged as the starting fullback. Tim Bernacchi took over the QB reigns. The offensive line was completely new: tackles Rich Hahn and Don Ferrell, guards Pete Tabaka and Scott Spahn, and center Dan Shipton joined ends Rich Lenard and Bob Geisler. Only Tabaka and Geisler had gained any significant playing time in 1966.

The small squad numbers meant 6 Slicers were playing both ways in the beginning of the season. Those 6 two-way players joined defensive tackle Ken Monte, LBers Dave Novitske and Pat Milligan, and CBs Roger Brown and Bruce Belzowski.

Preseason practices showed hope for the 1967 Slicers. The first step toward realizing that hope was the jamboree hosted by the Slicers. In the second quarter, La Porte and Valparaiso tied, 0-0. Fullback Joey Cash was impressive with a 35-yard scamper, and defensive back Rich Lenard intercepted a Viking pass. In the final period, Tim Bernacchi threw to Lenard for a 27-yard score. Roger Brown’s PAT attempt was blocked. City’s final scoring attempt was stopped when Mike Bechdol intercepted a pass. For the evening, Cash was the leading ground gainer with 54 yards in 6 attempts.

Herald-Argus sports writer Dave Krider wrote, “A tenacious defense coupled with an unexpected explosive offense enabled La Porte High to crush Kokomo, 40-19.” Jim Magnuson gained 10 yards in the first half and then burned the Wildcats for 145 yards and 2 TDs in the second half; his 42- yard run on the second half’s first play foretold Slicer success. Fullback Cash bolted for 95 yards on 16 carries and scored 3 touchdowns. Bernacchi gained 31 yards rushing and threw a 32-yard TD to Lenard. The Slicers netted 336 rushing yards. Spahn kicked 4 PATs. The defense plagued Kokomo all night. Milligan led the blitz with 9 tackles.

A host of Slicers joined Milligan to squelch the Wildcats: Kaminski, 8 tackles; Dave Miller, 7 tackles; Brown, Monte, and Novitske, 5 each. 211-pound defensive tackle Don Ferrell deflected two passes and, according to Krider, terrorized Kokomo QB Bill Beck all game. Monte blocked a PAT attempt, Lenard and Brown intercepted passes, and Brown, Magnuson, Spahn, and Novitske recovered fumbles. During pre-season, Coach Klimczak had worked on stunting defenses, which Stan called “jitterbugging or the Ali Shuffle.” The Wildcat linemen couldn’t figure out which Slicer to hit.

Following the Kokomo game, LP was ranked 15th in the state.

Next up: Elkhart at Rice Field. Entering the clash versus the Blue Blazers, Jim Magnuson had garnered 205 yards on 20 carries, for a 10.2 average. Punter Bob Giesler was averaging 39.6 yards. This game saw “crippling injuries…and a ball-control offense by Elkhart” (Krider) devastate the Slicers. Magnuson scored in the first half and Spahn’s PAT was good. Spahn kicked a field goal from Elkhart’s 7. Elkhart countered with a TD and a PAT.

The second half was all Elkhart. The home team ran 42 plays to LP’s 16. The Slicers had only 3 possessions and 2 first downs in the second half. Magnuson suffered bruised ribs in the second quarter and was out of the game. Cash hobbled on a bad ankle, and tackle Rich Hahn played briefly due to injuries. Linemen Otto Leaders and Steve Levandoski suffered ankle injuries. Mike Archer couldn’t play at all. Given the injury report, it’s amazing the Slicers kept the score so close.

Elkhart took the second-half kickoff and scored on a 74-yard drive; final score–Elkhart 14, LP 10.

Kaminski led the offense with 75 yards in 10 tries. Giesler’s 4 punts averaged 43 yards.
The D played well: Monte led the Orange and Black with 14 tackles; Brown 11 and a fumble recovery; Milligan and Novitski, 10; Kaminski and Bruce Belzowski 9; Dave Miller and Tabaka, 8.

On September 15, the Slicers hosted South Bend Central. The week had allowed many Slicers to heal. Back on the field were Hahn, Levandoski, Leaders, and Mike Archer. Unfortunately, Magnuson still couldn’t play. Klimczak made adjustments: Cash at starting fullback, Miller shifted from right half to left half, Mike Bechdol started at right half. Before 5,000 fans, the Bears and the Slicers played 3 quarters of deadlocked ball. On the first play of the 4th quarter, fullback Jack Kaminski scored on a 2-yard blast. Spahn’s kick was good.

“Central had no sooner got the ball back than tackle Don Ferrell shook it loose from a Bear ball carrier and Bob Giesler fell on it on the Central 20-yard line. Bernacchi swept the left end for the Slicers’ second score. Lenard’s key block provided the path for the score. Spahn kicked the PAT. 14-0. Central scored on a spectacular pass reception to John Makris, who caught the ball while lying prostrate on the ground” (Krider).

End Rich Lenard was moved to halfback and led the Slicers in rushing with 88 yards in 10 carries. Milligan led the defense (11 tackles); Giesler (8); Novitski, Brown, Belzowsi (6); Ferrell, Lenard, Tabaka (5). Belzowsi intercepted 2 passes and Brown 1.

Following the victory over the Bears, the Slicers were ranked #19 in state polls.

South Bend Riley, the Slicers’ next opponent, entered the game undefeated, 2-0. Injuries continued to hobble LP: Kaminski replaced Cash at fullback; Lenard was moved to left halfback and Magnuson to right halfback; Archer took Lenard’s end position; OT Levandoski was sidelined for the game.

Four Slicer fumbles, a hobbled Magnuson, poor line blocking, only 1 completed pass contributed to a dismal Slicer outing. Lenard’s 148 yards on 28 carries was the lone bright spot of the evening. Miller knocked down a probable TD pass, Brown recovered a fumble, and Bechdol’s 7 tackles led the Slicers.

The Slicers needed to heal and regroup.

Cash’s injuries kept him out of the South Bend St. Joseph game. Milligan’s broken knuckle kept him out of play. Stan continued to move players to find the right mix. Miller was moved from the secondary to linebacker, and Bechdol took Miller’s DB slot and played running back, gaining 46 yards on 9 carries.

This night the Slicer defense ruled. The Indians entered the game averaging 200 rushing yards per game. This night, the Indians gained only 31 yards rushing. Mark Chalman and Tabaka recovered a fumble each. Kaminski intercepted a pass. During the Indians’ final first-half drive, Ferrell knocked the ball out of Indian QB Peiffer’s hands. On the next play, Ferrell tackled Peiffer for no gain. On 3rd down, Ferrell and Geisler dropped Peiffer for a 9-yard loss. Geisler tackled the QB for a 1-yard loss on 4th down. Such was the Slicer D this night.

Having been criticized the week before, the Slicer offensive line redeemed themselves. Lenard, for the 3rd consecutive game, led the Slicer rushing attack: 27 carries, 151 rushing yards, 5.6 average. Lenard scored on a 1-yard dive. A Bernacchi-to-Archer pass produced the second Slicer TD.

Peiffer scored on a 4-yard run.

La Porte, 12; South Bend St. Joseph, 6.

As LP was beating the Indians, #1-state-ranked South Bend Washington tied Mishawaka, 12-12, dropping the Panthers from #1 to #2 in the state. The Panthers would be looking for some Slicer meat to regain lost pride.

For the LP-Washington game, Otto Leaders was academically ineligible, forcing Stan to call on junior Chuck Borst and sophomore Al Buckman to play offensive tackle. In those years, athletes’ grades were checked weekly. Miller started at fullback, allowing Kaminski to focus on defense. Washington featured two outstanding running backs, Alonzo Lowery and Lucius Turner, the two backs who had helped remove the 1966 Slicers from the state’s #1 ranking.

At halftime, LP held a 4-3 lead on first downs, with Washigton leading in rushing yards, 62 to 42 yards. Neither team had completed a pass. In the second quarter, Lowery burst over his right tackle for a 71-yard TD, but a penalty nullified the score.

Then came the second half. The Slicers lost 2 fumbles; both set up Panther scores. Krider reported, “From the beginning of the second half until 9:24 was left in the final quarter, Washington scored all 3 of their touchdowns, ran off 29 plays to 5 by the La Porteans and La Porte fumbled 2 of the 5 times it handled the ball.” The Orange and Black did stop Lowery and Turner, who together gained only 35 yards, but fullback Al Waters led the home team with 71 yards. The offensive line reverted to the sloppy play of the South Bend Riley game, and the Panther “granite-like defense” (Krider) stymied the Slicers. Cash, with only 6 carries, led the Slicers with 35 yards. Washington won its 3rd straight game vs. La Porte, without yielding a Slicer score. Panthers, 20; Slicers, 0. La Porte was now 3-3.

Lenard played tight end for the first 2 games, halfback for the next 4 games. QB Bernacchi had been injured in the Washington game, so Lenard made his varsity debut at quarterback vs. South Bend Adams. Guard Pete Tabaka was moved to fullback. In the first quarter, halfback Bechdol scored from 12 yards out. Bernacchi, the PAT holder, entered the game for the PAT attempt. Bernacchi took the snap, stood up, and fired a pass to Lenard in the end zone. The PAT was good. Finishing a 57-yard drive, Lenard scored a 3-yard touchdown around his left end. The PAT was wide right. The Eagles’ quarterback option dominated the second quarter; Adams gained 109 yards to the Slicers’ 12. In 8 plays, Adams gained 60 yards and scored a TD. The PAT was good. On the next possession, the Eagles were in route to score as they gained 55 yards to the Slicers 25-yard line. Lenard picked off a pass, stopping the drive.

Adams’ first assault of the second half netted 63 yards in 6 plays and another TD. The missed PAT left the score tied, 13-13.

Late in the 3rd period, the Slicers appeared to be mounting a scoring drive only to fumble the ball to the Eagles. Adams stalled and attempted a punt. A bad snap and an Eagle recovery gave the Slicers the ball on the Adams 42. The Slicers’ winning drive went 42 yards in 11 tries. On a 4th and 4, Lenard kept the drive alive with an 8-yard run. A 9-yard pass from Lenard to Giesler set up Cash’s 4-yard TD. Spahn’s kick was good.

Adams refused to yield, gaining 65 yards in 12 plays. Quarterback Rick Sayers ran 11 yards for the final Eagle score. The extra point was off to the left. On a muddy field, the Slicers prevailed, 20-19.

Lenard rushed for 61 yards; Cash, 50; Magnuson, 46; Bechdol, 42. Kaminski and Miller led the D with 14 tackles, and Ferrell had 12.

La Porte High and Michigan City High entered their game with identical records, 4-3. The October 20th contest was the 47th meeting between the rivals, a rivalry that had started in 1924. City had last beat the Slicers in 1961. Unfortunately, the Slicers won the Victory Bell in football but lost it each year in basketball.

Following Dave Miller’s batting down a City 4th-down pass, the Slicers ate up 81 yards in 15 plays for the night’s lone touchdown. Cash ran up the middle for the 14-yard score. Spahn kicked the extra point. The rest of the game was a defensive battle. After a poor Geisler punt to their 16-yard line, City looked ready to score. After a 5-yard penalty, City picked up a first and 10 on LP’s 4-yard line. Red Devil Sam Griffin gained 2. Quarterback Dan Overman tried running around left end, but Kaminski and Bechdol threw Overman for a 2-yard loss. Third down: Overman was knocking on the door when Kaminski tackled him on the 2-yard line. Fourth down: Overman rifled a ball into the end zone for 6-6 end Paul O’Gorek, but Kaminski intercepted the pass, fell down, and the ball was brought out to the 20.

In the 3rd quarter, City began another march. After recovering a Cash fumble on the LP 30, City gained 1 yard. On 2nd down, lying prostrate on the ground, Ferrell snagged Overman for no gain. On the next play, Kaminski pulled in his second interception and returned it 29 yards to the City 19. From then on, neither team was able to sustain a drive. Final: La Porte, 7; City, 0.
The Goshen Redskins, 0-6-1, came to Kiwanis Field on Homecoming night. The night before the clash, snow had fallen. During the chilly game day, rain had fallen constantly. Kiwanis Field was “wet and slippery” (Krider). For the second straight week, LP achieved a shutout. The Slicers held the Redskins to 47 rushing yards, 23 passing yards, and 4 first downs. Novitske led the Slicer D with 11 tackles, followed by Giesler’s and Kaminski’s 9 and Miller’s 7. Chalman recovered a Goshen fumble, and Lenard and Milligan each intercepted a pass. Joe Cash (7-yard run), Pete Tabaka (1-yard run), Rich Lenard (4-yard run), and Jim Magnuson (22-yard run) scored TDs for La Porte. Scott Spahn made 2 PATs and Bernacchi-to-Lenard pass accounted for the third PAT.

Mishawaka brought a 5-3-1 overall and a 4-2-1 NIC record into the 1967 finale. La Porte, the winner of their last 3 games, was 6-3.

On a miserable snowy and muddy night, Mishawaka coach Bill Karpinski went deep into his playbook: a fake punt, reverses, a tackle-eligible pass, and “possibly even a fake injury to stop the clock” (Krider). Neither team scored in the first quarter. In the second quarter, LP marched 82 yards in 13 plays; running behind his right tackle, Ferrell, Lenard scored from the 7. Spahn’s PAT was good. The Maroons countered with 79 yards on 7 plays for their first score, Plummer from the 3-yard line. Then the play of the game: Mishawaka kicker Larry VanCamp’s PAT attempt was blocked when diminutive Joe Cash crashed through the Maroon line. With 2:41 left in the 3rd quarter, the Slicers ground out 65 yards in 13 plays. Ball on the 2: “Cash hurled the middle of the line” (Krider) for the final TD of the contest. Spahn’s kick was good: LP, 14; Mishawaka, 6.

The field conditions worsened as the excitement was just starting. Kaminski intercepted a Maroon pass on the home team’s next possession. On 4th down, Giesler fumbled a punt snap, and Mishawaka took over on the LP 40. 11 plays and 40 yards later, Mishawaka’s Aldrich scored. A tackle-eligible pass from Plummer to Kring for 12 yards had helped this drive.

La Porte added to the excitement by running around its right end on a 4th and 7 on its 47-yard line, but Magnuson’s attempt was stopped at the line of scrimmage. Now, with 1:38 left in the game and with no time outs, Mishawaka was trying to score on the muddy, snowy field.
After a gain of 4 yards on the first play, offensive tackle Steve Watts was injured, stopping the clock. Krider noted that Watts’ injury “came at a very opportune time.” A gain of 2 and an intentional grounding placed Mishawaka in even a more desperate situation. On 4th down, another tackle-eligible pass gained 16, a 1st down on the LP 30-yard line. After a running play lost 4 yards, a Plummer-to-LaBelle completion placed the ball on the Slicer 22.

Enter Maroon kicker Larry VanCamp. From 30 yards out, the ball was short and off to the right. Seconds remained in the game. Then came a penalty flag. La Porte was penalized for roughing the kicker. The ball was set on the Slicer 15. Only 15 seconds left. Another field goal attempt. This one had the range but was wide right. LP ball on the Slicer 20. Mishawaka drew LP offsides. Tempers flared. Fists flew. Krider reported that “quick action by the Slicer coaches, who charged onto the field, broke up the brief melee.” Mishawaka was penalized 15 yards. Reserve quarterback Scott Hoke fell on the ball and time expired.

The snow had fallen hard in the 2nd half. The field became a mud pit. Numbers were impossible to read. On Monday, Stan clarified Friday night’s action. Bruce Belzowski had intercepted 2 passes (the newspaper had credited Kaminski with an interception). Lanky Don Ferrell, not 5-6 Joe Cash, broke through the line to block the Mishawaka extra-point attempt. Tabaka had carried the ball 3 times; Krider commented, “I swear I never saw Tabaka carry even once. Phew!”
7-3 for the season.

In August, the Slicers had little varsity experience. A center was converted to running back. Two ends were converted to running backs. A first-year senior was a fullback. As the season progressed, an end was moved to running back and then to quarterback. Even an offensive guard was inserted into the fullback slot. Two offensive linemen entered this campaign with experience. On defense, 6 players had varsity experience. Then as the season progressed, the Slicers were plagued with injuries. Stan never complained about injuries. H-A writer Dave Krider thought a 6-4 season would have been “magnificent.” 5-5, “more realistic.”

In Stan’s opinion, the 1967 season was not a rebuilding year.

Don Ferrell’s assessment needs some clarifying. “Nobody expected us to be so successful.” Maybe nobody in the stands expected such success, but certainly the players expected success. Stan and his assistants expected success.

The 1967 crew delivered that success.

4 Responses to “1967 Slicer football: “Nobody expected us to be so successful””

  1. Hugh Tonagel

    Sep 09. 2020

    Great article! Thanks Greg and Don for putting this together. Watching these teams was a great experience as was watching Stan and his coaches adapt to the situations.

    Reply to this comment
    • Don Ferrell

      Sep 09. 2020

      This is the story of the 67 slicer team whose seniors graduated in 1968.
      Reflecting back on this group brings great pride to have played with this team. Coach Stan Klimczak taught winning and never mentioned rebuilding or being outmanned. Switch the pieces around to fit the needs of the team. For the 67 team this worked most of the time. Looking back, 7 and 3 sounds pretty good. I know in my heart that if Jerry Swain, our quarterback as a junior and a team leader doesn’t move to Oklahoma we win the Elkhart game and end up 8 and 2. That particular game Stan simply ran out of pieces to move around in the second half. The mainstay seniors that year were Lenard, Giesler, Brown, Tabaka, Shipton, Cash, Kaminski, Milligan and myself. So proud to have been one of the pieces.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Sally and Mike Hannon

    Sep 09. 2020

    Story about class of 68?

    Reply to this comment
  3. Rick Slater

    Sep 10. 2020

    And always remember how Coach K called everyone “Tiger”. He was my summer baseball coach in Colt League (15 & 16 year olds). What a great motivator he was!

    Reply to this comment

Leave a Reply