Valley emerged 30 years ago as football power
Valley coach Tim Thyreen watches Kiski Area mount a comeback on Sept. 21, 1973; Quarterback Frank Milito (12) threw a touchdown pass and engineered a strong Valley offense against Kiski Area in 1973; Paul Collodi caught a touchdown pass and recovered a late fumble to preserve a Valley victory in 1973.
Sept. 21, 1973, started out like any typical Friday morning during the high school football season as the Valley Vikings prepared to host the Kiski Area Cavaliers in a Foothills Conference game.
By the end of the night, the scholastic landscape had changed.
Up to that point, Valley High School’s football program had struggled throughout its six-year-plus existance, never winning more than two games in a row.
By contrast, Kiski Area was the undisputed king of the local gridiron establishment.
The Cavaliers entered the game with a WPIAL record 46-game conference winning streak. Two years earlier, Kiski Area was the WPIAL champion and was ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 5 in the country, according to a Minneapolis-based service.
Valley had lost the previous six outings against Kiski Area by a combined score of 279-15.
But the Valley players thought the 1973 meeting would be different as the team got off to a 2-0 start under third-year head coach Tim Thyreen.
“When I got to Valley, I was the fourth head coach in four years,” Thyreen said. “It was important to get the kids believing in themselves.”
Actually, the genesis of that memorable game took place two years earlier as Kiski Area was driving to its eventual title. Cavaliers kicker Joe Stone was recovering from an injury and head coach Dick Dilts wanted him to try a fourth quarter field goal in case one was needed later in the season.
Stone’s field goal made the score 44-0 and Valley fans were livid, feeling Kiski Area was rubbing it in.
A Stone field goal in the playoffs later in 1971 allowed the Cavaliers to reach the WPIAL title game but the Valley fans seethed.
Fast forward to 1973 when the largest regular season crowd at Memorial Stadium in 26 years filed in to see what would be a classic. The atmosphere was incredible as more than 9,000 fans crammed into the 7,900-seat stadium.
“I was surprised at the amount of excitement and the number of people who showed up,” said tight end/linebacker Paul Collodi.
Valley started out strong, taking the opening kickoff and driving 51 yards to the Kiski Area 35 on nine consecutive rushing plays. On the 10th play of the drive, Vikings quarterback Frank Milito found Collodi alone on the right sideline for a touchdown as the huge crowd erupted.
Late in the first quarter, Vikings running back John Martin appeared stopped at the line of scrimmage, but broke through for a 44-yard touchdown run as Valley forged ahead, 14-0.
While there was no scoring in the second quarter, Valley’s offense outgained Kiski Area 165 yards to 45 in the first half.
The Cavaliers emerged from the locker room breathing fire after the intermission. Toward the end of the third period, a 40-yard pass from quarterback Jim Schaeffer to Jim Scott gave Kiski Area a first-and-goal at the Valley 2. Halfback Vince Woody scored on the next play and subsequently ran in the two-point conversion to make it 14-8 as the Valley rooters were brought to the edge of their seats.
The Cavaliers continued to move the ball well in the fourth quarter and had one last shot, gaining possession at their 46. Kiski Area drove to the Valley 32 and appeared poised to at least tie the game.
But Collodi pounced on a loose ball and after an interminable delay while the officials tried to determine possession, Collodi emerged with the ball.
“The ball just happened to be there and I fell on it,” Collodi said.
Valley ran out the remainder of the clock and pandemonium broke loose at fans flooded the field as time expired.
Kiski Area had outgained Valley in second-half yardage, 123 to minus-18, but couldn’t tie the game, and Valley had made the long climb from obscurity.
“Every year we seemed to be improving and you can tell the attitude was changing,” Collodi said.
One constant memory after 30 years was the fact that a large number of Valley fans remained in their seats long after the game ended, soaking up the breakthrough victory for the program.
“The one thing I remember is that the phone lines were so jammed coming out of New Kensington and Arnold with everybody calling others to give the final score,” Thyreen said.
As it turned out, the game really didn’t have an effect on the season as Valley lost the following week at Latrobe and dropped another two weeks after that to eventual conference champion Greensburg Salem. The Vikings finished 7-2, Kiski Area 6-3.
But Valley finally was on the football map. Before the game, the school’s record was 14-32-3 (.286). Since then, Valley is 179-124-6 (.591).
After three consecutive third-place finishes in the conference, Thyreen left Valley for Waynesburg College and currently is in his 14th year as president of Waynesburg College.
“My wife and I often think about our days at Valley and that breakthrough victory,” Thyreen said.
Collodi is a professor in molecular biology at Purdue University, earning a doctorate in the field.
Dilts coached the Cavaliers for 20 more seasons before retiring in 1993.
Kiski Area and Valley no longer meet in football, but Vikings fans around at the time have never forgotten that big 1973 win that changed the local landscape.