Golden Scots: Monmouth clashes with St. Olaf in rematch with unbeaten season on line

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, sidebar:Golden Scots: Monmouth's Goehl suffers injury during game against St. Olaf in 1971

Part 2:Golden Scots: Reichow brought 'military influence' to Monmouth

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

Part 3, sidebar:Golden Scots: Reichow challenged each and every one of his Monmouth players

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

Part 5:Golden Scots: Scots dominate Carls, hang on to edge Kohawks, Siwash

Part 6:Monmouth fights back for win over Cornell

Part 7:Brinker, Plummer's heroics aide Monmouth College

Part 7, sidebar:Golden Scots: 'Plan B' leads to one of the greatest individual performances in Monmouth history

The 1972 Fighting Scots were so stacked on offense that they didn’t need to fully unleash the talented Ron Baker. The freshman did score a touchdown in Monmouth’s 27-7 victory over St. Olaf, but he did most of his damage over the following three seasons.

MONMOUTH — Entering the season’s final game, Bill Reichow was still looking for his first-ever win over St. Olaf. Helping him achieve that elusive victory were a pair of factors: his players had a tremendous chip on their shoulder from late-season losses to the Oles in 1970 and 1971; and St. Olaf wasn’t quite the same team it had been after winning at least a share of the Midwest Conference title for three straight seasons.

Without the legendary Ole Gunderson, St. Olaf had suffered a 19-0 loss to Cornell in the season’s fifth game and then, surprisingly, fell 7-6 to Knox two weeks later.

So the Oles – like the rest of the conference that final weekend – entered the game with no chance at a title, which belonged to Monmouth and Monmouth alone.

But what was at stake was revenge and perfection for the Fighting Scots, and they would be satisfied on both fronts, topping the visitors 27-7.

Also at stake was a chance for Monmouth to extend its season. “A berth in the Stagg Bowl is in the balance,” read an excerpt in The Galesburg Register-Mail. The Scots were said to be one of four undefeated teams in consideration for the title tilt later that month in Phenix City, Alabama, with the others being Fort Valley State in Georgia and two Ohio schools – Heidelberg and Ashland.

“They’d been a stumbling block for a couple of years,” said Rod Davies. “That was always a bitter pill. For years, it was Olaf and us. Alan Beal, who was from Monmouth, was up at Olaf (where he was an all-conference safety), and we always went back and forth when he was home. But going into that 1972 game, we just knew we could do it. This was our year.”

“The game I remember most is the St. Olaf game,” said linebacker Bill Breedlove. “It was a muddy day. I still have the scouting report from that game that listed all my responsibilities,” including setting the edge on the Oles’ vaunted power sweep.

“Since that was my first year as a transfer student, I hadn’t had some of the same experiences as my teammates,” said Breedlove. “So I didn’t have that hatred for Knox yet, and I’d only heard stories about St. Olaf’s running game – how they always pulled two guards and how they were a sweeping machine. I just didn’t get caught up in all that.”

As Monmouth took a 27-0 fourth quarter lead, one of the big plays was a 55-yard pick-six by defensive back Rich Gladinus. The Scots’ final TD was scored by freshman Ron Baker, who would go on to shatter many Monmouth rushing records – including some set by his ’72 teammate, Dennis Plummer. In his brilliant Hall of Fame career, Baker topped the 1,000-yard mark in three consecutive seasons. His single-season rushing record stood for 32 years and, in 1975, Baker’s 139.5-yard per game average led the NCAA.

 St. Olaf had the ball inside Monmouth’s 30-yard line just once, and that came in the fourth quarter after a fumble in the sloppy conditions. The Oles then drove 10 yards for their lone score of the game, well after the outcome was decided.

At halftime, the Oles had just 22 yards on 25 carries. For the game, the Scots more than doubled them up in yardage, 272-121.

“They had a big, stud linebacker, and I remember on one drive we lined up and ran the same play over and over,” said Davies. “We’d come back to the huddle, and it was just ‘Same thing on 1, same thing on 2.’ We never changed the play. We gained three, four, five yards with it every time. We drove from our own 20 all the way down the field and scored. We called it ‘The Drive.’”

The defense had a game to remember, too. Breedlove knew he and his unit had played well, but he was a little unprepared for the praise he and his teammates received from Reichow for repeatedly stuffing St. Olaf’s go-to sweep that had given Monmouth such trouble in the past.

“Coach Reichow said in the newspaper that I’d played a really good corner,” said Breedlove. “And he mentioned Warren Bank and Jim Smith, too. It was like winning a big trophy. ’Hey, he said something good about us.’”

The rest of the starting defense that day consisted of seniors Charlie Goehl, Jeff Langner and Steve Rueckert, juniors Gladinus, Gary Pynckel and Mark Rueckert (Steve’s brother), and sophomores Steve Pinkus and Warren Wilson.

“The defense was superb, and the offense moved the ball real well, especially under the conditions,” said Reichow in the newspaper account. “Our offense was so potent and controlled the ball so much in the early games that it gave our defense a chance to grow up and mature. By the time the big test came around, they were ready.”

The young defense would see five of its non-seniors – Gladinus, linebackers Breedlove and Smith and linemen Mike Kuhnkey and Mark Rueckert – earn all-conference honors the following season when the Scots pitched three straight shutouts to start the season and held teams to less than 10 points per game. That year’s Scots also defeated St. Olaf, winning 16-14 in the last meeting between the schools.

“I always had regrets that we didn’t beat ’em three years in a row,” said Goehl.

With St. Olaf in the rearview, the Scots looked forward one week to the completion of the regular season for the other undefeated teams and how their results would influence Monmouth’s Stagg Bowl chances. All the while, they kept practicing, just in case.

“It was a big unknown,” said Goehl of how teams were chosen. “They only took two teams in the whole country.”