FEATURE from steubenvillecentralcrusaders.com, published 9/15/2011

40th Anniversary of 1971 State Champions

Written by Mario Saggio

[This is the first of two articles celebrating the 40th anniversary of Central's state championship team.]

In those small American towns where, every autumn, high school football is king, every school has that one team that is the benchmark by which all others are measured. For Catholic Central High School in Steubenville, Ohio, the 1971 edition of the Crusaders is that team.

Some will say that the undefeated, once-tied 1946 team fit the bill. Others might cite the 1930 or 1941 teams that also were never beaten but once-tied. Arguments could even be made for the one-loss teams of 1940, 1954 or 1964. Those of more recent times might point to the 1993 Division 5 State Championship squad that went 12-2.

Yet none of those went through the season undefeated and untied, except for the 1971 team that ended the year ranked first in both the Associated Press and United Press International Class AA final polls, and accumulated the most computer points of any team in the state that final year before the Ohio High School Athletic Association implemented a postseason playoff system.

Not only did the 1971 team finish unbeaten and untied but beat many opponents much larger than themselves - both size and enrollment wise - while dominating a schedule that saw them hand three schools their only loss of the season.

Buoyed by a talented and tight-knit senior class that included All-State selections Dave Tuttle, Dave Moitis and Mike Mehalik, as well as future University of Pittsburgh and Green Bay Packer standout Tom Perko, the 1971 squad surpassed even the highest expectations placed upon them heading into that historic season.

As freshmen, this group was not only undefeated, but unscored upon, in going 7-0-0 under Coach George Sogan, giving a glimpse of future greatness. During their sophomore year, many of them saw significant varsity action, a rarity in those days, under Head Coach Tom Duff.

Tom Korab took the reins of the Crusader program heading into the 1970 season, which saw Central finish with a record of 6-4. Losses in the final minutes at Cleveland Cathedral Latin and versus arch-rival Steubenville Big Red kept the Blue-and-Gold from an even better record, but the foundation had been laid for what would become a season for the ages.

The Crusaders returned a host of lettermen from that team who were ready to leave their mark on Crusader football - seniors Rick Alessi, Paul Carapellotti, Greg Corbin, Mike Homol, Terry Lelli, Bill Rankin, Tom Rice, Emil Ros, Ray Saccoccia, Mike Sullivan, Donald Thorn, Rick Zapolnik and juniors John Colaicaovo, Augie Carinci, Nick Fornsaglio and John Harper, as well as the aforementioned Tuttle, Mehalik, Perko and Moitis.

The rest of the senior class, including several who would make significant contributions during the season, included Rocky Augustine, Tony Belardine, Danny Capobianco, Chris Carrigg, Mark Chaytor, Frank Colalella, George Galownia, Tine Kirlangitis, Dan Orsini, Bob Petchal, and Ed Renda.

Coach Korab had assembled a staff that would be instrumental in instilling the discipline and implementing the strategy that would allow these young men to realize their full potential. Russ Ashkettle, Joe DiLoreta, Don DiMarzio, Bob McCoskey, Chuck McMasters, Rich Santilli, Lance Sogan, Bill Sprochi, and Ralph Zyrini would work side-by-side with Korab in preparing the Crusaders for battle over the ensuing 10 weeks.

The Crusaders began the 1971 campaign by cruising to a 34-0 rout of Cleveland John Hay at Harding Stadium, before bringing home a well-earned 16-0 win over one of their fiercest rivals, the West Virginia Class AAA powerhouse Brooke Bruins. Central returned home to post their third straight shutout, a surprising 20-0 whitewashing of Ohio Class AAA rival Wintersville - the only loss that the powerful Golden Warriors would suffer all season. Taking to the road again, the Crusaders pulled out a hard-fought 14-6 win against another Ohio AAA juggernaut and local rival, the East Liverpol Potters.

Next came an impressive 19-6 defeat of traditional Western Pennsylvania power, and nationally ranked, Pittsburgh Central Catholic, which would prove to be the only blemish on the Vikings’ 1971 record. The Crusaders embarked upon the second half of the season with a 28-6 road conquest of cross-river rival Weirton Madonna. Week seven saw the Crusaders use a legendary goal-line stand, and ensuing 99-yard scoring drive, to avenge their previous year’s loss to arch-rival Steubenville Big Red with a 23-8 victory in the City Championship game.

The Blue-and-Gold avoided any letdown in their next outing with a surprisingly easy 40-0 blanking of a tough Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas squad, before shocking many across the state with a 31-0 shutout of highly talented and previously unbeaten Youngstown North, who entered the week nine contest as the third-ranked team in Ohio Class AAA.

The undefeated season was capped, and the first state title in school history clinched, when the Crusaders posted their third shutout in a row, and sixth of the season, with a resounding 28-0 victory over another highly-touted Youngstown-area foe, Austintown Fitch.

By season’s end, the Crusaders had vanquished eight Class AAA opponents, including perennial powers from three different states. Central handed six teams their initial loss of the season and outscored their foes by a combined total of 253-26. They never trailed at any point in the season, and did not allow a single point in the first or fourth quarter of any game. They began the season with three straight shutouts and finished the campaign in the same fashion. In between, they never gave up more than eight points in a single game.

In doing so, they secured their place in history and cemented their standing as one of the legendary teams in Steubenville Catholic Central, Ohio Valley and Ohio High School Football lore.

1971 CLASS AA OHIO STATE CHAMPIONS

Catholic Central 34 Cleveland John Hay 0

Catholic Central 16 Brooke 0

Catholic Central 20 Wintersville 0

Catholic Central 14 East Liverpool 6

Catholic Central 19 Pittsburgh Central Catholic 6

Catholic Central 28 Weirton Madonna 6

Catholic Central 23 Steubenville 8

Catholic Central 40 Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas 0

Catholic Central 31 Youngstown North 0

Catholic Central 28 Austintown Fitch 0