Golden Scots: Monmouth College football program denied small-school bowl bid

By Barry McNamara
For The Register-Mail
This Heidelberg College football poster shows the final score of the 1972 Stagg Bowl. The Student Princes defeated Fort Valley State to cap an undefeated season. Monmouth also finished the 1972 season with a perfect record, as did Ashland University. Both Monmouth and Ashland didn’t get the chance to extend their undefeated seasons in the Stagg Bowl.

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

Part 8:Monmouth clashes with St. Olaf in rematch with unbeaten season on line

MONMOUTH — As Paul Waszak remembers it, he and his teammates were seated in an academic classroom when they learned the news that Monmouth would be left home for the Stagg Bowl, the College Division championship game.

“We had a team meeting in the biology lab,” said Waszak. “Coach called us in and told us.”

Undefeated Heidelberg was chosen as one participant. The other berth went to Fort Valley State, despite a loss by the Wildcats in their finale.

In a Galesburg Register-Mail story titled “Monmouth Fails to Get Football Bowl Invitation,” Bill Reichow’s frustration was evident.

 “We’re unhappy that we did not get a bid,” he said. “We’re extremely proud of our record. I would like to see a team from our conference in a bowl. I’m confident that any one of our solid ball clubs could compete with those people who think they walk on water.”

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“We’d get that when we went here,” said Waszak of a lack of respect for Monmouth and the Midwest Conference. “Guys we knew on other teams would say, ‘You guys couldn’t compete in the CCIW (Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin).”

“They didn’t line up to play us,” said Reichow.

In the Stagg Bowl, Fort Valley State lost again, falling 28-16 to Heidelberg. 

“I really didn’t know how it worked,” said Dennis Plummer. “I felt like we had a chance, but it wasn’t really clear how the selection was done. It was very disappointing, but it wasn’t like I couldn’t believe we didn’t make it. I really wish there’d been a Division III playoff back then like there is now. I wanted to see how far we could’ve gone.”

“We were hurt,” said Tom Kratochvil of the team’s reaction. “There were two things that really hurt our chances. One was that the (1971) game was originally supposed to be played at Soldier Field in Chicago (site of the popular college all-star game, which was played from 1934 through 1976). If they’d kept it there, we would’ve been in it. Also, we gotta blame St. Olaf. They had been invited two years before, but they turned it down. If they would’ve taken it and done well, they might’ve picked us, too.”

With the Stagg Bowl snub, it became official. The playing careers of Monmouth’s senior class had ended. During their three varsity seasons, the class posted a 25-2 record, only falling twice to St. Olaf.

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Seniors who earned all-conference honors at least once included Goehl, Plummer, Kratchovil, Dave Brinker, Tim Burk and Steve Rueckert. Other starters were Jeff Langner, Mick Birkhofer and Tom Roy. The rest of the seniors were Don Avery, Kelly Camp, Bill Dusek and Mike Pospischil.

Those 25 victories in three years set a Monmouth record. Two classes from the early 1900s could claim more than 20 wins, as could the classes of ’71 and ’72. But the Class of 1973 had established the new standard and would hold it until Monmouth’s Class of 1989 won 26 games from their sophomore through senior seasons. The program’s new three-year record is the 28 games won by the Class of 2010, which included an NCAA playoff victory in 2008.

Individual school records were in abundance, including Plummer’s 975 rushing yards. Burk established new passing marks with 1,211 yards and 19 TDs, and Al Shepherd’s 10 touchdowns were also a record.

Grant Minor, the team’s starting center, recently asked Reichow what would’ve happened if the Scots had received the Stagg Bowl invite.

“We’d have won it,” he replied.

“We had the stats,” said Rod Davies. “We were among the top teams in the nation in a number of categories.”

In per game averages, the Scots ranked fifth nationally in scoring (36.4) and were seventh in both yards (431.7) and rushing yards (284.4).

“If there was ever a chance we could’ve gone, that would’ve been the year,” said Davies. “I remember we practiced out at the airport after the end of our 1971 season, but I didn’t really think there was much of a chance that year.”

“It was disappointing, for sure,” said Reichow. “What more could we have done? It was hard to swallow. Hard to swallow.”

Individually, Goehl was second nationally in punt return average (24.5 yards on 17 returns), trailing only Widener’s future NFL star Billy “White Shoes” Johnson (34.1), who also led the nation in rushing and scoring.

Goehl was gone for the 1973 season, but returning punts was still an area where Reichow felt his team had a major edge. So much so that the ’73 season opener saw an interesting turn of events.

The Scots opened with a 50-0 trouncing of Grinnell, and Bill Breedlove was one of the defensive standouts. He recalled what happened on a special teams play and the aftermath.

“As they were lining up to punt, I noticed that they were one guy short,” he said. “We had ‘Return Right’ called, but I whispered to Rich Gladinus, ‘There’s no one in front of me. I think I can block this kick.’ And I went in and blocked it and it rolled out of the end zone for a safety. I went to the sideline, and Coach Reichow said, ‘Breed, come here.’ I thought maybe he was going to congratulate me for making a big play, but he asked me, ‘How much is a touchdown worth?’ I said, ‘Six points.’ ‘And what did that safety get us?’ I said, ‘Two points.’ Oh my gosh, he was disciplined. It was, ‘Do what I tell you to do.’ But you loved the guy. I just thought, ‘He’s right and I’m wrong.”’

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But Breedlove wasn’t quite done paying for his off-script play.

“We were on the bus, and our statistician said something like ‘Hey Breed, you had a really good game. You recovered a fumble, you were our second leading tackler and you blocked a kick.’ And he said it loud enough for Coach to hear. I didn’t say a word. But I tell ya, the next film session we had, he picked on me like I had the worst game of my life. And he said, ‘Now, if anybody else thinks they had a good game, let’s take a look.’”

 Breedlove said he was far from the only player singled out in such fashion.

“My point is, he treated us all that way,” he said. “One of his favorite sayings was, ‘That and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee.’ But there wasn’t a guy who came back for his 90th birthday celebration who didn’t love and respect him.”