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Donora football goes out with a bang

| Friday, June 13, 2014, 12:46 a.m.

The headline in the 1969 Donora High School yearbook featuring the football team from the fall of 1968 proclaimed, “Dragons may never lose again.”

Because it was the last Dragons team prior to the school's merger with Monongahela High School, the headline should have read “Dragons will never lose again.”

The fact that the football dynasty had rung up 16 wins without suffering a defeat over its final two seasons was laudatory.

Going into the season everyone knew the talent was there, but questions remained. Could the 1968 team run the table?

Would the departure of key seniors, including nine lettermen, from the previous year, hamper the Dragons? Second-team All-State quarterback Bernie Galiffa was gone and so were Tom Clark, Larry Nelson, Alex Mares, David Hunter, Gregory Crawford, Don Rullo, Bill Paraschak and R. Alan Patrick.

Could the new class of seniors fill the void? These players included tackles Nick Shulock, Bill Miller and Anthony D'Emedio, ends Mike Sanko and Dan Gidick, guards Jim Camber and Tom Oslowski, defensive back Irving Tartt, center/linebacker Pat Anderson and receiver Russell Tyree, who joined returning stars Malcom Lomax and Ken Griffey. Some people also wondered if Griffey's brother, Fred, a junior, could effectively take over as the quarterback.

Could this crew provide Donora with another balanced, dynamic team? The answer was yes.

Lomax scored 138 points while racking up 1,161 yards, averaging nearly 140 per game. His point total was close to the season record held by Dan Towler, who registered 152 points during the regular season in 1945. Lomax's three-year point total of 280 established a new school record, eclipsing Roscoe Ross's 240 points and Towler's 238.

Ken Griffey scored nine touchdowns on pass receptions and another three on runs. His two-year point total was 152, and his brother came through as well. Fred Griffey went 31 of 64 passing, connected for 11 touchdowns in eight games and amassed 795 yards passing.

The 8-0 Dragons dealt out punishment, winning their opener against South Side Beaver, 45-0. Their next two wins were 33-13 and 34-12. Scott High School gave them a challenge but fell, 7-6.

Donora crushed Corry, 42-19, and took California, 27-19. They then annihilated Braddock, 34-0, in the Dragons' final football game at Legion Field on Oct. 23, 1968, on a rainy night.

A soggy crowd of about 1,000 spectators witnessed the Griffeys hook up for three touchdowns, including the final one scored at Legion Field by a Dragon, an 84-yard strike. Lomax scored twice while also kicking four extra points. His performance made him the first Dragon ever to score 100-plus in back-to-back seasons.

A 27-6 victory on the road over Albert Gallatin wrapped up the season and the long history of high school football at DHS, a history dating back to 1914.

Donora coach Richard Mongelluzzo explained one key reason for the team's success.

“We ran a pro offense. We had two setbacks, we had the flanker and the wideouts,” the coach said. “(Head coach) Rudy (Andabaker) was good friends with the assistant coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Jim Garrett, under Tom Landry. Rudy had been in the service with him—he had played ball with him there.

“Rudy called him and asked him for the Dallas playbook. Back then, it was hush hush, but he sent Rudy the playbook and we copied everything then we sent the book back. Most of our pass plays were the Dallas Cowboys' pass plays. Every other day we put new pass plays in.”

Prior to the 1967 season, Andabaker abandoned the T-formation, which Donora's football program had used dating back to the days of Coach Jimmy Russell. His decision was cemented because, as Mongelluzzo put it, “We figured we had Bernie as a quarterback and Kenny as a receiver. We had some pretty decent skill people.”

After the 1968 season Andabaker, his staff, and his players were honored when the state House of Representatives approved a resolution sponsored by A.J. DeMedio of Donora. The resolution paid tribute to their undefeated season and their winning streak.

The Donora High School yearbook had the last word, summarizing the golden era of 1967 through 1968: “ ... if the name of the Dragons is taken away from Donora in the merger with Monongahela, the dying Dragon doesn't go out with a whimper, but with a bang.”

It was indeed a loud bang, one heard throughout the Valley and down through the years by the players and fans of Donora football.

Wayne Stewart is a freelance writer.