Terry Hersom Journal sports editor Sep 16, 2004
The passage of time is supposed to make all of those athletic achievements more grandiose, more phenomenal, more downright legendary.
There’s something wrong with this bunch of guys whose Class 4A state championship in 1984 is the most recent state football title by a Sioux City high school team and, in fact, the only state grid crown ever for a Sioux City public school squad.
Sure, sure, some of them have gotten too big for their britches. However, that’s a matter of age, not conceit.
As championship teams go, this one tends to look back two decades and count its blessings.
“We were lucky, man,” exclaims Ed Gochenour, a first-team all-state linebacker who declares himself to be, “probably the one who’s most non-modest about it.”
Lucky? Well, yes, to some extent.
However, as hall of fame broadcaster Vin Scully once put it, “Luck is the residue of design.”
As a 20-year reunion unfolds this weekend, there is one clear factor that has made the ’84 champs a little more subdued: Their coach, Walt Fiegel, who died last November, won’t be around to celebrate with them.
“It was Coach Fiegel’s trophy more than anyone else’s,” said Gochenour, a Sioux City insurance agent. “It was Coach Fiegel’s destiny to win a championship. We weren’t by any means the greatest team. He probably coached better ones. But we won it. We had heart.”
Indeed, they did.
Rated No. 1 throughout the season’s first seven weeks, East had already clinched a spot in Iowa’s eight-team Class 4A playoffs when Sioux Falls Lincoln scored a touchdown and two-point conversion with 4:08 remaining to knock them off, 8-7.
One week later, in the regular season finale, Fort Dodge earned a playoff berth when a touchdown with 34 seconds to play snapped a 6-6 tie and gave the Dodgers a 12-6 victory.
East’s three playoff triumphs were quite a tightwire act.
In the opening round, the Raiders followed up a 13-12 win over Heelan by winning a 17-7 rematch that was closer than the score indicated.
In the semifinals, Des Moines Roosevelt missed a potential game-tying PAT kick with 2:20 left, falling 28-27 after rallying from a 28-7 deficit.
Then, in the championship game, East prevailed in a memorable 21-20 thriller with No. 1-ranked and undefeated Waterloo West.
“We were outclassed,” said Gochenour. “I really believe if we played Waterloo West three times, they would have beaten us two out of three.”
Besides the one-pointer over Heelan, East’s other regular season wins included a 9-3 squeaker over West Des Moines Dowling and an 18-13 escape from Sioux Falls O’Gorman on a touchdown pass with four seconds to play.
“We were kind of short on talent but long on heart,” said Kevin Kay, the center. “Our coach was a pretty good asset to us, too.”
“The atmosphere Coach Fiegel allowed us to be in, we had fun but we also knew when it was time to focus and do our job,” said offensive tackle Jeff Croston.
Tailback Greg Schiltz rushed for 1,343 yards in 12 games while quarterback Allen Burns, a state champion sprinter, added 458 and fullback Mike Dean 355.
Although more of a threat to run than pass, Burns did become an effective thrower in the playoffs, finding tight end Tim Jackson for 10 timely catches totaling 261 yards — six yards less than his regular season total on 14 receptions.
“After losing those two games (at the end of the regular season), we kind of changed what we did in the playoffs,” said Croston. “We started throwing it more.”
Kay, Croston and guards Dan Rose and Robbie Martin were all seniors in the offensive line while tackle Brent Culver and guard Mark Kaprelian, a part-time regular, were juniors. Matt Grau was the wingback and junior Mike Spieler was the other starting end.
“Probably what won it for us most was our defense,” allows Kay.
Gochenour and defensive end Bob Grantham, who joined him as a first-team all-stater, were leaders on that unit, but it was a solid group throughout. Troy Bohlke was the nose guard, Scott Mayer was the other end, Pat Steele was one tackle and either Mike Julius or junior Kelly McKeever was the other.
Jon Danke joined Gochenour at linebacker while the secondary consisted of Mike Krohn, Buddy McNaughton, Tom Bolton and Dave Skogen.
Jay Lindstrom, whose three PATs made all the difference in the one-point title game, was the kicker.
Fiegel’s staff included Don Schuldt as the defensive coordinator, Del Hughes as the offensive coordinator and Jim O’Hern, who later served a stint as East’s head coach.
Croston, curiously, was the only Division I scholarship recruit on the team, following in the footsteps of his brother, Dave, when he signed with Iowa. He started as a fourth-year junior for the Hawkeyes but missed his senior season with ankle problems.
Gochenour also wound up at Iowa, playing on special teams after transferring from Morningside.
It was Gochenour who had the angle on Courtney Messingham when the Waterloo West quarterback unloaded an errant pitch just outside his own goal line late in the third quarter of the state title game.
Bolton alertly picked up the loose ball and made the quick four-yard trip that set up Lindstrom’s go-ahead PAT.
Waterloo West mounted a serious scoring threat late in the game, advancing to a first-and-goal at the East 8-yard line. However, the Wahawks self-destructed on five ensuing snaps.
First came a six-yard loss on a fumble in the backfield, then a holding penalty backed West up to the 29. On a repeat of second down, Messingham was whistled for intentional grounding and West moved back to the 42.
With a loss of down, it was third down when Grantham sacked Messingham back at West’s 44. Then, forgetting the grounding call had cost him a down, Messingham tried to stop the clock with a quick pass out-of-bounds.
The ball — and the state title — went over to East.
The state champion Raiders will be acknowledged at halftime of East’s game Friday night with Mason City and they’ll gather after the game at Lewis Bowl to reminisce and watch the tape of their history-making win.