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1967 Oconomowoc - An Unexpected Season

After an average 4-4-0 season in 1966, Oconomowoc changed head coaches as the former coach, Ralph Lonergan, had moved on to a college job in Illinois. Moving up from an assistant's position, Ed Rux took over the helm of the Conney program. After losing five All-Little Ten conference players even Rux was wondering how the team would do. The “Purple Reign” (Another nick name for the team) would surprise even themselves with an impressive 8-0-0 record.

In 1966 the team was good in the sense that they had talent but it took a change in head coaching to change the 1967 team from thinking modestly and gaining confidence. Rux had two assistants, Gale Douglas and Dave Thomas and together they instilled pride and the confidence that the team had been lacking. As sports editor Mark Hutchinson of the Waukesha Freeman and the Oconomowoc Enterprise said in a 2013 story, many players still wondered then what would have happened if the team had made the WIAA playoffs. Those playoffs were still eight years away and the requirements to be one of the four teams chosen to play in the first three divisional games was quite stringent but those members of the 1967 team were confident they could have been state champions.

The coaches had worked the team hard and the players came through. Rux told a writer for the Freeman that the team may have had 11 letterman back but depth was a problem. They had average speed in the backfield and good, average speed on the line. Some of his players lacked size like returning letterman Larry Manne who was only 135 pounds. He may have been undersized but he was a hitter. Returning all-conference linebacker Jerry Flach was returning as was 245 pound two-way tackle Bill Tweeden. Rux picked West Bend to win the southern division of the Little Ten Conference and Watertown to be the No. 2 team with Oconomowoc in the middle of the pack.

The season opener was against Milwaukee Don Bosco, a traditional Catholic Conference title contender. For several years Don Bosco had been the season opening game for the Racoons. While Bosco was not a huge school they more than held their own against the bigger Catholic schools, Marquette, Pius, Racine St. Catherine’s and Messmer. Don Bosco would merge with Pio Nono in 1972 to form St. Thomas More High School. Oconomowoc had never beaten Don Bosco although in recent seasons they had played to 7-7 and 13-13 ties This game was just as close and after a Bob Cicenas 18-yard run in the first quarter. It took an extra point by Roger Jaeger to earn the squad their first win. This was a confidence builder to say the least for the team. As stated, the team lacked depth and only 13-players for Oconomowoc made it onto the field of play, but play hard they did. Not only was Jaeger’s foot the difference in the scoring, so was his line play as the 210 pound tackle spent much of his time on defense in the Don Bosco backfield where he tossed the opposing quarterback three times for big losses. Jim Zatrow also harassed their opponent by having nine solo tackles and four assists, stopping Bosco several times on key plays. The Dons were considered to be contenders for their conference title and would be the Catholic Conference champs as they posted an overall 7-1-0 season record and a 6-0-0 total in conference play. But, the Coons showed their fans who was better and the victory got the team off to a great start.

Even though the Coons had been outgained 139-171 the team was alive and waited for the next weeks opponent, Kettle Moraine. A 1-7-0 team in 1966, the Lasers were to graduate their first senior class in 1968. Coach Norm Bronson told the Freeman that his team would be an “awful lot better” squad in 1967 than in the previous season. Well, they were awful when they faced Oconomowoc, losing 42-0 as seven Cooney players scored six points in the game. The offense got into gear as they outgained Kettle Moraine 336 yards to 48. The defense held the Lasers to a -3 yards on the ground. KM had five first downs in the game and only one of those was in the second half. Roger Jaeger kicked the extra point after each Cooney touchdown. The game was so out of control after the third period coach Rux played his reserves the whole fourth quarter and those players gained more yards than the first team. Oconomowoc had only 25 yards in penalties to 105 for Kettle Moraine. Three quarterbacks were used in the game by the Racoons. Senior Rich Snyder started the game but junior Dan Shaw and sophomore Tom Luby filled in. Luby, in fact, scored the lone fourth quarter touchdown as he bulled his way to the endzone from 26-yards out. The Lasers would finish with a 3-5-0 record. Not awful and better than 1966.

Next up was Waupun and while they had dreams of an upset, the Racoons turned them back 21-0 for their second shutout. Bob Cicenas was the star on offense as he picked up 179 yards on 19 carries and two scores. Jim Zastrow was again the star on defense as he had seven solo and six assisted tackles plus an interception. The first three games were non-conference games and Oconomowoc was tuning up to play conference foe West Bend. Again, the defense did a superb job in stopping their opponent as the Racoons costed to a 24-0 win. Roger Jaeger played very well on the line and was proving himself to be the best blocker in the county. He also kicked three extra points and a field goal from 24-yards out after just missing on a 38 yarder earlier in the game Oconomowoc was in such command that the reserves played much of the second half. On defense, back Steve Bertram had 10 total tackles and two interceptions.

Homecoming against Homestead, a team that would finish in the middle of the pack in the Braveland (Yes, they were in the Braveland back then) Conference was on the horizon. The Highlanders would fall 28-9. Oconomowoc led 28-2 until Homestead finally crossed the goal line in the fourth quarter. Cicenas had 121 yards on 19 carries to lead the offense. Jaeger pitched in with four extra points and a blocked kick that was recovered by Jim Younger which led to a touchdown. The Cooney offense outgained the Highlanders 298 to 144.

The final three conference games were coming up and the team had great expectations. They could feel the wins coming. And win they did as they started off by beating Beaver Dam, 21-6. The usual stars shone bright that game led by Bob Cicenas who picked up 141 yards on 27 carries, two touchdowns, 27 yards on two pass receptions while contributing 10 tackles on defense. He also had punts of 42, 44 and 53 yards in his three attempts. Cicenas wasn’t the whole show. Jim Younger had 19 total tackles and stopped a Beaver player from scoring as he took the guy down on the one yard line. Roger Jaeger was one of several linemen who opened holes for Cicenas as well as continuing his streak of 17 extra-point kicks on the season without a miss. While the Racoons held the edge in total yards, 314-171, they could have had more as two third down touchdown runs, one a 39-yard run by the quarterback Rich Snyder. Offensive end/linebacker Jerry Flach had his best game since the season opener against Don Bosco and Jim Zastrow was praised by coach Rux for his play as well.

You wouldn’t expect that a team with 140 yards in penalties would level an opponent as Oconomowoc did in their 37-6 trouncing of Watertown. They had the large amount of penalty yards but the offense regrouped time and time again and crushed the Goslings as they gained 507 total yards, including 428 yards on the ground. Bob Cisenas again had a great game, picking up 207 yards on 17 carries. He scored once on an 82-yard run. But Bob shared the offensive limelight with Fred Smith who totaled 118 yards on eight carries. He finished with touchdown runs of 44,11 and 38. Smith had missed a lot of time because of injuries but now he was back and healthy. Roger Jaeger made all five extra points and stood out on defense as he tackled the Watertown quarterback for a safety. Up next was Hartford, an undefeated conference foe with a good offense and an equally strong defense.

Oconomowoc destroyed the Hartford Orioles in a great showdown, 14-0. Hartford had the conferenced leading scorer in fullback Dick West who would rush 22 times for 92 yards but not cross the goal line. In fact, Hartford gained only 87 yards on the ground as quarterback Tom Dillon ran and threw for his life. Dillon, who had over 400 yards rushing coming into the game was constantly tossed for a loss but also completed only two passes in 15 attempts with three interceptions. Bob Cisenas gained 113 yards and scored the two Cooney touchdowns. He batted down several passes, sacked Dillon twice and used his foot to punt the Orioles deep into a hole. Oconomowoc gained 224 total yards and had only 45 yards in penalties. Jaeger helped open holes and converted two conversions to make it 27 on the season without a miss. Jim Younger, Jim Zastrow, Tim Murray and Bill Tweeden also did their job on the line. Fred Smith gained enough yards to keep the pressure off Cisenas and returned a punt 42 yards to set up the second score of the game.

The Hartford game ended the season but the team and player honors were just starting to roll in. First, the team was named to the AP press final poll as the #10 ranked squad. Roger Jaeger earned All-Waukesha County as an offensive guard and as a defensive end. Other all-county players were offensive tackle Bill Tweeden, running back Bob Cinenas and defensive lineman Jim Younger. Jim Zastrow, running back Fred Smith and defensive back Steve Bertram earned special mention on the county team with end Jerry Flach earning honorable mention. When the all-conference team was announced Jaeger, Cinenas, Tweeden, Younger, Zastrow, Smith and Bertram all made the squad.

The AP all-state team was presented the last week of November and Jaeger made the first team as a defensive end and second team as an offensive guard. Bob Cinenas was listed in an honorable mention spot. About a week later in December the UPI named their all-state team and Roger Jaeger again was listed on the first team as an offensive guard and Steve Bertram was placed on the second ream as a defensive back. Jaeger who besides making 27 of 27 extra points and a field goal had a blocked kick, a safety and 56 overall tackles. He would go on to play for UW-Madison first as a linebacker then later moved to the guard spot before ending as a tackle. He was also the teams kicker for all three varsity seasons. He went on to coach at Luther College in Decorah, IA for 30+ years. He was recently honored by the school as he was inducted in to their hall of fame. Bob Cinenas gained 950 yards in 145 carries with 10 touchdowns. He attended Georgia Tech but transferred to UW-Milwaukee. He later served as head football coach at Kettle Moraine.

The main person behind all the success was coach Ed Rux, who opened his head coaching career with a bang and would become a WFCA Hall of Famer. For the next 23 seasons Rux directed the Racoon’s to a 207-93-2 record. After his long career at Oconomowoc, where the Racoons played their games in Amory Field, it was renovated and renamed in 2014 the Ed Rux Stadium. An honor well overdue for him. His 1967 team has been long remembered in the Lake Country and those former players still wonder how far they might have gone if there had been football playoffs. Quite far, I think.


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