Golden Scots, Part 4: Scots sprint out of the gate with three wins in three states

By Barry McNamara
For The Register-Mail

In the past 100 years, only one full season of Monmouth College football has ended without a single blemish. The Fighting Scots were a perfect 9-0 in 1972, winning four blowouts before a series of five straight contested victories, capped by a triumph over arch-rival St. Olaf. That victory over the Oles gave Monmouth its first-ever outright Midwest Conference football championship. There would not be another one for 33 years. By then, undefeated regular seasons were rewarded with a trip to the NCAA playoffs, so that 2005 campaign – and three others since – ended with postseason defeats. That makes 1972 the last undefeated season for Fighting Scots football.

In this series, players from that historic team, now in their early 70s, look back on that memorable fall, and so does their head coach, the legendary Bill Reichow.

Part 1:Oles of St. Olaf cause fits for Monmouth's Fighting Scots

Part 1, secondary story:Monmouth's Goehl suffers injury during game against St. Olaf in 1971

Part 2:Reichow brought 'military influence' to Monmouth

Part 3:Monmouth had lots of new faces onboard heading into '72 season

Part 3, secondary story:Reichow challenged each and every one of his Monmouth players

Typically, Hall of Fame athletes at Monmouth received all-conference accolades during their Fighting Scot careers. Al Shepherd is the exception to the rule. Shepherd scored 10 TDs for Monmouth’s unbeaten 1972 football team, getting the most points, if not yardage and postseason honors, on that dominant team.

MONMOUTH —  Prior to Bill Reichow’s arrival at Monmouth College, the Fighting Scots didn’t win often. Hand in hand with that fact, they rarely won big. In the seasons from 1935 to 1965, the Scots posted just four victories of 30 points or more. Their last such laugher in a game not coached by Reichow had been in 1952, Ken Geiger’s senior year.

To put that in a modern-day perspective, the Scots have averaged nearly five 30-point wins per season since current head coach Chad Braun took over in 2015.

To start the 1972 season, the Scots won by 30 four straight times, a feat never before accomplished in Monmouth history. It would not be repeated until the 2009 season, which featured future NFL quarterback Alex Tanney terrorizing Midwest Conference defenses.

The “closest” game of the lopsided wins to start 1972 came in the non-conference season opener in Michigan against Olivet on Sept. 16. The Scots scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to seal a convincing 47-16 victory.

“Olivet was dedicating a brand new field,” said Paul Waszak.

“They scheduled us for that opener because they thought they were going to give us a whipping, but we turned the table on them,” said Rod Davies.

“They were supposed to come to Monmouth the next year, but they canceled that game,” said Mike Castillo.

The offensive stars of the day were Tim Burk and Al Shepherd, who connected on three touchdown passes. Burk finished with a school-record five TD throws and 235 yards, with Shepherd racking up a record 129 receiving yards, a mark equaled that season by the late John Unterfranz.

It wasn’t just an air show, though, as the balanced Scots ran for 198 yards. Meanwhile, they completely stymied Olivet’s ground game, which produced minus 26 rushing yards.

“We knew we were going to be good, but we’d lost a lot of talent,” said Dennis Plummer, referring to all-conference seniors in 1971 such as quarterback Dale Brooks, running back Pat Hennigan, linebacker George Gilson and linemen Greg Drije, Karl Jennrich, Bill Thompson and John Buell. “And I’ll be honest, we were better than we thought we’d be. Part of that was how we’d be at quarterback with Tim Burk stepping in for Dale Brooks, but the first game cleared all that up. It was a breakthrough moment for us. Tim had a hell of a season. He was a big difference for us.”

Although the forward pass had been around for more than a half-century, it still wasn’t the play call of choice for most coaches in 1972. But Burk had the hot hand in the early season, and he torched Grinnell the following week in Monmouth’s home opener. He threw for a school-record 353 yards and five more touchdowns as the Scots moved to 2-0 with a 63-7 rout of the Pioneers.

“Many of his completions have come off the bootleg or roll-out, which he executes superbly,” read an article in The Register-Mail.

Despite Burk’s big day, the Scots still showed some offensive balance, rushing for 215 yards. Grinnell, on the other hand, was made one-dimensional by the Scots’ stellar defense. Monmouth picked off three Grinnell passes and held the Pioneers to just seven completions for 34 yards.

The loss helped rid Reichow of the sour taste from the 1971 Grinnell game.

“In 1971, we played at Grinnell,” said Davies of that year’s season opener. “There was a big fight.”

Davies was referring to a literal physical altercation, although the game itself was a fight, too. Monmouth led just 6-0 in the fourth quarter, and the hosts had a first-and-goal from the Monmouth 7-yard line. But the Scots' defense held and Monmouth eventually added another score to win 13-0. But the clock never reached 0:00, as a bench-clearing melee ended the contest with 28 seconds remaining.

“Coach said, ‘We’re not going to let that happen again,” said Waszak, referring to the narrow margin of victory. “We put 63 on ’em.”

Burk’s aerial success continued in Appleton, Wisconsin, in the season’s third week, a 48-7 victory. Monmouth blitzed Lawrence with 21 first-quarter points, including another TD pass from Burk, this one a 27-yarder to Charlie Goehl. In the second quarter, Burk extended Monmouth’s lead to 28-0 with another 27-yard TD, this time to Unterfranz. The Vikings would score their only points of the game on the final play of the first half.

The Scots ran all over the Vikings, too, gaining 374 yards on the ground while limiting Lawrence to just 95 total yards. Mick Birkhofer led the way with 111 yards on 14 carries.

The Scots subbed frequently in the game from the second quarter on, but since conference rules at the time stated they could only travel 33 players, their limited bench was full of starter-caliber players.

Monmouth’s skill players on offense show just how talented that depth was. Burk and the five linemen made up six of the 11 players on the field. For the other five spots, Reichow had a plethora of options. Handoffs could go to Birkhofer, Shepherd, Dennis Plummer, John Carter or Ron Baker.

“It was tough,” said Reichow, when asked how he decided to split up carries. “You had to look’ em in the eye. Do you really want to run the ball?”

“Coach probably originated the phrase ‘change of pace back,’” said Waszak. “He’d put Carter in, and you couldn’t see him. You couldn’t find him behind the big linemen.”

But you better keep looking hard, because Carter had blistering track speed to go with his diminutive 5-foot-5 stature. “The Flea” holds Monmouth’s pre-metric sprint record of 9.7 seconds in the 100-yard dash. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry for his career and 29.4 yards per kickoff return.

Making it even tougher to decide on the right play to call was Burk’s talent as a passer and his equally talented receiving corps, featuring Goehl, Unterfranz, Steve Rueckert and Shepherd, who frequently caught passes from his wingback position.