Indians Looking to Bring Home a State Title
MONTROSE – The only state football championship ever won by Montrose High School was earned right here in Montrose some 63 years ago. Resident Ken Townsend should know – he was part of the 1950 state championship team, and scored the game's final touchdown in the Indians’ 20-7 victory over Lakewood High School. They played the game on what is now the baseball field at Montrose High School.
This weekend, the Indians will try to return with the state title from Denver after they play on Colorado’s grandest stage – Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. Coach Todd Casebier’s team will face Pine Creek Saturday morning, with an 11 a.m. kickoff.
Townsend, 80, was listening to the radio broadcast last Saturday as the Indians edged Pueblo South 39-38 in double overtime to reach the team's first state championship game since 1991. Following the 1950 championship win, The Montrose Daily Press reported the big win this way: "Combining the passing arm of John Hogg with the catching of Phil Pratt, Tex Whiteman and Kenneth Townsend, along with the defensive play of Frank Mascarenas, the Montrose Indians won the first state grand championship in the school's history, a 20 to 7 triumph over the Lakewood Tigers at the Veterans Memorial field Saturday afternoon before a crowd estimated at 4,000."
With the team’s 1950 photo in his hand Monday morning, Townsend reflected on what have become some very fond memories.
"Here are some old dogs who were young then," he joked.
That day – Dec. 2, 1950 – MHS was down 0-7 at the half with Lakewood. The forecast was for wind and snow. The game had a 1:30 p.m. kickoff time; Townsend remembers the weather being "pretty pleasant,” and the entire town showed up to cheer the team to victory.
Townsend said the Tigers "looked bigger and came from a bigger city, which was impressive for us. We played them once before and beat them. We were lucky.”
In the third quarter, the Indians drove 81-yards before Pratt "received the pigskin and stepped over for the six points. Richard Kelley, Montrose fullback, slashed the center of the forward wall for the extra point and the game was tied at seven-all," according to a game story about the game from that era.
The second touchdown came in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, when Hogg connected with Whiteman, who then tossed the football to Martin Rodriguez for the score. A pass from Hogg to Pratt succeeded, for the extra point.
Townsend scored the team's last touchdown, a 25-yard pass from Hogg to put the team up 20-7. The extra point "plunge" was no good.
"We scored twice in the fourth quarter and that was it," Townsend said. He was listed in the program as a 178-pound senior playing right end.
This Saturday, Townsend will be at Sports Authority Field at Mile High to watch the Indians play Pine Creek.
He said head coach Casebier's choice to go for a two-point conversion in double overtime to win was "pretty gutsy" and the right call.
"’Okay, we’re going to go for two points. Win or lose, we’re going for it.’ It wasn't an easy decision to make, but I think he made the right decision," Townsend said.
In 1950, MHS beat Salida High School in the state semi-final in overtime to reach the its first state championship game
Ed Dejulio, who attended MHS at the time, said Tuesday that the championship game that day did not begin well for the Indians. Dejulio said the team got behind early, and “lots of people from Montrose left the stadium.” They learned later that Montrose had won when they listened to the radio.
Dejulio said the team scored its only touchdown on a kickoff when one player lateraled to another player, who ran the ball into the end zone.
Other notes and comparisons between the 1950 team and today’s squad:
• In 1950, Delta High School donated "99-feet" of bleachers and Olathe High School donated "100-feet" more. Both bleachers were transported to the field at no cost by West End Freight Lines.
• "It is the first time that Montrose High even has had a chance at state-wide laurels in football in the final round of play. The Indians have won many Western Slope titles over the years and back in 1943, roared into the state semi-finals. Today, they are on the threshold of a championship game and as many as 3,000 persons may see the contest," the Montrose Press reported.
• In 1950, MHS had 500 total students; today, the school's student population is 1,360. In 1950, the population of Montrose County was 15,220; today it is 41,276. The combined populations would fit into Sports Authority field on Saturday.
"I'm hoping they will make it," Townsend said of the team this weekend. "They obviously know how to fight hard to the last second. They've done it many times this year.”
The Back-to-Back Years
Montrose resident Justin Westbrook played in two state championship games for MHS: the 1990 game in Longmont against Niwot, and the 1991 title game against Trinidad (held in Montrose). The Indians fell short by a few points each time, losing 21-20 to Niwot and 28-24 to Trinidad at home.
Westbrook, a Montrose County deputy sheriff, played defensive tackle. He remembered the excitement of reaching the state finals in both those years.
"It was the intensity, the feeling of hard work for the entire season, and being able to express that in the last game," he said. The team's main focus both years, he added, was to "play as a team" and play one game at a time. He remembers there being snow on the field for the 1991 game.
Larry Newlin, head coach that year, recalled the game was held during a light snowstorm, and that the field had to be cleared before it could begin.
"People brought tractors out to plow if off. I remember this elderly lady out there with a shovel. It was quite the community effort to plow the field, but it didn't last too long," Newlin recalled. He said a Trinidad player forced a fumble late in the game, and the Indians fell short by four points.
"Obviously, at the time you don't think the sun is going to rise again, but it does," Westbrook said of the 1991 defeat. Westbrook said he hopes the team this Saturday can "keep it in the moment and play in the now."
"I think the biggest thing is to concentrate on the now, in the moment, and play as a team” that way, he said. If they do, "I think they have a really good chance.”
The 1991 team lost by “six inches” after going for a two-point conversion and the win in the fourth quarter. The final score was 21-20. "We elected to go for two points, got stuffed and lost," Newlin added. "But none of us regret making that call.”
Newlin said the call last week in Pueblo to go for two — and the win — was risky, but he can appreciate as a coach what that decision was like to make.
"Eventually, you get down in that situation, and you have to make a call. Do we continue to tie, or do we feel confident to go for the win," Newlin said.
The 1991 team also featured Dirk Johnson, who went on to become a star player at the University of Northern Colorado and, later, a punter for the NFL who played in a Super Bowl for the Philadelphia Eagles. He also played for Chicago and Arizona.
Newlin advised this year’s team, especially those players who will never play another down after Saturday in an Indians uniform, to soak up the experience of playing in a state final.
"The seniors especially should enjoy every last practice, every last second; take it all in. Enjoy the prep rallies, the trip over to Denver. All of it.
"You've worked hard to get to this point, so the work and the dedication are already done. The base has been built. This is the game where you go out and use what you have learned, and leave it out there. This is the last game, period. There is no game next week. Play it as if it was your last, and enjoy the game. In the end, if you [come up] short, you left it on the field; if you win, you left it on the field, and you’re the state champion," he added.
Newlin helped coach the 1978 Indians team with Jerry Wilson. The head coach was Gary Richardson, who took over a couple of seasons before.
Before 1978, the Indians’ last state final appearance was in 1959; Wilson said the team suffered many years of poor records in the 19 seasons between.
"Montrose football was not good, a lot of 0-10, 2-8 records. When Gary took over, we got better each year," Wilson said.
Wilson described the atmosphere in Montrose as pure bedlam as the team entered the playoffs. "It was very exciting. Parents and boosters hadn't had much to be excited about," he said.
The team earned its way to the state finals and hosted Mullen at home at MHS. Wilson said it had snowed all day Friday and into Saturday morning. Newlin said the game was played in a complete "blizzard" and the field had to be cleared off before kickoff.
It seemed the entire community turned out to help remove the snow, Wilson recalled. The city donated a front-end loader, but that didn't matter, he added. "It just kept on snowing all day.”
Wilson said MHS was up 20-12 at halftime. But in the second half, Mullen's star running back, Vincent White, took control of the tempo.
"It was a sloppy, wet, cold field," Wilson remarked. "He scored two touchdowns and the game was 25-20. We just couldn't contain him.”
The 4A Championship will be broadcast on KUBC Radio 580 AM and televised on ROOT Sports beginning at 6 p.m.
The Watch will be reporting from the game online at www.watchnewspapers.com.