George Guido: ’43 Aspinwall, ’68 Burrell football teams celebrate WPIAL title anniversaries
This week marks the anniversaries of two notable WPIAL football championship teams from the Alle-Kiski Valley: the 75th anniversary of Aspinwall’s 1943 team that finished unbeaten, untied and unscored upon and 50 years since Burrell repeated as WPIAL champion.
It’s something no WPIAL team has done since, winning all its games and not allowing a point the entire season.
The Cavaliers were long a football power before the memorable season.
The borough was founded in 1892 by Henry Warner, who purchased 155 acres from Annie Aspinwall and initially built 60 homes meant for the upper-middle class of Pittsburghers.
Aspinwall, widow of steamship builder George Aspinwall, and her niece, Mary Delafield, had inherited 3,000 acres from pioneer James O’ Hara.
Aspinwall High School began sponsoring football in 1907 and joined the WPIAL in 1923.
From 1926-30, Aspinwall compiled a 38-3-5 record.
The 1943 team was part of a streak of 12 straight winning seasons that produced a 77-14-13 mark.
The team’s biggest stars were Bob Malec and Lou “Sonny” Yakopec.
The team, led by coach Art “Mac” McComb, were winning its games decisively. After a while, the only question became if the team would give up any points.
Aspinwall qualified for the WPIAL finals with a victory over neighboring rival Etna. In those days, a team had to finish unbeaten and/or untied in its classification, and the two schools who accumulated the most Gardner Points, based for the most part on strength of schedule, met in a winner-take-all title game.
The Cavaliers would play the Pitcairn Railroaders in the championship game at Wilkinburg’s Graham Field.
Malec and Yakopec scored two touchdowns each. Pitcairn was led by quarterback and future Gateway coaching great Walter “Pete” Antimarino, who drove his team to the Aspinwall 2 to put the shutout streak was in jeopardy.
But a goal-line stand by Aspinwall secured the team’s place in history as the fifth WPIAL team to finish a season unbeaten, untied and unscored upon.
After winning the WPIAL title in 1967, Burrell was headed for the .500 mark – actually two titles in four full years of football.
Burrell came on the scene in 1964, four years after Lower Burrell and Upper Burrell combined their school systems.
The new school got its name from former Westmoreland County Judge Jeremiah Murry Burrell, who approved Burrell Township breaking away from Allegheny Township in 1852.
The population of Lower Burrell tripled between 1940 and ‘60, and it became apparent the community needed its own high school.
The Bucs won the 1967 WPIAL title 6-0 over Freeport.
Burrell quickly found repeating was tough. WPIAL title hopes nearly evaporated in Week 6. Burrell had to drive 88 yards late in the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown with 4 seconds left to win.
In the regular-season finale, the Bucs had to erase two deficits and hold off a Plum rally at the Burrell 12 with two minutes remaining in the game.
The championship game was again a 6-0 decision over Freeport. The game took place at the same stadium (New Kensington Memorial), Burrell scored on the same play (a 6-yard run) in the same corner of the end zone (the one near the entry gate).
About the only difference was that the 1967 coach Frank Martin left to inaugurate the Highlands program in the offseason and was replaced by Frank Solomond.
The Burrell-Freeport rematch was one of four title games in the decade involving Alle-Kiski Valley teams.
The other two were Verona-Apollo in 1962 and Oakmont-Apollo in ‘65.
George Guido is a Valley News Dispatch scholastic sports correspondent. His column appears Wednesdays.