1897 madison team picture.png

Some players learn well from their former coaches. They may have had talent on the playing field but they were able to take the knowledge passed on to them and they could also become Hall of Fame coaches themselves. Though often, what worked for their teachers might not have worked for them so they had to look for other ways to win.


In 1958 the “Run and Shoot” offense was developed by Glenn “Tiger” Ellison who was the head coach of Mansfield High School in Ohio. A devotee of Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and his “Three-Yards and a Cloud of Dust” running attack, like most schools in America, Ellison found that things this season was not going well with the offensive attack. Faced with the school’s first losing season since 1911 and having a 0-4-1 record with five remaining games, Ellison looked to see what he could do to stop the mess. One day he noticed some grade school kids messing around and they were playing a game they called “aerial”. The quarterback would, after each snap, be scrambling around with the receivers running, zipping, cutting and making themselves open for the toss. They were having fun. His Mansfield Middies weren’t having fun and he designed what he called the “Lonesome Polecat”.


The Lonesome Polecat formation was similar to what was once known as “The Swinging Gate”. The quarterback and center are in the middle of the formation with one end on the right side and the other eight players bunched together on the left side. The formation could be flipped to have the strong side be on the right. The quarterback would run the ball but if the defense came up too quickly, he could throw it down the field. It caused disruption on the defense and they won their last five games to post a 5-4-1 record. It may have been considered sandlot football but it worked. Coach Ellison worked in the off season to refine the offense. He learned that constant motion from the quarterback and other skill players kept the defense off guard. Gang tackling, and double-covering a receiver was hard to do. The entire field had to be defended. The important thing was that his players were having fun and that created success. He came up with a total of 40-plays…20 passing and 20 running. There were two receivers split with the quarterback and a fullback behind him and two players in slot just off the heels of the tackles. One slotback would always be in motion. It was a Double Wing formation to primarily run but if the right quarterback was available, they would also pass a lot. Tiger let the receivers set the routs depending on how the defender was lining up on them. This was radical thinking for football in the era of the run first, then keep running mindset.


Ellison coached at Middleton from 1945-62 and compiled a 127-45-7 record and was named Ohio High School Football Coach of the Year in 1961. All his success led to a phone call in early 1963 who asked Ellison to join he staff as the Ohio State freshman coach. For those who don’t remember, college freshmen couldn’t play on the varsity (Except for the 1950-51 season because of the Korean War) until 1972. Ellison stayed at OSU until 1969 before returning to the high school ranks but he never changed the schools “Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust” offense. In 1965 he wrote a book entitled “Run and Shoot: The Offense of the Future”. Darrell “Mouse” Davis was the head coach at Portland State from 1975-80 who refined and popularized the concept to huge success, not only for colleges, the pro’s but also at the high school level.


After leading the Durand freshman team to an undefeated season in 1965 Tom Bauer stepped into the varsity starting spot the next season. With his ability and smarts there was no resentment by the older players. In 1966 Bauer was now under the tutelage of future WFCA Hall of Fame coach Pete Adler. His coach taught him well and he went on to become first team All-Northwest as accredited by the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram as well as honorable all-state in 1968. The 1967 Durand team was voted the #1 team in the Small School division of the UPI poll that season. Durand was undefeated all three years that Bauer was at the helm as he completed 163 career passes in 283 attempts for 2,759 yards and 45 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. He also ran the ball 188 times for 1,088 yards and 28 touchdowns. He went on to play for another Hall of Fame coach, Link Walker at UW-Eau Claire. After starting for the Blugolds and becoming a success at the college level as a player he moved on to coach at Elmwood in 1976.

It was at Elmwood, one of the smallest schools in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference that Bauer found it hard to compete with the bigger schools of the conference. He began to look around for a way to make things better and more fun for the players. That’s when, in 1980 he found out about the Run and Shoot. But first, he had to find a quarterback who could execute the offense. That came in the form of freshman Tom Mountin who was first listed at 5’8, 145-pound but later 1980 editions of the Leader-Telegram reported that he was 5’10, 150, who could fling the ball well. He was smart and inventive but as some freshman often do, he made some mistakes. Not a gifted runner, Moutin left that to sophomore fullback Joe Wolf, a 5’9, 165- pound speedster. Along with sophomore receivers Jeff Brunner and Jeff Schoeder and junior Steve Hartung this young team limped through a 4-5 season. By the seventh game the team started only two seniors with four sophomores and the freshman, Mountin. Wolf was on the bench early but in game five, a 20-16 loss to Glenwood City, he came off the bench to help spark a near comeback when he gained 135 yards on 14 carries plus a touchdown. He started after that.


Mountin had some good days and some very bad days. In game three, a 26-14 win over Colfax he had his breakout passing event with 18 for 37, 205 yards and three touchdowns but he also threw three interceptions. Against Elk Mound, a 30-14 loss, he was 8-18 with 129 yards and a score in the second half after completing only two of 12 passes for 15 yards and three interceptions in the first half. In the season finale, a 60-14 smashing of Plum City, the Run and Shoot worked to perfection. Mountin was 11 of 20 for 144 yards and two touchdowns while Wolfe picked up 188 yards on 19 carries as he scored four times and added an extra point run. Mountin would end up with stats of 133 completions in 258 attempts, 10 interceptions, 1,477 yards along with 14 touchdowns and eight two-point completions. Wolf would gain 665 yards on the ground while scoring nine times and Brunner, Schoeder and Hartung all had around 30-35 catches each. Bauer had found the right formula for his team as they went 4-5. With all the experience they gained, 1981 looked bright.


Some of what Bauer had learned may have also come from hearing about the Chippewa Falls McDonell passing offense that was just beginning to take off at the same time. In 1980 McDonell’s junior quarterback, Dave Geissler tossed for 2,184 yards but he also tossed a lot of interceptions, 25 on the year. Geissler had to run for his life a lot of times as he had no real dependable running attack to help him. At least Elmwood had a back in Wolf to counterbalance the pass. Mountin’s 1,477 yards passing ranked as one of the top efforts for the year.

As a sophomore in 1981, Tom Mountin had grown to 5’11 and his weight was up to 160 pounds. The season went well overall as the team went 7-2 and the offense motored, scoring 316 points and the defense was strong allowing only 77. Mountin was the heart of the team but he had a lot of help end Jeff Schoeder earned second team All-Northwest as did Wolf and Mountin. Jeff Brunner was named to the honorable mention list as was end Steve Hartung and lineman Rocky Noard. Mountin had his best game against St. Croix Central with 14 completions in 24 attempts, 198 yards and five touchdowns with 3 extra point conversions. Another top performance was against Colfax as he was 19 of 27 for 224 yards and four conversions. The receiving corp was top notch with Schoeder, Brunner, Hartung and Wolf all catching between 22 and 38 passes. Wolf broke out rushing for 1,168 yards on 145 carries as he crossed the goal line 15 times. Mountin threw for 1,581 yards with 22 touchdowns and 10 pass conversions.


Over at McDonell, senior Dave Geissler threw 385 times and had 231 completions, 2,517 yards and 17 touchdowns, earning All-Northwest and All-State first team honors. The difference in the two offenses was Joe Wolf’s ability to pick-up a lot of rushing yards. Yes, McDonell also gained a 7-2 record but they really relied on Geissler who set four national passing records…most passes completed in a game with 41, highest average of pass attempts per game with 43, highest average completions per game with 26 and average plays per game with a 53 average. He was a drop back type passer while Mountin often ran the ball.


This is about Elmwood and their Run and Shoot offense and not McDonell’s but the Mack’s passing attack is just shown as a comparison of the two.


The 1981 season ending loss to Glenwood City was Bauer’s last game at Elmwood. In April, 1982 he moved on to take the head coaching job at Mondovi, a position he would stay at for 21 seasons. He had a 36-18 record at Elmwood and a 125-78 record at Mondovi before he retired because of health reasons at age 53. In March of 2004 it was announced that he was being inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.


Former assistant Curt Weber stepped in as the new coach and he retained, for the most part, the Run and Shoot. In the 1982 season opener, a 47-0 rout of Independence, Mountin was 23 of 27 for 269 yards and one score while Wolf rushed for 134 yards on 16 attempts and four touchdowns. The next week against Spring Valley Wolf rushed 36 times for 275 yards and one touchdown while Mountin passed for 139 and two touchdowns. The following week, game three, a 30-20 win over Prescott, Wolf hurt his shoulder but Mountin rose to the occasion as he passed 43 times with 25 completions and a career high 323 yards and four touchdowns and three conversions. Wolf came back for game four vs. Colfax as he scored twice. Mountin would have some very good games the rest of the season but the running wasn’t going well with Wolf often playing hurt. Luckily, he had a great group of receivers. Expectations had been strong for 1982 as the team had a lot of experienced players. The offense was able to keep some of the conference’s stronger/bigger teams at bay. Elmwood went undefeated during the regular season and earned a spot in the WIAA playoffs making it to the Division 5 semi-finals. After going 10-0, they lost to eventual champ Osseo-Fairchild.


Coach Weber had the team clicking despite losing Joe Wolf for several games due to his shoulder injury or defenses figuring out how to key on his running. But Tom Mountin and flanker Jeff Brunner didn’t disappoint with Mountain earning second team All-Northwest and Brunner first team. Jeff Schoeder and Joe Wolf were honorable mention. Mountin completed 166 of 287 passes for 2,366 yards and 21 touchdowns along with 21 conversions. (The totals are different than what was printed in the November 20, 1982 edition of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. They only had the regular season totals.) It was the same for Jeff Brunner as he posted 70 catches for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns with 14 conversion catches. His three-year totals read 146 receptions for 2,322 yards, 28 touchdowns and 22 conversion passes. The career receiving records as well as his 14 conversion catches in 1982 were state records and he led the state in receiving receptions, yards and td’s for the season. Brunner earned second team AP All-State. Wolf, despite being injured throughout the year finished with over 2,700 career yards and 33 touchdowns. Hartung and Schoeder each hauled in about 30 passes each that season.

Tom Mountin was on the brink of several national records and he was setting state career records. Most of his state career records would only last a few years because McDonell came up with a great sophomore quarterback, Ben Gardow, who would obliterate all competition for passing honors for many years. 1983 was a tough one as Mountin's three most experienced receivers were gone as well as his reliable fullback/receiver. Coach Weber had to come up with some replacements. He revised the offense a bit to be more of a pro-set attack, using the pass to set up the run but still incorporated the Run and Shoot formation when needed. The team would post a 6-3 record as Mountin rushed for 272 yards on the season with nine touchdowns on the ground. He did throw for 1,330 yards but only nine touchdowns. The main newcomers were junior fullback Jason Afdahl and senior slotback Peter Schwartz. Against St. Croix Central Mountin tossed for 235 yards, three touchdowns, two conversions and ran for three scores in a 44-27 win. Afdahl ran for117 yards while Schwartz countered with 110 rushing yards and caught 13 passes for 153 yards.


Now standing at 5’11 and weighing 165 pounds, Tom Mountin completed his career having thrown more passes (1,012) and more completions (553) than any high school passer in history. His 6,754 yards was fourth best and his 66 touchdowns earned him an eight spot on the national list. Paltry stats by today’s standards but outstanding for the era. On the basis of his record setting career, Mountin was named the All-Northwest Player-of-the Year. Schwartz, Afdahl, center Ron Wolf and tackle Joe Fesenmaier all earned honorable mention. Guard Nick Schoeder earned special mention.


Mountin started every game for all four seasons and teams stacked their defenses against him especially his senior year. His records were, for a short time, targets for others to shoot for.

Curt Weber did away with most of the Run and Shoot for his last season as head football coach in 1984, staying with the pro-set. He continued on for several years as the head basketball coach. As mentioned, Tom Bauer moved to Mondovi and produced some very good teams. But what of Tom Mountin? Tom passed up a chance to play college ball at any level. He went to work in the family business, Mountin Construction until he was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. He passed away in 2015 at age 49. Tom Bauer had noticed his ability to throw the ball as a seventh grader and worked the Red Raiders offense around him as a freshman. It proved to be the right move.

Updated: Nov 24

While today we end the football season the Thursday or Friday before Thanksgiving and the start of deer hunting season with the state title games, that wasn’t always the case. As I have mentioned in previous blogs and in my book, the season often ended with a championship match game on the late November holiday.


The story in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Tuesday, November 21, 1916 said it all. It admitted that the battle between Edgerton and La Crosse on Thanksgiving Day would be for the state championship. After a quarrel between Milwaukee East (also known as Riverside and the two names were interchanged by the press for many years) and La Crosse had not been settled in 1915 with both teams having legitimate claims to the crown. This year, the usual teams like Eau Claire, Madison and the Milwaukee public schools all had less than championship contending teams. Another contender was Oshkosh, who was undefeated but had several ties and played a limited number of games. More on them later. The turkey day game was to be a battle of David vs. Goliath. The newspaper said,


“After much wrangling, La Crosse high finally consented to meet Edgerton high in a football game on Thanksgiving Day at La Crosse, which will decide the state high championship. Both elevens are evenly matched as far as weight is concerned and judging by comparative scores, neither has the edge. Edgerton’s most notable victory is that over North Division high of Milwaukee and it’s win over Marquette academy. The La Crosse eleven boast’s victories over Riverside (East) high and Madison high gives them a right to battle for state honors. Neither team has suffered defeat this season”.

La Crosse had a proud sports program. The city had only one high school for the overall population of about 30,000 residents. Logan and Aquinas wouldn’t open until 1927. Edgerton had played some great football in the 1913-15 seasons against bigger schools but the “Tobacco City” had only a population of about 2,500. On Monday, November 20, in an effort to get a game with La Crosse, Marquette Academy, who had just lost to Edgerton, attempted to set up a meet for Saturday, November 25 but La Crosse already had a game for that day. It wouldn’t have been a championship game but just an added event. It wasn’t unusual for teams to setup games, sort of “on the fly”. Most teams had no real set regular schedule and especially towards the end of the season there was a mad scramble to lineup tough opponents. But, because of a previous commitment, Marquette lost out on a game against a tough team. So, La Crosse vs Edgerton was set to be a big battle of undefeated teams. That was when they agreed to meet as the details were settled on Monday, November 22.


La Crosse had not lost a game since Thanksgiving Day 3 years prior in1913 to Sparta, 13-10. Since then, they had reeled off a record of 19-0-1. 1914 had been a 7-0-0 season, in 1915 they went 6-0-1 (tying St. Paul Central 0-0) and now in 1916, they were 6-0-0 with a final tune up match with Central on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. That matchup in St. Paul was setup for Saturday, November 25. After several key fumbles and the inability of the defense to adjust properly to the baffling Minnesota shifts the La Crosse eleven lost 13-7. Since the start of 1914, La Crosse had given up only four touchdowns and four field goals. With extra points they had given up only 38 points in that timeframe while scoring 687 points. The loss didn’t diminish the outlook for the championship game. The two best teams in the state were set to battle it out.


On the same day that the results of the St. Paul Central game were printed in the La Crosse Tribune another story was listed. Edgerton fullback Marlon Ogden was ruled by the WIAA as being okay to play in the La Crosse game even though he had just turned 21 two weeks earlier. Supposedly La Crosse was fine with it as they wanted to see Edgerton in action in full strength. Also, in the same story it was mentioned that there was a special passenger train for Edgerton that will make three stops along the way to bring a brass band and about 150-200 hometown fans to the game and it would arrive in La Crosse the day of the game between 12 noon and 1pm in time for a 2:45pm start. The team had gone on ahead and was staying at a hotel in town. The fan train left Edgerton at 7:30am and was sent off by nearly 1,000 well-wishers. The price of the trip through the rolling countryside was was $6.35 round trip and a Thanksgiving dinner for two cost a whopping $.75!! Upon arrival Edgerton fans took the city by storm and racked up bets of over $1,000 in favor of their team.


Another note in the paper told fans not to worry about the game as if they normally eat Thanksgiving dinner around noon, they would have plenty of time to get to the game and it they could eat late as the game would be over by 5pm. The game was to played at Normal Field with the price of a ticket inside the 20-yard line costing $.75 and outside the 20 costing $.50. There would be no normal pricing for children. 3,000-5,000 spectators were expected to attend the game.


When the Edgerton fans and the brass band arrived, they began a march from the railroad station to the team’s hotel and then on to Normal Field where they serenaded many with songs and dance numbers and chanted a slogan “We’ll beat the ‘L’ out of La Crosse”. If you ever get a chance to look at the La Crosse Tribune in the days just prior to the game you will see that the paper printed poems and prayers on the front pages about the strength of the team and asking for divine guidance in the championship game. On Thanksgiving Day, the banner in the La Crosse Tribune read:

It was now 2:45pm and the combatants were on the field to start the battle. Now, the combatants:


Substitute members of the Edgerton team were: Back, Edward Short, lineman, Hurley Ford, lineman Rush Touton and end Chester Peters. Coach Lamereaux was assisted by A.J. Dexter.


NOTE #1: As you look at the lineup and the names in the photos you will notice that there is a lack of first names. The newspaper stories of the day as well as the school’s yearbooks didn’t often provide a player’s or the coach's first name. I, alas didn’t have access to the 1917 La Crosse yearbooks so the players first names came from the 1916 book. The La Crosse Tribune never mentioned coach Bell’s first name. The nickname for La Crosse wasn’t mentioned in the paper reports but the words “red and black” were often mentioned so that may have been what they were known as. No help from the yearbook.


NOTE #2: When I was writing my book, I was surprised that tobacco and rice were grown in this state. I had always thought of it as a southern crop. Edgerton was known as “Tobacco City” and the teams nickname was “The Tobacco Growers” long before they became the “Crimson Tide”.


Now, the game.


There were several standouts on both sides. Coming into the game the biggest star was Edgerton’s Rollie Williams, the team captain. After scoring nine touchdowns against Janesville, three on interception returns, he was well known around the state. A marked man, Williams would score 25 touchdowns on the season. It was no different in the title game. The two teams were evenly matched in terms of weight but Edgerton had speed and the backfield was well balanced. Williams hit the line hard and used his speed to pick up yards. The La Crosse Tribune declared that he was his team’s star. Also known as a great punter, he often outkicked his counterpart, LC’s Feinberg by 10-15 yards as the two teams made some gains to start the game but had to give up the ball on downs. Coach Bell’s team won the toss and chose to defend the south goal. Edgerton’s Rossebo kicked to Layman who returned the ball to the 32-yard line.


Now, I must admit I don’t know much about many of the early football offenses. I’m always finding some new wrinkles. After a few small gains LC’s left tackle, Rudolph “Rube” Blatter, La Crosse team captain, ran the ball for a 30-yard gain. I guess that he pulled when the ball was snapped and, with the backfield leading the blocking, took a pitch from Feinberg and slashed through the Tobacco Growers defense. Williams and Ogden hauled him down. After three plays that gained only one yard, Reget tried a drop-kick field goal. The snap was poor and he picked the ball up and ran around and eventually got the kick off but it went nowhere close to the goal posts. Edgerton got the ball back and gained 20-yards on line plunges before being forced to punt.


And, so it went as the two teams exchanged punts with Edgerton netting 10-15 yards after each kick. After an interception by the red and black’s Liscovec near their own 35-yard line. The quarter ended. In the second the two teams continued to exchange punts but then Edgerton was able to take the ball downfield on a series of passes. Clarke was given the ball and he went 15-yards around end to score but the referee ruled that Kepp had moved illegally. After losing five yards on the penalty, it was fourth down and the ball went nowhere so La Crosse took over on downs. They immediately punted and Edgerton got the ball back to their opponents 40-yard line. Two runs picked up three-yards then Williams passed to Ogden for thirty yards. On the next play Williams slashed into the endzone from the seven for the touchdown. Rossebo kicked the extra point and the score stood 7-0. There was a lot of excitement the rest of the half with La Crosse gaining some yards but failing on passing attempts to get the ball into the endzone.


In the second half Edgerton was satisfied to just play defense and they did it well keeping the red and black at bay. Williams was hurt at the end of the third quarter but he stayed in the game. He only carried the ball once after that. His punting wasn’t as good in the second half as it had been in the first. Edgerton nearly scored again as Rush Tiuton blocked a punt but a La Crosse player was able to recover it and thus kept his foes from advancing the ball at that time. Still, the Edgerton defense held up, even with Williams playing hurt and the score would end up 7-0 in favor of the Tobacco Growers. Rube Blatter was a demon all over the field for La Crosse. After the game Blatter, the 188-pound tackle had nothing but praise for Williams and Edgerton in general. As a blocker, a defender or as a runner he did it all. Even though he mainly played tackle he was his teams leading ground gainer with 86-yards on the day. The Janesville Gazette pointed out that Blatter, Reget and Layman were the stars for La Crosse and every one of the Edgerton team played well. I should make a note here that the statistical reports by both the Janesville Gazette and the La Crosse Tribune were well documented, unlike 99% of other game reports in that era. Frederick Layman added 44 yards rushing to the teams total of 222 yards on the ground. Edgerton’s Williams led all rushers with 102 yards while Norman Clarke had 53 yards and Marlon Ogden added 39 as they gained 238 total yards on the ground. The team passing stats read La Crosse was 3 of 10 for 46 yards and one interception. Edgerton was 4 of 10 for 53 yards but threw three interceptions. Each team was penalized 20 yards. And so, the banner in the La Crosse Tribune the next day read:


Edgerton’s great team, their fans and the brass band boarded the train for the return trip at 6pm and a chance to enjoy their turkey dinner. They stopped in Madison to go from the east to the west side depot with the fans and band leading the way. They were cheered on by many Madison well-wishers. It would be a wild time in the Tobacco City that weekend. David had beaten Goliath.


But there was some complaining in the La Crosse Tribune on the day the paper reported the game, Friday, December 1, 1916. I’ll add parts of the story:

“With no way to detract from the glory due a wonderful football machine of the Edgerton high school it was obvious to every one in the stands at the Thanksgiving Day game the Tobacco town boy’s got “the breaks”. It is It is one of the hazards of football, to be accepted as part of the game, that luck plays no part in the outcome of so many contests. Had fortune smiled on La Crosse, as she did on Edgerton, it is possible that the state title would have remained in this city.”

In the first series La Crosse’s Feinberg was” layed out” and played for much of the first half in a daze.

“His usual alert comprehension and quick analysis of difficult situations was not there. Moreover, he was so badly hurt that, Youngberg, who had not been kicking all year, had to take over the booting duties … and it was blocking Youngberg’s punt [this happened in the third quarter as Feinberg did the kicking duties in the half] which gave Edgerton its chance to score. Youngberg couldn’t get them away as quickly as Feinberg, and the second longer it took him to swing on the ball sufficed for the Edgerton lineman [Touton or Kellogg] to get in his path”

There was a complaint that a possible interception by La Crosse was caught too close to the ground and

not allowed but maybe should have been ruled in favor of the “Bellboys”.

“Also, it is worth noting that whenever La Crosse was near to threaten the Edgerton goal, the ball was so close to the sidelines that big “Wop” Blatter, the only consistent ground-gainer on the Red and Black team, couldn’t be used for one of his big tearing dashes around the right wing”.

And finally, the concession:

“All of which is “might have been” stuff. It was tough luck---but Edgerton was the fightin’est bunch of berserkers that has appeared here in the memory of the oldest inhabitant and it would have been anybody’s game if the breaks had been the other way”.

Note: I reprinted the story directly so some punctuation is incorrect. The nickname "Wop" was used several times to refer to Blatter and at least once to his younger brother as "Little Wop". It's unclear if this was a reference to the Italian slur or if the nickname was unrelated, particularly since his ancestry was Swiss German. The paper certainly wasn't using it as an insult when speaking of Blatter but if it was this is obviously unacceptable and sadly these types of pejoratives were all too common in the papers of the time.


Postscript


Both Green Bay East and Oshkosh claimed to be the state champions. East would post a 4-0-3 record. Oshkosh would post a 5-0-2 record. The two schools played to a 7-7 tie in early November. As was typical of the Oshkosh school and the city newspaper, The Northwestern, they twisted facts. They claimed that they had a better record than Edgerton (See Edgerton and La Crosse’s season records below). Oshkosh claimed in earlier seasons as being the state champions due to being undefeated. But they often had losses to college teams and only counted high school teams in their claims.


On the same day of the title game, a few schools also played games. Marquette Academy got a game with Wabasha (MN) and lost 14-7. Menominee (MI) beat rival Marinette 3-0. Horicon beat West Allis 37-0. Green Bay East beat an 8-2-0 Breen Bay West team 7-6. Finally, to add to their championship claim and an offer to play any other contender was Oshkosh who beat Evanston (IL) Academy 13-0. Evanston had beaten some good private schools and ended with a 4-1-0 record.


Rollie Williams was considered the best player in the state and he went on to earn more honors and awards at Wisconsin. He was the first athlete at Madison to earn nine letters playing football, basketball and baseball although others before him earned nine letters in a combination of different sports. He was an All-Big Ten as a football player playing halfback and fullback in 1922 while standing only 5’8 and 170-pounds. Rollie played freshman football in 1917 but left school, maybe to serve in the military, and then returned for the 1920-22 football seasons. He also earned All-Big Ten in the 1922-23 basketball season. After college he played one season of NFL football in 1923 for the Racine Legion. He then served as the head football, basketball and baseball coach for the 1923-24 seasons at Millkin University. He then spent 42 years as an assistant football coach, head basketball coach and assistant athletic director at Iowa. Williams was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1960. He died in 1970.


In 1956 a 40-year reunion was held in Edgerton as another would be one held in 1961 and 1966, the 50th anniversary of winning the title. The first reunion drew 14 of the teams 15 players as well as their former coaches, Edison Lamereaux and his assistant A.J. Dexter. Missing was starting left halfback Norman Clarke who was killed in France in 1918 during World War I.


While most schools ended their seasons one or two weeks prior to Thanksgiving, some traditions were kept for teams like Marinette and Menominee and the two Green Bay schools. In fact, starting in 1905 and continuing through 1920 they played on each on Thanksgiving Day. The only exception was in 1918 when they played on December 7 after three postponements due to Spanish Flu concerns. After World War I, Thanksgiving Day games in Wisconsin seemed to flitter away as the big holiday for games became a November 11 Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day). In some states the Thanksgiving Day game remained a tradition. Check out this link: American football on Thanksgiving - Wikipedia


Now, for some Thanksgiving trivia:


In 1541 Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his troop of men stopped in Palo Duro Canyon (TX) to camp and Padre Fray Juan de Padilla called for a feast of prayer and thanksgiving.


There were other “first” claims. Spanish founders of St. Augustine (FL) in 1565 shared food with the Timucaun people. Or, in 1607 colonists at Fort St. George in Maine shared a harvest feast with the Adenaki Indian’s.


Traditionally we hold a feast as a remembrance of the December 11, 1621 Plymouth (MA) celebration.

There were several other days of thanksgiving before George Washington called for a Day of Thanksgiving on November 26, 1789.


Ben Franklin derided the Congress for naming the Eagle as America's national bird. He thought, and said so often that the national bird should be the turkey.


In November, 1846 Sarah Josepha Hale began a letter campaign to create a national Holiday. She sent a letter to Abraham Lincoln urging the holiday and on October 3, 1863 he declared the first official National Holiday of Thanksgiving.


On November 30, 1876 the first Thanksgiving Day football game occurred between Princeton and Yale. The idea of a football game on this day caught on and in 1893 40,000 fans showed up to see Princeton and Yale play in New York’s Manhattan Field.


Finally, with Thanksgiving set to fall on November 30, 1939 and thus leaving only 24 shopping days before Christmas, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date of celebration forward a week to November 23. Critics called it “Franksgiving” and congress officially moved the date back to the current spot, the fourth Thursday in November in 1941.


My Mistake: When I wrote my book, I had an error about this game. I mixed up Rube Blatter in my reports as I wrote him as part of Edgerton’s team. He would attend the University of Wisconsin where he competed in football and track and then on to Harvard to study architecture. Blatter and Williams played on the same freshman football team at Madison. Sorry for the mix-up.



This story was updated on 11/24/21 to include several selections from the La Crosse Tribune's contemporary account of the game.

I owe a lot to Mike Firkus. His records sort of helped put my record keeping on the map. More about my record keeping later.


In 2000 I read about a sophomore from tiny Hilbert who had run for 2,058 yards on 242 carries and scored 29 touchdowns. He became the first sophomore to run for 2,000 yards and this would be one of several “firsts” for him. At the end of the 1999 season after posting a 4-5 record, the teams coach, Mark Jonas, was replaced by the school’s athletic director, Mile Moreau. Coach Moreau had been the previous head coach for 19 years when he stepped down to have Jonas take over for six seasons. Jonas had posted an overall record of 47-22 with state titles in 1994 and 1996 but the school thought they needed a change at the top. Moreau had been no slouch as he directed Hilbert to the 1989 Division 5 title and had compiled a 146-42 record.


For his work in 2000 Firkus was named to an honorable mention spot on the AP All-State team. He had a big game against Marshall in a Division 5 Level 2 win as he gained 331 yards and scored 3 touchdowns. He led the team to an 11-2 record. The next week after trouncing Marshall, Mike ripped off 191 yards against Pardeeville. He was also named to the Post-Crescent’s All-Area team. Each week the newspaper listed the Honor Roll of prep stars for the week. It would have 12-15 names on it and covered different sports. Mike was listed at least seven times that season and prior to the team’s final game, he was the overall player of the week. Listed as being 6’0, 180 he was a powerful force in the Hilbert Wolves offense. He also had breakaway speed as he showed against Mishicot when he reeled off an impressive 89-yard touchdown run. Against Reedsville he ran 14 times for 270 yards with td runs of 53 and 71 yards. The team would lose in the semi-finals to eventual champion Osseo-Fairchild, 21-14.


Next up was 2001 and Mike Firkus was again leading the team and this time it would be all the way to the state title game. In the Division 6 level 3 game against Black Hawk Mike rushed for a play 77-yard run on the third play of the game and finished with 268 yards four touchdowns. The team would lose to Spring Valley 34-3 in the finals as Firkus rushed 25 time for only 81 yards and was shut out from the goal line. He again made first team All-Area and again earned honorable mention All-State on the AP squad after rushing for 2,078 yards on 206 carries and 35 touchdowns. At the time the 2,078 earned Mike Firkus the only player to gain 2,000 yards in a season as a junior.


Running back Matt Deeley held the Hilbert career record of 4,842 yards on 872 carries and 68 touchdowns, set in the 1992-94 seasons. Matt was, at the time, #20 on my career rushing list. It was posted on Wisconsin High, my first major on-line posting. Going into his senior season in 2002, Mike Firkus had his sights on making the state championship game. He had gained 4,134 yards and scored 64 touchdowns. I’m sure he thought a bit about breaking the school record but it was Madison he thought of. But the records came. In the third game, a 35-0 over Valders, Mike passed Deeley in career touchdowns. Two weeks later, in a 61-0 crushing of Howards Grove he passed Deeley’s career record.


In the 1995-98 seasons Luke Hagel of Random Lake climbed to the top of the carrier rushing mountain. He carried 883 times for 6,495 yards and a state record 112 touchdowns. Firkus would have to go a long way to match that. Was he up to the task? Teams were keying on him more than ever and he was having to carry the ball more often. But he was up to the task. The yards began adding up as the team was winning. In the D-6 semi-final against Thorp, played in the Dells, he gained 212 yards to pull ahead of Hagel with 6,607 yards.


The team would post a 12-2 record and lose a heat breaker to Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs 16-14. The team had a last-minute chance to win on a 50-yard field goal but the snap was bad and a scramble with the ball leading to a pass went incomplete. The win was the first WIAA championship for Springs coach Bob Hyland. Firkus gained 100 yards on 25 carries but again was shut out of the endzone. The team was 36-5 in his three seasons and as coach Moreau said “We’ve played 41 games in the last three years, you can only 42. What else can you ask of these kids? They left their heart out on the field. That’s all you can ask.” Moreau would coach three more seasons and retire only to come back and coach for three years at Kaukauna. His overall record would be 215-59 and earn a spot in the WFCA Hall-of-Fame. Firkus would again earn All-Area, being named as the Player-of-the Year. He followed up these honors with being named to the AP first team All-State squad.


Mike Firkus would end his career with 808 carries, 6,707 yards, an 8.3 yards per carry average and 94 touchdowns. The record would last for 16 seasons when Bryce Huettner of Iola-Scandinavia would pass Firkus up with a total of 6,870 yards. The record would only last one season when in 2019 Tyler Tenner of Racine Lutheran would pass Huettner with a total of 6,932. Below is a chart for 12 all-time career rushers and a breakdown of the top-5 leader’s season-by-season.



I presented the records so you could compare the play of Mike Firkus against others. Westby’s Steve Hougum, as noted in my blog about the 1992 rushing race for the single season rushing record, was the first player to gain 2,000 or more yards in a season. Here are the other significant rushing firsts.


  • Only player to gain 400+ yards in a single game twice…Jim Baier, Elmwood…401 yards in 1961 and 400 yards in 1962

  • First player to gain 2,000 yards or more…Dick Barbour, Hillsboro…1970…2,238 yards

  • First player to gain 4,000 or more yards in a season…Jim Baier, Elmwood…1959-62…4,644. It is also noted that the second player to gain 4,000 yards was ken Helland, Boyceville…1959-1962…4,039 yards.

  • First player to gain 2,000 or more yards in a season as a sophomore…Mike Firkus, Hillbert…2000…2,058 yards

  • First player to gain 2,000 or more yards as a sophomore and a junior…Mike Firkus, Hilbert…2000 and 2001…2,058 and 2,078 yards.

  • Only player to gain 2,000 or more yards in three consecutive seasons…Mike Firkus, Hilbert…2000-2002…2,058, 2,078 and 2,577 yards.

  • First player to gain 5,000 or more yards in a career…Steve Hougum, Westby…1984-86…5,192 yards

  • First player to gain 6,000 or more yards in a career…Luke Hagel, Random Lake…1998-98…6,495 yards

  • Most Games in a Career: 100-yards or more…Mike Firkus, Hilbert…2000-2002…34

There are other possible firsts to mention but as you can see, Mike Firkus ranks right up there with the top backs produced in Wisconsin. Most of the above mentioned, like Firkus, came from small towns, small schools but they had great talent. Few ever played college football. Mike Firkus, by all accounts, did not.


Now, on to my link with Mike Firkus which is sort of a personal history. It’s sort of long so stay with me, please.

In 1994 I responded to a request from the Milwaukee Journal sportswriter Cliff Chrystl who asked for anyone to submit any record that they knew about. Some people responded. I sent 48-pages of various stats to Cliff and he called me within a few days to ask how I came about my records. A few days later Cliff called and asked if he could send a photographer to my house and follow-up on our conversation. I don’t remember the photographer's name but he asked me to show my stats on my dining room table and then asked me to stand behind the pile of pages of information. In the August 28 Sunday edition for the Journal my story was presented along with a list of records that had been known, several I had confirmed and one new record that I had added. That record was the 551-yards passing in a single game set by Lomira’s Steve Steer in 1965.


The next day, Monday, I got a phone request from Jim Austin of The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune asking where one of the Rapids players placed on my list of single game rushing. Jim had seen the story about me in the state edition of the August 28 Journal. Brian Dupuis had rushed for 310 yards and scored three times in a 27-0 win over Wausau East on Friday night, August 26. Dupuis had broken a school record set in 1951 of 293 yards gained by Russ Stimac. He was still short of the Valley Conference single game rushing record of 321 yards by Stevens Point’s Rick Reichardt in 1960. A story in the paper on Thursday, September 1 resulted with my list of players with 300-yards or more. It was only a list of 34 names. That was the total I had found up to that time. At the top of the list was Jim Baier of Elmwood who in 1961 gained 401 yards in a game as a junior. Missing from the list was his second 400 -yard game set in 1962. By the way he was the first player to gain 400-yards in a single game and may be the only one to do so twice.


I continued to gather stats and began to do lists of weekly leaders from around the state and then sending those lists off via e-mail to about 25 newspapers and to a new website called Wisconsin High which is now part of the Rivals.com system. I had asked the WIAA if they would be interested in taking me on full time as a state record keeper for all sports but they declined saying that wasn’t their mission but that of the individual sports organizations. I pointed out that states like New York, Ohio, Indiana Illinois, Arkansas and New Mexico (hat’s all I could find at the time that were state associations that kept their own records) all had people working for their state group and several were sponsored by outside companies that supported the state organizations. It was a no-win battle. I would have to go it alone.


I would work my day job and cruise the web information and the Milwaukee Public Library for weekly information. Then, I got my biggest break thanks to Mike Firkus of Hilbert and the Appleton Post-Crescent. My name had been mentioned in several of the Post-Crescent stories about Mike Firkus and how I supplied the paper with information. At this time the Post-Crescent contacted me to confirm career stat leaders. I sent them information and the word began to spread that I kept records and requests for information came flooding in. In 2004 I contributed stats to WisSports for a season preview yearbook that was being produced. At the same time the Appleton paper asked me for records and I am proud to say they filled an entire Thursday, August 26 sports page with my single game, season and career leaders in passing, rushing, receiving and scoring. In the top center or the page above the list of career rushing leaders was a picture of Mike Firkus. Somehow the story landed in other areas of the state and I became the go-to guy for records. I don’t mean to toot my own horn but think about it. If I hadn’t collected stats, maybe someone else would have been the stats geek. I just got to the forefront ahead of others. I was lucky. I haven’t gotten rich doing my hobby but I love doing it. And, I love it when others send me information to add or correct the records. It isn’t just my record book. It’s everybody’s. And everyone wants some recognition in life. Players would learn that they had set a school or conference record but did Steve Hougum, Luke Hagel or Jim Baier know that they had set state records at the time? No. But Mike Firkus did know. Others...players, coaches, parents, newspapers, other web sites and parents have looked to see if their name is in the records. Keep looking. And if you know where Mike Firkus is, let me know.