A recent posting in one of the social medial platforms by former Muskegon grad Brad Young stoked up the fires for the ‘ole announcer’ of that classic battle at Hackley Stadium from 1971.
The game pitted the number one and two ranked teams in the entire state, number one Traverse City vs. number two Muskegon, the first pairings of 1 and 2 since Grand Rapids Catholic and Muskegon Catholic met in the season finale at frigid Kehren Stadium in 1959.
To say that the 1971 game lived up to its billing is a vast understatement. Although most of the fans of football here in the Muskegon area might remember this old salt as calling high school football games in the Port City from 1976 through 2009, it was in Traverse City where I was first thrown into the fire as a play-by-play announcer beginning with the 1967-68 school year.
The battle for state supremacy took place on a perfect night for football on October 29, 1971. It was my second trip back to Hackley Stadium after broadcasting a game in 1969 that saw Traverse City nip the Big Reds 7-0.
The hype for this game was off the charts!
Veteran Muskegon Athletic Director Tom McShannock was more than generous for those from Traverse City who wanted to make the long trek down from the North. McShannock sent 1700 tickets to TC and those tickets were quickly bought out by the rapid Trojan fans by Monday night of the week of the game!
After additional bleachers were set up in the end zone McShannock, who starred for Muskegon High back in the 1930s, sent an additional 200 ducats to Traverse that were also quickly gobbled up.
I will never forget the cordial greeting I got from first year Big Red coach Larry Harp when I arrived at the stadium about 3 hours prior to the game.
Larry and I sat up in the empty seats, talked briefly about the big game, but we mostly just sat there and soaked in the atmosphere, magnified by listening to the legendary Muskegon High band rehearsing adjacent to the stadium. Our talk began a friendship that lasted until Harp passed away from cancer at the much too young age of 55 in June of 1992.
Realizing that I would probably get carried away with enthusiasm for this game I asked my younger brother Tom to stand behind me during the game and give me a tap if I got too excited (which I probably did). I have no idea how I slipped my brother up into the press box at Hackley as it might have been easier to get into the safe at Fort Knox than try to sneak past the veteran guardian of the booth, Ray Wheeler.
11,000 fans were announced as the attendance for this contest, including the visiting band from Traverse City, and believe me, those were indeed accurate numbers. When the players from each team made their appearance from the tunnel, a chill went down my spine as the roar was like one experienced at a major college or pro game.
And what a game!
Traverse City, which went into the game outscoring its opponents though its first six games, 226-27, took the opening kickoff and marched 71 yards in but 7 plays, with the scoring play a 34-yard pass from Mark Cox to Bob Chase. However, the point after attempt was missed, the first of all three failed attempts by TC after a touchdown.
An exchange of possessions then set up a play that surely will go down in history as one of the top plays in well over a century of football at Hackley Stadium.
Trojan punter Terry Selkirk’s punt was high, but short, as it looked like the entire TC team was in pursuit to make the tackle on the Big Red return man. The punt coverage proved to be too good as the towering punt landed but 25 yards down field, took a perfect basketball bounce and landed in the arms of a startled Larry Sohasky, a big Red lineman just blocking on the play.
At first the surprised Sohasky was undecided what to do. Big Red assistant coach Dave Taylor in a recent phone conversation said Sohasky had that look on his face like: “Can I do this?” I was screaming at Larry: “Just Go-Go!”
There was nothing but green grass on the well-worn Hackley gridiron between Sohasky and the goal line as Larry ‘lumbered’ 65 yards for a touchdown. As they did all season, the Big Reds went for the 2-point conversion and the completed pass from Bob Lindgren to Randy Wisner ultimately proved to be the difference in the game.
The Trojans appeared not to be rattled by Sohasky’s improbable jaunt to paydirt as they scored a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to take a seemingly comfortable 18-8 halftime lead.
The visitors dominated the first half statistically on both sides of the ball, limiting the hosts to but 13 rushing yards, intercepted a pair of Big Red passes, while piling up 250 yards on offense. However, the second half would prove to be a polar opposite.
It could very well be in this game that future Big Red Hall of Fame coach Dave Taylor would stamp his reputation as a defensive guru. After making the necessary defensive adjustments at halftime, the potent TC offense was only able to muster 2 first downs and but 34 total yards in the second half.
The Big Red offense likewise quickly sprung to life as it only took but 7 plays to tally one of their two TDs in the second half, the first on a 3-yard run by their All-State halfback Eric VanCamp.
The winning touchdown came just a few plays later when the Big Reds recovered a TC fumble and had to drive just 21 yards for what proved to be the deciding score on a pass from Lindgren to Mike Cross.
The Big Red defense then stymied the Trojans the rest of the contest as Muskegon cemented its claim as the new number one team in the state.
Coach Harps’ squad would then take care of business with season ending conquests of Mona Shores and Muskegon Catholic. The Trojans likewise romped over their two season ending foes with convincing victories over Benton Harbor and Grand Rapids Catholic. Coach Ooleys’ powerhouse eleven ended the season by giving up a skimpy 67 points for the entire season, a low total that has not been equaled by any other Trojan team as of this date.
As the Traverse City broadcaster for this game, it was only natural that I was pulling for my team from up north. However, it was a win-win for this ‘ole announcer’ as my lifelong childhood friend Dave Taylor was the assistant coach for the Big Reds. Although disappointed that my Trojans tasted defeat, how proud I was for Dave, who came up to the press box following the game to begin the first of many interviews we would share over the years.
There were a number of stalwarts from both teams who saw action in this classic, including a pair of all-staters from Muskegon, Eric VanCamp and Jay Achterhoff. And, by the way, it was Achterhoff who made the initial tackle in the ‘Rudy’ play from the movie of the same name while playing for Notre Dame.
VanCamp, who later played for Oklahoma, returned to his hometown a few years ago as a member of the military where he entertained a huge crowd at the Muskegon Air Fair while piloting what I believe was a F-16 jet.
Traverse City had their own all state performer in two-way standout Dave Whiteford. Whiteford, now a very successful architect back in his hometown, played his college football at Michigan for legendary coach Bo Schembechler and wore fabled number one.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, but it would be but a short five years in 1976 when I would switch sides by moving back to my hometown of North Muskegon to begin calling the action for the first of many local radio stations over the next 34 years.
Brad Young was the starting center of that championship Muskegon team from a half century ago who would also spend many years in that same press box at Hackley Stadium as the PA announcer for Muskegon High. Brad, and a “whole host” of his teammates will forever cherish the memories of that magical 1971 season as many, including Brad, now watch their grandchildren perform.
Thanks for the memories!