Who’s No. 1 in Westmoreland football history? A debate for the ages
With more than 100 years of high school football in the books, Westmoreland County has nurtured its fair share of champions, Cinderellas and dynasties.
Picking the best of them is anything but easy.
“In this day and age, there were some great teams,” said Howard “Huddie” Kaufman, 91, of Greensburg.
There were great ones back in the day, too — like Kaufman’s alma mater Greensburg (now Greensburg Salem), which he spent decades covering as a high school sports writer for the Tribune-Review.
It’s difficult to judge teams over the decades, Kaufman and others said.
Still, one thing most agree on is that Jeannette likely fields several entries in the debate over the county’s best teams ever, with the 2007 Jayhawks led by standout quarterback Terrelle Pryor staking a strong claim to the top spot — or certainly one of them.
“That was a very good football team,” said longtime Jeannette coach Joseph Mucci Sr., 85, of Greensburg.
The 2007 Jeannette team set a state record for points (860) in a season, scoring more than 49 points in 12 games and ending 14 of 16 games early through the mercy rule.
The Jayhawks pounded Aliquippa, 70-48, in the WPIAL semifinals before destroying Beaver Falls, 61-12, in the district final. For the state championship, Jeannette manhandled Dunmore 49-21 — earning the school’s first PIAA crown.
In all, Jeannette has won nine WPIAL titles — 1932, 1939, 1956, 1970, 1981, 1983, 2006, 2007 and 2017.
“I’d put my ’56 team in there,” former Jayhawk, Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers legend Dick Hoak said of any discussion of the county’s best teams ever. “We had six Division I players on there.”
Under those criteria, the 1938 Mt. Pleasant Hurst squad deserves a place in the discussion. It beat Wilmerding for the WPIAL title that year and sent three players to the National Football League: Joe Cibulas, Joe Glamp and Walt Gorinski. All three played for the Steelers.
The 1956 Jeannette team gave up three touchdowns during the regular season, with two of those coming against the second-team defense, Hoak said. For the WPIAL championship, Jeannette defeated Charleroi 16-13 on a late — and in those days rare — field goal.
“We had a great defense,” said Hoak, who was a Steelers running back for 10 seasons and coach for 35 more. “Defenses were tougher back then.”
And even decades before his Jayhawk days.
The 1914 Greensburg Lions went 10-0 and didn’t give up a single point all season — and didn’t lose a game in the next two seasons, finally dropping one in 1917. The 1914 team beat the Pitt freshmen squad 14-0 after crushing Tarentum 46-0, California Normal 57-0, Connellsville 74-0 and Johnstown 97-0.
The 1927 Hurst team went 11-0, steamrolling teams 615-0 — setting a state record for most points that Jeannette finally smashed in 2007.
Neither was crowned champions in those respective dominant seasons, with Wilkinsburg edging Greensburg in 1914 and Greensburg being named No. 1 in 1927
Champions are forever
Westmoreland County teams over the past 105 seasons claimed WPIAL championships more than 25 times, beginning with the 1927 Greensburg Lions.
“Greensburg’s history goes back to the good ol’ days,” Kaufman said. “Jeannette had some great teams. Monessen had some great teams.”
Other county WPIAL champions included both Monessen and Derry Township in 1930, Hurst in 1938 and 1942, the 1946 and 1947 New Kensington teams, Greater Latrobe in 1968, Mt. Pleasant in 1986 and Greensburg Central Catholic in 2009.
Though Mucci won three WPIAL titles over 18 seasons at Jeannette, he fondly remembers building the Greensburg Central team from scratch — coming back from Michigan in 1959 to take over as the new school’s first athletic director and football coach. The team went undefeated for the first time in 1964. The 1966 Greensburg Central team won the Pittsburgh Catholic League title.
“I was very fortunate as a coach,” Mucci said.
Since the PIAA state playoffs began in 1988, Westmoreland County has fielded three championship teams: Jeannette in 2007 and 2017 and the 2005 Franklin Regional Panthers.
But winning championships has never been easy, either at the state level or in the WPIAL — when early champions were decided by a formula, then a vote and then a one-off game for all the marbles.
“Back then, you had to go undefeated to get to the playoffs,” Hoak said, noting there were no rounds, just the two teams with the most points facing off for the WPIAL championship. “You could be undefeated and not make it.”
In the battle for county supremacy, though, could his 1956 team have defeated the 2007 Jeannette squad?
“That was a great team. Where it ranks all time, I don’t know,” said Hoak, 79, of Hempfield. “If we had played, would we have won? I don’t know. It was a different game.
“Now, they can throw 25 to 30 passes a game. I don’t know if I threw it that much in a season. … It’s a different game. The rules have changed. Everything has changed.”
Kaufman wasn’t as hesitant. Though he acknowledged Hoak’s team was “pretty good,” he believes the 2007 Jeannette team was better.
“I wouldn’t tell Dick that,” Kaufman said. “He might get upset.”
Jason Cato is a Tribune-Review news editor. You can contact Jason at 412-320-7936, [email protected] or via Twitter .