BARRY POE Oct 9, 2014
SIOUX CITY | Every 10 years, the fellas who played on East High’s 1984 state championship football team get together to relive the glory days.
And rightly so, since that team is the only Sioux City public school ever to capture a state high school football crown.
They’ll convene again on Friday for their 30th anniversary and once again be honored during halftime of the Black Raiders’ game against Council Bluffs Lewis Central at Olsen Stadium.
“We’ve got about 25 guys coming back this year, the numbers have dwindled a little bit of late because a lot of guys have kids who are playing sports now,” said Kevin Kay, an all-metro center on the ’84 team and the ‘unofficial’ organizer of the team’s reunions.
“A few of us will go to the pep assembly on Friday morning and the pre-game meal before the game, then they’ll introduce the team at halftime. After the game, we’ll head to Whispering Creek and watch a tape of the championship game.”
Ah yes, the championship game.
Although it was the pre-season No. 1-ranked Class 4A team and won its first seven games, East stumbled in the final two regular-season contests, suffering narrow losses to Sioux Falls Lincoln (8-7) and Fort Dodge (12-6).
The Black Raiders righted the ship with playoff victories over arch-rival Heelan (17-7) and Des Moines Roosevelt (28-27), setting up a title game matchup against mighty Waterloo West and its star quarterback, Courtney Messingham.
West was unbeaten entering the game and had taken over the No. 1 spot after the two East losses. Odds were stacked against Coach Walt Fiegel’s squad, but they once again defied those odds with a heart-stopping 21-20 victory at the UNI-Dome.
Among the heroes that night was senior cornerback Tom Bolton.
West had snapped a 14-14 halftime tie by marching 68 yards on its first possession of the second half. Then, the Wahawks stopped East on downs at the West 11-yard line.
Things were looking rather gloomy for the players in Orange and Black before Bolton took advantage of a rare miscue by Messingham, who went on to play quarterback at Northern Iowa and has been a longtime collegiate assistant coach, currently at the University of Indiana.
Messingham pitched to a trailing back who had slipped to the turf and when the ball bounced free, Bolton scooped it up and ran six yards into the end zone for the tying touchdown. Jay Lindstrom’s third PAT kick gave East a 21-20 lead with 2:29 left in the third quarter.
Ironically, those turned out to be the final points of the game, but not before East made a gallant goal line stand to preserve the iconic victory.
West moved from its own 10-yard line to first-and-goal at the Raiders’ 8 with just over a minute to play. From there, Messingham and teammates self-destructed.
On first down, tailback Glenn Seals took a hit and lost the football, but fullback Anthony Thomas recovered at the 14.
On second down, West was called for a holding penalty that moved the ball back to the East 29. On a repeat second down, Messingham, facing heavy pressure, unloaded a pass and was called for intentional grounding, resulting in a loss of down and third-and-goal at the 42 with 31 seconds left on the clock.
East’s standout defensive end Bob Grantham put the nail in the coffin, so to speak, sacking Messingham for a 14-yard loss back to his own 44-yard line. With no timeouts remaining, Messingham threw a pass out of bounds and the ball went over to East.
All that was left was pandemonium for the Black Raider faithful.
“I was already a state champion three times in track, so I knew what it was like,” said Al Burns, the multi-threat quarterback. “I wanted so badly for the other guys to feel what it was like. Track is an individual sport, so when you win you get all the glory, but I was really excited that everybody on our team got to see what it felt like. We were on top of the world.”
There were no shortage of stars on that squad, which kick-started its season with a 9-3 triumph at traditional power West Des Moines Dowling. Along the way, there were four one-point games and three more that were decided by less than a touchdown.
East pulled off a rare feat by winning twice at Memorial Field over Heelan, which had won state titles in 1975 and 1982. East won 13-12 in the second week of the season when Heelan missed a two-point conversion at the end of the game and 17-7 in the first round of the playoffs.
Back then, just eight teams made the 4A playoffs and it took only three wins to secure a state title. The Black Raiders built a 28-7 halftime lead on Roosevelt in a semifinal, only to see the Roughriders storm back before missing a potential game-tying extra point kick late in the game.
Four of the remaining five regular season games were one-sided affairs, but East escaped with an 18-13 victory over Sioux Falls O’Gorman when Burns threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Mike Krohn with four seconds remaining.
“It was an amazing year when you look at it from a community standpoint,” said Jeff Croston, an offensive tackle who went on to play at the University of Iowa. “I remember after the championship game looking up in the stands and seeing all of the orange and black and then seeing Coach Fiegel.
“After all of the hard work he had put in in his first stint as head coach and then coming back to take the head spot again. All those down years and then he comes back and brings back all the success. To win state for him and to be the only public school to win state was something special.
“Heelan had beaten us twice the year before and to flip it around and do what we did, things have to go your way.”
Fiegel, a Hall of Famer who passed away in 2003 at the age of 69, had three separate tours of duty as head coach at East. He was 18-23 from 1967-71 before returning to the helm in 1982, succeeding Terry Stevens.
Along with the state championship, Fiegel guided the Black Raiders to a 78-29 record from 1982-92, including nine playoff appearances in 11 seasons. He stepped down again in 1993, giving way to one of his longtime assistants, Jim O’Hern, who coached until 1997, when Fiegel was asked to return for a third term.
Fiegel, an ex-Marine who was just as concerned about teaching his players life’s lessons as football, had just completed his 22nd season at the East helm when he suffered a fatal heart attack on Nov. 12, 2003.
“The first game of the year we played Dowling and coach wanted to show the rest of the state that we played pretty good football on the west side of I-35,” Kay said. “He wanted to win that game so badly, you could see it in his eyes. It was all business that day. Luckily, we did win it.
“Then, before the championship game, he was so nervous he was getting sick to his stomach. He was a Marine Corps guy, so you could tell when it was time to not mess around. But one of his most famous quotes (there were plenty of those) was ‘I hope that football makes these kids a better person.’ That’s what he was all about.”
“We were kind of a diverse group of guys, some from Greenville that Walt used to call ‘the other side of the tracks,’ ” Krohn said. “I guess we all came together for one common goal.”
A good number of the players still reside in Sioux City or surrounding communities.
Defensive end Grantham was a first team all-stater along with linebacker Ed Gochenour. Tight end Tim Jackson was a third-team pick.
Gochenour was captain of the all-city team, which also included tailback Greg Schiltz (26 carries, 1,325 yards), Jackson (14 catches during the regular season and 10 more in the playoffs) and a trio of offensive linemen – Kay, guard Dan Rose and tackle Croston. Krohn, who although he was the hero of the O’Gorman game while playing offense, was the regular free safety and also made first team all-city.
The All-Sioux Interstate Conference team included six Black Raiders – Burns, Gochenour, Grantham, Jackson, Krohn and Schiltz.
Gochenour played at Morningside College and the University of Iowa; Burns at USD and Morningside; Kay, Krohn and Jackson at Morningside; Jon Danke, Rose and Scott Mayer at Wayne State and Bolton at Dana College.
Robbie Martin, a tenacious undersized starting guard, passed away in 2007.
At the conclusion of the season, Fiegel sent the following letter to every member of the team:
“Dear 4A football state champ:
Volumes could be written on your accomplishments this past year and I want you to know that the Fiegel family and especially myself want to thank you for making 1984 – “For Those That Believe, All Things are Possible.” You have made a school, community, city and the entire state very proud of your state championship. Be proud of it forever, but don’t forget where you came from.”
Rest assured, coach, they haven’t.