Charleroi rebounded from lone '62 defeat, had help winning title
Part 2 of 3
Charleroi High School's Cougars bounced back from their only loss of the 1962 football season – a 27-13 setback at Uniontown — with a 20-14 win over Clairton and then headed to Memorial Stadium in Monessen on Oct. 26 for the renewal of their storied cross-river rivalry.
That game ended in a 13-13 tie before 6,618 numb but excited fans and kept the Cougars and Greyhounds locked in first place in the Big 6 Conference race.
Stan Kemp, a longtime resident of Falls Church, Va., has shouldered the blame for Charleroi's failure to win that game for many years.
“It was a very cold night, well below freezing,” said Kemp, the Cougars' versatile quarterback in 1962. “The game was hard-fought, as are all Charleroi-Monessen games.”
He recalled that the Cougars drove to “about Monessen's eight-yard line” (it was the 11) with less than two minutes to go.
“We were faced with fourth down and a yard to go for a first down,” he said. “(Coach) Rab (Currie) called a timeout and in our sideline meeting told me to run ‘69 Option.' I went back to the huddle and called the play. Our fullback (Frank Gargon) said, ‘Follow me, I'll get you the first down.' I faked (a handoff) to Frank and followed him into the hole instead of keeping the ball and going around end. I was stopped about six inches short of the first down.
“If I had kept the ball and gone around end I would have walked into the end zone for the winning touchdown. That was the only play in my career that I didn't run as Rab called it, and it cost us the game. I have lived with that mistake my whole life.”
“Monessen's 1962 team was well-coached and very talented, but because we wanted to win so bad the tie felt like a loss,” center/nose tackle Don Saunders recalled. “Who would have guessed (Monessen) would lose to Donora two weeks later, allowing us to back into the Big 6 championship?”
He was referring to Donora's stunning 19-13 upset over the favored Greyhounds on Nov. 12. Charleroi defeated Pittsburgh Central Catholic, 33-16, in its season finale.
The Donora victory dropped Monessen's conference record to 3-1-1 behind Charleroi, which had finished at 4-0-1.
“I wish the WPIAL had their playoff system in the 1960s,” Saunders said. “Uniontown won the Class AA title through the Gardner Point System and didn't have a playoff game. There were a number of teams that never had an opportunity to participate in postseason play.”
Saunders and reserve quarterback Bill Lee reaffirmed the optimism that prevailed prior to the 1962 campaign with similar thoughts.
“I felt the season was going to be exciting,” said Saunders, a veteran of the U.S. Army. “From a personal standpoint, it was special because I was going to start on offense and defense for the first time at center and nose guard. As a sophomore and junior, I had started only on defense.”
“Rab was a fierce competitor, nothing held him back,” Lee said. “He was still wearing a body cast and was having a difficult time getting around during the summer. But he was ready to go when preseason practice began. He certainly was an inspiration to us. He was very confident about the '62 team. He thought we had a good shot at the (WPIAL) championship Charleroi had won in 1959.”
Lee, who lives in Speers, recalled that the '62 Cougars had “a lot of talent back” from the previous season and were led by “Butch” Kemp, who won All-State honors.
“But we also had Cougar pride instilled in us,” Lee said. “We were a varied group of guys with contrasting personalities and styles; but when we donned those Cougar uniforms and helmets, we became one. We realized our sole purpose on the field.”
While the Uniontown and Monessen games were pivotal in the Cougars' fortunes that season, Lee has never forgotten the “career game” he had against Beth-Center on Friday, Oct. 5, at Fredericktown and the circumstances that put him in that situation.
“One of their players (Bob Frazier, a substitute lineman) punched Stan in the face midway through the first quarter,” Lee said. “Stan, who would never back down from anyone, retaliated and punched him back. Both of them were ejected, and I got the call from Rab to take over at quarterback.”
Lee completed nine of 10 passes including two touchdown tosses to Paul Yewisiak and one each to John Hostetler and Pete Gialames as the Cougars rolled to a 58-0 victory over the Bulldogs. Ron Nucci also scored two touchdowns and Frank Gargon, Willie Horner and Dave Gluch also hit paydirt, while Kemp had kicked two extra points before leaving the game. Chuck Arrigo later added two conversions.
“I was fortunate to have a good game with those four touchdown passes, thanks to the efforts of Paul, Hostetler and Pete,” Lee said. “I later had another good game against Monongahela when Stan was injured, and I wound up throwing for more TDs than he did that season. We still tease each other about that, and we have remained good friends for all these years.”
Lee also played defensive end and linebacker during his scholastic career.
“I just wanted to play and went wherever they needed me,” he said.
He also recalled the joy of playing for his father, Frank Lee, who was an assistant to Currie.
“I can't say enough about that privilege,” he said. “My dad was an outstanding and special man in many ways.”
Ron Paglia is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.